It's too hot in Okinawa. Kageyama tries to go running, but only makes it a little over half his usual distance before giving in to exhaustion and collapsing on the beach. It's too hot, and sand is hard to run on. He lifts a hand to wipe his face and just ends up smearing a sweaty streak of dirt across his forehead.
Frowning, Kageyama lies back and covers his eyes with a sticky, sandy forearm and tries to calculate how much longer he's stuck here. Maybe five weeks. Math has never been his best subject.
The ocean air will be good for you, his mother had said.
Kageyama rolls over and punches the ground. It gets sand in his eye.
His aunt's beach house is nice; big by mainland standards but not excessive, with tall glass windows that offer plenty of natural light and a prime view of the ocean. Kageyama can remember visiting when he was in elementary school and loving it, begging his parents to extend their vacation by another week, even a day. Now he's searching the kitchen for a calendar, trying to figure out if he has five and a half weeks left or just five.
"You look lost," Aunt Mai observes. She's ladling curry from a pot on the stove into two bowls and watching Kageyama with more intensity than he likes. "Can I help you find something?"
Kageyama stops scanning the walls and drops his gaze to the floor. "No," he says.
She hands him a bowl and he accepts it silently, following as she leads the way to the kitchen table. "You can tell me if there's something you need," she says.
Kageyama takes the seat across from his aunt and picks up his spoon, pushing around a carrot in his bowl. He hates Mai's astuteness sometimes. "Just looking for a calendar," he mumbles.
Even without looking up, he can feel her frown settle over him.
"Phones have calendars on them," she says after a moment. "Didn't your parents finally get you one of those?"
It hadn't even occurred to Kageyama to look at his phone. He blinks, then lifts his head and scans the room again, trying to remember where he last saw it.
"Next to the TV," Mai says, with a sigh that sounds exasperated but maybe also a little amused. "I charged it for you. Your mother called twice, by the way."
"Thanks," Kageyama says. He ducks his head and starts to shovel curry into his mouth, determined now to finish fast.
"She called me, too. She wants to know how you're doing." All amusement has fled from her voice in a hurry. "I didn't know what to say."
Kageyama's spoon stops midway to his mouth and hovers there. "I'm fine," he answers, a few seconds too slow.
"It's not forever, you know. You really will get to play volleyball again."
A rush of bitter frustration puts a sour taste in his mouth, and Kageyama has to swallow against it, forcibly resisting the urge to bark a nasty response. "Okay," he says, his tone flat and cold.
"It's important to take breaks sometimes," Mai continues. "It can help you reset. Even with my work, I—"
Kageyama scarfs down the last of his dinner in two enormous mouthfuls and stands up before she can finish her sentence. "Thanks for dinner," he interrupts. "Excuse me."
He can hear Mai sighing as he carries his dishes to the sink and turns on the tap. As soon as his bowl is drying in the rack, he retrieves his phone and escapes to his room, pulling up the phone calendar as he goes.
Five weeks and a day exactly. After a little fiddling, he manages to set an alert to go off a week before he goes home. It's the closest thing he can figure out to a countdown.
Kageyama wakes up late the next morning, which annoys him because it means it's going to be even hotter for running. He should wait until later in the afternoon in order to avoid the midday sun, but every nerve in his body is itching for activity. After a hurried breakfast, he throws on his lightest sleeveless t-shirt, slathers on some sunscreen, and takes off for the beach. His aunt works on weekdays, so the house is empty, but he doesn't realize until a few minutes out that he forgot to lock the door; it's hard to get in the habit, but Mai is always reminding him Okinawa isn't as safe as home.
Cursing, Kageyama turns back the way he came. He's already sweating far more than a few minutes of exercise should warrant, and by the time he's located the spare set of keys—upstairs on his bedside table, next to the phone he also forgot—he's both cranky and exhausted. Only the idea of staying inside doing nothing at all can drive him back out again. He locks the door with an angry jerk, starts running in the direction he always goes, then slows. He's never gone left along the beach from his aunt's house, simply because it's unfamiliar and he doesn't trust himself not to get lost, but if he squints in that direction, he can see a row of trees lining what appears to be a boardwalk.
