Tadashi swallows. His hands shake on the strap of his bag and his mind buzzes with reasons he shouldn't be here. At the top of his list is that he shouldn't be at this school at all, he shouldn't be anywhere near here. Aoba Johsai doesn't need someone like him—he can't imagine what was going through the mind of whoever looked at his test scores and came to the conclusion he deserved a place here. Tsukishima didn't get one, and he'd stared Tadashi down at the proposal to follow Tsukishima to Karasuno, asking him why he'd applied to Aoba Johsai if he didn't want to go. So, Tadashi had accepted. And here he is, wrapped in a foreign uniform and surrounded by strangers that he's sure all know he doesn't belong here.
Even the gym is out of his league. It looms over him and inside he can hear the thump, thump of volleyballs hitting the ground and walls with more people than were in his middle school's year.
He doesn't know whether or not he should even join. He grips his strap tight and breathes deep, though his heart keeps racing anyway. Why is this so hard? Shuffling to the side of the gym door, he peeks inside. There are less people than he imagined from the sounds. There are plenty, still far more than his old volleyball team, and all of them are in motion, with flushed cheeks and determination set into their expressions.
He can't fit in with these people.
His shoulders sag and he tries to shake the disappointment from his head. If he doesn't belong, then there's no point joining. He'll never get a chance to play, and there's no reason to drag down a powerful team like this with his mediocre skills. A treacherous thought bubbles up—maybe he should join to drag them down. Tsukishima said he would join Karasuno's team, and if Tadashi’s presence on Aoba Johsai's team would stunt their abilities in some way…
Both options—joining the club, not joining the club—come with complications, and just thinking about them brings a lump into Tadashi’s throat. He should know the right one to choose, Tsukishima would know. But he doesn't want to bother him on day two of school. Tsukishima's probably found someone to replace him already.
He swallows, yet again. This time it's painful around the hard lump and ache in his ears that comes when he's on the brink of tears. One more swallow and he arrives at a conclusion: he'll work it out tomorrow.
He raises his head, preparing to go on his way, and is met with brown eyes and an amused smile.
"Um," he says, making as good a first impression as he ever does.
"I was starting to wonder what makes that step so interesting," the owner of the eyes and smile says.
"That's—" Tadashi’s voice squeaks to a halt.
His companion raises his eyebrows. "Ah, you're here for the volleyball club?"
Heat crawls across Tadashi’s cheeks and he's sure it makes his skin look even worse than usual. "Sort of?" he manages to say. Which is as close to the truth as he can put into words and he hopes it's good enough. This guy looks like he’d be able to find a better answer. Tsukishima would be able to find a better answer.
"Excellent!" the stranger says, grinning wide, reminding Tadashi of a nature documentary he saw once. "Coach," he sings over his shoulder, "we have another member!"
An adult holding a clipboard looks up at his words, not smiling. But he doesn't look surprised, so maybe this is okay.
Brown eyes and brown hair says, "I'm Oikawa Tooru! Feel free to call me Oikawa or Captain-chan from now on." He steps around Tadashi and guides him by the shoulders into the gym. Tadashi’s feet obey Oikawa rather than his thoughts, which are stuck in a loop of I didn't say I was joining! that he can't bring himself to voice.
Instead, Tadashi swallows.
"Nice serve, Yama-chan!" Oikawa calls out to him, grinning as Yamaguchi stumbles in his step. Surely, some day, he'll begin to expect Oikawa's compliments; it's not like he ever holds them back. It might have something to do with that their practices together take place long after the rest of the team have packed up and gone home. Now it's just the two of them, slamming volleyball after volleyball over the other side of the net.
Well, Hajime is here, too, but he's always around and hardly counts. Especially when he's insisting on being terribly boring and sitting in the corner with his earbuds in, completing his assignments. But every once in a while when a ball strays into his study bubble, he doesn’t hesitate to catch and throw them back out.
So Oikawa is free to appreciate Yamaguchi.
And he's been surprising Oikawa over and over with how much there is to appreciate. At first, Oikawa had asked him to stay behind so they could ferry balls back and forth. Something about how Yamaguchi trailed after him when he pulled him in at that first practice stuck with Oikawa, and anyone who shakes as hard as he did over joining a club needs a hand, so.