The prospect of a shaded running path made of something other than sand outweighs his worries about getting lost. Kageyama picks up his pace again, veering left, and is rewarded after only a few minutes of the sun beating down directly on his shoulders by exactly what he was hoping to find. The boardwalk is cement and uniformly flat, raised high above the beach, and seemingly endless, curving out of sight into the distance. The trees extend along most of it, too, although the sun is high enough right now that the shade doesn't reach very far. He can see a few other joggers enjoying the flat surface, mostly middle-aged men with dark sweat stains spreading down to their waists.
Kageyama takes the nearest flight of stairs up to the boardwalk, two-by-two, and takes off, leaving the casual joggers puffing in his wake. If he hugs the left side nearest the trees, he can just manage to stay mostly in the shade as he goes. The height of the boardwalk makes it easy to look down over the beach and watch the waves without actually having to deal with sand or the smell of fish. He can almost enjoy himself.
The sense of satisfaction lasts about ten minutes, until the sun gets even higher and his shade disappears entirely. Kageyama can feel the last of his energy draining out of him, just like his sweat. He draws to a reluctant stop alongside a staircase, chest heaving, and drinks hungrily from his water bottle.
He hears the sound of a volleyball being spiked before he sees it. Below, down the staircase and to his left, from an area of the beach that's partially obscured by an enormous, unattended bulldozer and a copse of gnarled trees. Kageyama grabs onto the railing and leans as far out as he can, trying to see around the trees, his heart pounding. He has to wait for some time, but sure enough, there it is again: the sharp smack of a hand against a ball and a grunt of effort, so familiar Kageyama could have placed it in his sleep. And there, over the tops of the trees, a flash of green and red.
Kageyama is hurtling down the stairs before he's even caught his breath, taking the last three all at once and almost wiping out with the force of his own momentum. It doesn't slow him down. Sand kicks up under his feet as he runs, circling the bulldozer and trees until finally he spots the corner of a volleyball net and a shock of red, wild hair. The realization that it might come off as a little frighteningly overeager if he jumped right onto the court panting and sweaty and begging to play brings Kageyama's feet to a reluctant halt. He stands beside one of the trees, cautious but transfixed, and watches the boy with the ball.
It's hard to tell from behind, but the boy is probably a middle schooler, judging by his height. He looks about 163 centimeters, maybe 164, but still he has the body of an athlete. His calf muscles in particular are well-defined, evidence of a training regimen too rigorous for a casual player. And he's alone, but still attempting to practice spiking, which makes Kageyama snort. There are volleyball drills you can do by yourself for practice, but spiking isn't one of them.
The boy does his best anyway, and Kageyama has to admit, it isn't bad. He throws the ball as high as he can, then races around from behind to spike it from an almost natural angle. It wouldn't be possible if he weren't so quick, but his feet move faster than most players Kageyama has encountered. It's almost familiar, really; Kageyama frowns and takes a step forward, sure now that he's seen this before, although he doesn't know when or how.
Despite his good footwork, the boy's hit is weak. He doesn't even manage to send the ball over without it touching the net, and when it happens for the third time Kageyama can hear him curse. The ball rolls away to the right, the boy whirls to retrieve it, and Kageyama finally catches a glimpse of his face.
A gasp escapes him before he can stop it. The boy hears him and jolts, turning and clutching the ball to his chest, protective. Still, his face brightens when he spots Kageyama.
"Hey! Hi! How's it going? Do you like volleyball? Do you wanna play?" He's shielding his eyes from the sun as he hurries forward, but once they're close enough he stops dead and drops his hand, friendly smile fading as quickly as it appeared.
"Why—what are you doing here?" The boy's voice is high and disbelieving, which is probably exactly what Kageyama would sound like if he weren't stricken speechless.
He scowls and searches his head for any trace of the boy's name, but comes up with nothing. All he has is the memory of the same speed and reflexes he was just admiring, surprisingly clear despite the fact that it's been close to two years. Even though they only met once at a middle school tournament, he's not sure he could ever forget that spike.