Oikawa's next step of guiding Yamaguchi to victory is making him feel at home with the team, a feat that Oikawa’s always been proud of himself for doing. It’s been over a month and already the other first years have found their pace with everyone else, Kindaichi’s hardheadedness and Kunimi’s passive neutrality and Kyoutani’s… Kyoutani.
Yamaguchi is harder to work out. But Oikawa’s always up for a challenge, even more so when it’s Yamaguchi.
“Sorry!” Yamaguchi calls, the next time he serves and it falls short, rolling at Oikawa’s feet. Oikawa chuckles and goes over to pick the ball up.
“I thought we were doing long-distance,” he says. He throws it back over
Yamaguchi just barely manages to catch it. “I—Yeah!” he says, and flounders.
Oikawa tries not to watch him too hard. The early May sunlight streams through the windows, and they continue.
He keeps his focus on Yamaguchi, until Oikawa realizes that he’s more staring at the gleam of the afternoon sun on his face more than anything else. He distracts himself away by aiming more serves in Hajime’s direction, but he continues to catch them without looking up from his homework.
“Hey, Yamaguchi,” Oikawa says after a bit.
Yamaguchi’s holding the ball flat on his palm, and lifts his head like he thinks he did something wrong. “Yeah?”
Oikawa beckons him over. Once Yamaguchi’s on his side of the net, he says in a stage-whisper, “I have a challenge for you.”
He points over to Hajime, innocent, unsuspecting, in the chair by the door.
Oikawa says to Yamaguchi, “You know how Iwa-chan’s been catching my serves? Well, let’s see if he can catch one of yours.”
“But.” Yamaguchi’s eyebrows are knitted together. “Won’t he get mad?”
“You believe in his ability to catch, don’t you?” When Yamaguchi’s nod isn’t persuasive, Oikawa adds, “Think of it as aiming practice.”
Yamaguchi still doesn’t look sure of himself, but he raises the ball and his arm in the air anyway. Oikawa tells himself not to enjoy it too much when the ball soars over, and before Hajime can properly defend himself, hits him square in the chest. Hajime looks up.
“Oh my god.” Yamaguchi sounds pained under his breath.
Oikawa struggles not to laugh as Hajime comes over, with the volleyball in his hand, glaring at the both of them. Oikawa instinctively reaches his arm in front of Yamaguchi—but Hajime’s coming for him, anyway.
“Oikawa,” he says, lifting up the ball.
Oikawa turns his protective hand to a finger of accusation. “He was the one who served it!”
“Iwaizumi-san,” Yamaguchi says fearfully.
Hajime says, “I know you goaded him, Oikawa.”
Oikawa laughs, and tries to convince his focus onto Iwaizumi. The pelt to the chest almost knocks the distraction out of him.
That night, his dreams that are usually burning with practice and the routines of everyone on the court, are clouded with Yamaguchi a little more.
« The one that lets the ball fall on the court loses. »
Hours later, that bitter thought — the last one Oikawa had, before Shiratorizawa (Ushijima, Oikawa’s brain supplies, damn him) blasted through Seijoh’s blocks and ended the game’s final set — is one of many details that Oikawa’s looping through his brain tonight on endless repeat.
All the practice they did. All their strategy. Their teamwork, their coordination…the work he’d done to pull out the best in each of them.
The shock of the loss is still raw to him. Eventually, Oikawa will be able to think about the match objectively (he thinks), pore over every play to make sure brute force won’t be enough to bow his team the next time.
For now, he keeps getting distracted by other details. Like how Kindaichi was the only one to cry openly, when Seijoh’s team faced Shiratorizawa at the lineup. Or how Kunimi was conversely the only dry-eyed member of the team from the final whistle to the end of the day.
But there’s no doubt in Oikawa’s mind that out of all the first years who played for Seijoh in the Interhigh, Yamaguchi is the one that’s currently weighing on his mind the most.
The noise from inside the gym gets louder as he approaches. Oikawa suppresses a sigh, listening to the echo of volleyballs hitting the wooden floor with increasing violence and tempo. He knows from experience that the person making the ruckus inside probably started with the intent to practice, but got frustrated by smaller and smaller mistakes until there was nothing else they could do but keep playing to vent their rage. It’s a frustration that Oikawa shares.
But then, he reflects, reaching for the door and pulling it open (loudly and obviously for the other’s sake), he and Yamaguchi have always been alike in certain ways.
“Yama-chan,” Oikawa calls out, and steps into the gym.
For once in Yamaguchi’s (frankly adorable, not that he’d admit it) existence, he does not startle in place like a skittish puppy at the sound of Oikawa’s greeting. Instead, he deflates: the volleyball in his hands drops to the ground and bounces weakly once before rolling away. His trembling hands fall limply to his sides.
“Yama-chan,” Oikawa continues, deciding not this out, “what in the world are you doing?”
“I.” Yamaguchi looks down at his hands, and then the volleyball off to the side.
Oikawa walks in and picks it up. He tosses it lightly in the air.
“You know,” he says. “Iwa-chan’s been wondering who’s been messing in our gym lately.”
“W-What?” Yamaguchi frantically waves his hands, red creeping up his face. “I-I wasn’t—I was just practicing—”
“I know, I know.” Oikawa puts the ball back in the bin. “Now, tell me, Yamaguchi, what exactly is making you ‘practice’ in such a.” He glances at Yamaguchi’s palms, red and screaming. “Reasonable manner.”
“I,” Yamaguchi says. He bites his lip. “I’m just—I mean, we lost—”
“I know we did,” Oikawa says sharply. When he sees Yamaguchi’s eyes cower, he softens. “But you don’t see Iwa-chan in here trying to destroy the gym walls with you.”
Yamaguchi, for some reason, says, “It was my fault we lost.” And before Oikawa can open his mouth, he adds, “I mean, I didn’t—I don’t know if I should stay on the team. I don’t—I mean, I know how we managed Karasuno,” and he stutters, “because you, and Iwaizumi-san, even with those first years, except Tsukki wasn’t there, and then we were going against. Against Shiratorizawa and I.”
His hands, which have been raised to stuff into his hair, fall to his sides again.
“I couldn’t help.”
OIkawa’s frowning. After a moment he comes over and rests a hand on Yamaguchi’s shoulder. Yamaguchi flinches but doesn’t push him off, so that must be something.
“Yama-chan,” he says. “You are an idiot.”
But Oikawa says, “You’re on the court because you wanted it more. Your friend—that glasses guy?—his ambition doesn’t come close to yours.” His friend also sucks, but Oikawa manages to hold that in. “Maybe it will in the future, but don’t let that think you don’t have a place on this team.”
“But—” Yamaguchi starts.
Oikawa pokes him in the chest. “You joined for a reason,” he says. “You came to all the practices for a reason. That is enough.”
“We lost,” Yamaguchi says helplessly.
Oikawa shrugs. “So?” he says, and when Yamaguchi doesn’t really perk up at that, he slings his arm around Yamaguchi’s shoulders. “There’s the summer training camp and the Spring Highs.”
Yamaguchi turns to him with wide eyes. “You’re not retiring?”
“Of course not.” Oikawa chuckles, but remembers the shock again—it builds in his chest, like a fire. “Neither Ushiwaka nor the rest of Shiratorizawa is going to make you see the last of me.”
He feels Yamaguchi turn, and when Oikawa meets his eye, sees a little smile on Yamaguchi’s face. Maybe Yamaguchi doesn’t even know, but Oikawa thinks that maybe Yamaguchi feels the same things he’s feeling—sees the same thing he sees. A pedestal in the distance, waiting for the both of them.
An image of standing at the top of the world with Yamaguchi flashes through Oikawa’s mind.
“Uh,” he says, and pulls his arm back. But there’s a question on Yamaguchi’s face—it’s not like he’s a mind reader, Oikawa has to remind himself.
And Yamaguchi says, “I’m really glad you’re staying Oikawa-san,” and Oikawa has to tell him that this isn’t a big deal, that he can control the vicious flutters in his chest.
Tadashi turns to the doorway, and nearly jumps out of his seat when he sees Oikawa leaning there. Some of the girls in his class are staring and giggling at him, but Oikawa’s eyes are focused on him. This makes his heart beat a little faster, the excitement thrum under his skin a little louder. He gathers up his bag and rushes toward him.
“Coming,” he says, as he makes his way over to him.
Oikawa chuckles. “You’re already here,” he says, and turns into the hallway. “C’mon, practice awaits!”
Tadashi follows him, with an unwavering skip in his step. Oikawa chatters on about his day and his classes and how Iwaizumi’s catching up to him, grades-wise. Tadashi nods and hums in agreement, trying not to delight too much in the way that Oikawa meets his eyes sometimes, waits for his responses, nudges him when Tadashi cracks a joke he hadn’t meant to crack.
Oikawa’s bound to notice these things. He does when Tadashi is a millisecond too late with his serves, when he’s an iota too strong or too powerful, when he comes in and stares at his feet too much and Oikawa asks, have another English exam today, Yama-chan? with a twinkle in his eye.
It kind of gives Tadashi a bit more to look forward to, in school and practices and everything.
They make their way to the club room and it’s automatic—Oikawa extends his hand the same time Tadashi hands his bag to him, while taking off his jacket. Tadashi asks him if they’re going to jog around the school again and Oikawa laughs and says that it does look nice out, and somehow that veers into a conversation about weekend plans that Tadashi isn’t completely against.
Their practices go as they do, Oikawa telling the other first years how to improve their spikes, grinning when Yahaba feints and goes for a set, calling out, “Nice serve!” to Tadashi with comparisons to the previous, small positively-worded criticisms that Tadashi takes to heart. Tadashi watches the way Oikawa tosses to Iwaizumi-san, how Iwaizumi confidently jumps even when the ball doesn’t go to him, the power they both use to get the ball to the other side of the court.
It’s almost intimidating; but when Tadashi serves he remembers their summer training camp, days and afternoons and nights of jogging with Kyoutani, letting Kindaichi steal the vegetables off his plate, waking up too late with Kunimi. Private practices with Oikawa, learning to serve, and jump serve, and float serve, which neither of them had even known Tadashi was capable of doing until he managed it by accident one day. Tadashi remembers Oikawa’s eyes brightening in surprise, saying, we could use that, and encouraging him to practice it on his own.
Oikawa’s watched him so much that now, now that when they’re back in school and Tadashi’s grip is tight on the ball, it’s less intense and more something that Tadashi is used to, needs to feel to get his mind clear. He exhales slowly out his nose, opens his eyes, and jumps.
When practice ends, Tadashi heads back to the club room, feeling rejuvenated. His phone has a few new messages from Tsukishima, and as he shuffles his jacket back on, he texts back, I’d like to see you go up against them, and pockets his phone away as he feels the buzz of the inevitable, No thanks.
“Yama-chan,” says a voice, and Tadashi lifts his head up to see Oikawa, smiling at him. Oikawa has his bag on and jacket slung over his shoulder.
Tadashi’s heartbeat quickens. “Hi, Oikawa.”
Oikawa inclines his head toward the door. “Want to walk home with me?”
He’s thinking too much about it, as they head out of the clubroom, towards the gate exit, off school grounds. Tadashi takes out his phone to distract himself, sends back, If you ever go against Shiratorizawa I’ll hold you to this, and stalls for a few minutes before sending it. It’s weird to talk about it with someone else when Oikawa’s right here.
“Having an exciting conversation?” Oikawa asks, as soon as Tadashi hits ‘send.’ Tadashi fumbles with his phone and catches it before it can fall through his fingers.
“Not—exciting really,” he says, but Oikawa’s chuckling and shaking his head.
“You don’t mind this, do you?” Oikawa asks. His gaze drops, and Tadashi notices the brief moment it turns from something teasing to something nervous, and then back again.
“The—?” Tadashi furrows his eyebrows. “Walking home together?”
“Ah, never mind.” Oikawa’s expression clears, and he diverts his attention to a nearby bakery that they pass. “Are you hungry? We should get something to eat after a long practice of hard work.”
Tadashi nods. “I am hungry,” he says, but he bites his lip and glances inside. “But I’m not sure I’ll have enough money…”
“It’s fine, it’s fine, I’ll pay,” says Oikawa. And when Tadashi just kind of stops in the middle of the sidewalk and stares at him, Oikawa goes, “What?”
“You shouldn’t have to—” Tadashi stops, and then starts again. “I mean, it’s fine—&rdrdquo;
“Yes, that’s what I said, wasn’t it?” Oikawa’s got a little curve at the corner of his mouth. “It’s fine, I’m paying.” And he proceeds to nudge Tadashi in with the back of his hand.
Tadashi insists, and Oikawa insists back, so Tadashi ends up with a drink and a piece of cake that he let Oikawa choose the flavor for. As they walk back out, the wind flutters by, swirling the straw in Tadashi’s cup into a light dance. The orange of the trees filter the sunlight, and Oikawa’s walking so close to Tadashi that every once in a while he can feel the brush of their hips and their shoulders.
“So what were you talking to your glasses friend about earlier?” asks Oikawa, jerking him out of his daze.
“Oh! Uh,” says Tadashi. “How did you know I was talking to Tsukki?”
“Do you talk to anyone else?”
Tadashi’s laugh is small and flows out without his permission. “We were talking about Shiratorizawa,” he says, before he realizes what he’d said. He wants to put his hands over his mouth and take it back, but his hands are full with his drink and food.
Oikawa merely shrugs and glances upward. “Yeah,” he says, like he knows why. And maybe he does. Tadashi wants to stare at the sky in thought with him, but he’s just a first year and Oikawa’s a third year, so all he can do is stare at Oikawa instead.
Oikawa says, “We’ll beat them next time,” turns and shoots a grin at Tadashi. “And the guys after that. And if we don’t? Then there’s just more to make up for,” and he raises his drink into the air, “later!”
Tadashi tries to mimic the motion. “Later!” he says, and Oikawa stops and breaks down into a fit of laughter. Tadashi giggles to himself, nervously, until Oikawa says, “You’re cute, Yama-chan,” and Tadashi turns away, loudly slurping on his drink and blushing.
They finish their food and throw it away before continuing on their walk home. Tadashi lives a little farther than Oikawa, and steadies his pace, enough that it gets slower with each step. If Oikawa notices, he doesn’t say anything.
Oikawa talks about health and food and then asks Tadashi what he thinks, leading into Tadashi rambling for several minutes about his stance on fast food before hastily apologizing. Oikawa says it’s okay before humming that he thinks Tadashi is wrong, which evolves into an argument that doesn’t quite feel like an argument.
When they reach the intersection that’s more Oikawa dropping off and Tadashi continuing the long way home, Oikawa stops. He’s fidgeting, which is something he doesn’t really do, and so Tadashi fidgets too.
“I’ll see you tomorrow, Oikawa-san,” he says, and begins to walk away, because that’s the safe thing to do.
But Oikawa says, “Yama-chan, wait.”
Oikawa takes a step toward him. “Should we pretend this wasn’t a date?” he says, with a smile that might mean something else. Tadashi’s mind is running so fast, with the word date and Oikawa smiling at him now and before and the Yama-chan, I like you, he’s been telling himself for ages not to think too much about and stolen wrist brushes during their training camp and the way—though Tadashi might be imagining it—he might feel Oikawa’s pulse, like electricity under his skin, too.
“Wha,” says Tadashi, very eloquently.
Oikawa’s expression falters for a second when he says, “Unless you didn’t want it to be,” and Tadashi is quick, too quick to say, “No—yes, I do!”
He clears his throat. “I do want it to be a. Date. Thing.”
“Oh,” says Oikawa. After a moment and his face breaks into a beatific smile. “Well, I’m very happy with that then, Yama-chan.”
Tadashi tries not to blush too much. He fails, and Oikawa leans forward with something fond.
“I am, too,” says Tadashi, and starts the bridge between them.
When they kiss, Tadashi trembles, out of both nervousness and excitement. But it’s Oikawa’s warmth, and Oikawa fitting into him, that makes Tadashi feel like their hearts are set on the same thing—that Oikawa has lifted him in place and they’re holding each other steady.