"Your spike got weaker," Kageyama says instead of answering.
The boy's shoulders jerk upright and he nearly drops the ball in sputtering indignation. "I—you—shut up! It's hard to spike alone!" His expression shifts to something more suspicious then, and he looks Kageyama up and down, scrutinizing. "So you remember me?"
Kageyama crosses his arms, irritated and a little self-conscious. "I remember your spike."
This seems to please the boy, at least a little. His mouth quirks into an almost-smile. "I said I'd defeat you," he says. Kageyama remembers that too. "But you weren't on any of the teams we played this year."
"I moved to Yamagata." There's more to it than that, but this kid doesn't need to know it.
To his surprise, the boy's face brightens again. "So you're still playing volleyball?"
Kageyama shifts his feet, digging them deeper into the sand. "Of course."
Without warning, the boy throws the volleyball straight at Kageyama's chest. He only catches it out of instinct, and even then stumbles a little, off-kilter since they're so close.
"What the hell—" he starts.
"Toss for me!"
The boy is grinning, already leading the way onto the court, walking backwards. Unthinkingly, Kageyama starts to follow him, then stops, annoyed at himself.
"I don't even know your name," he says.
"Hinata Shouyou." Hinata steps to the right side of the net and waits, crouched and ready, his entire body basically quivering with anticipation.
There's a moment when Kageyama considers just dropping the ball and leaving. It bothers him that Hinata is so confident Kageyama will toss for him, and even despite his speed, from what Kageyama has seen, there's nothing more special about him than that. But the volleyball in his hands feels good, firm and reassuring, and Hinata's eyes are flashing with something he remembers from their match in middle school. It pulls him in.
"Fine," Kageyama snarls, making sure to sound as reluctant as possible, even though his heart skips a beat approaching a volleyball court again. He kicks his shoes off and moves into position, front and center by the net. "Only for a little while."
"Okay!" Hinata is actually bouncing now, rocking up and down on the balls of his feet.
"You throw it first," Kageyama orders, sending the ball back in Hinata's direction.
Hinata doesn't waste time. He throws it high and then runs—Fast, Kageyama thinks, his mind working furiously to find the best place for a toss—jumping at nearly the same instant the ball touches Kageyama's fingertips. Kageyama sets it up and right, and Hinata's palm finds it in just the right spot. It soars over without touching the net and lands with an eruption of sand at the left corner of the far court.
Hinata's shout makes Kageyama jump, and he stares open-mouthed as Hinata races right up to him, shaking out his wrist and beaming.
"THAT FELT SO GOOD! THANK YOU!"
Even though Hinata is yelling at him from less than a meter away, Kageyama can't bring himself to feel annoyed. Maybe because he's too stunned to feel much of anything; he's not sure anyone has ever thanked him for a toss before.
Hinata ducks under the net to fetch the ball, then calls, "Again! Please!" and moves into position faster than Kageyama can wipe the sweat away from his upper lip.
"You were still too weak," Kageyama says. "That would've been easy to block."
"I'll hit it harder this time." Hinata is holding the ball at chest height and still, still beaming, not offended at all, clearly awaiting Kageyama's permission to throw.
"Good," Kageyama says, glowering, but nothing is going to dampen Hinata's optimism. He hesitates, then raises his hands above his head. Hinata actually sighs his relief before throwing again.
They play until their water bottles are empty and neither of them can stand up straight anymore. Kageyama collapses to the ground near the trees, flat on his back, arms spread out at his sides. The sun has changed position enough that they have some real shade, but still he isn't sure he'll ever cool off. Hinata collapses next to him, causing Kageyama to blink against the resulting sand cloud, but he's so exhausted he can't even manage to complain.
"It's so hot," Hinata says, unnecessarily.
"Tomorrow we should play earlier. So the sun's not so bad."
Kageyama's head feels like it weighs a ton, but still he lifts it so he can settle the full weight of his gaze on Hinata. He's not sure whether he's glaring or just gaping.
"I'm still gonna beat you someday," Hinata says quickly, meeting Kageyama's eyes without fear. Still, he sounds a little desperate when he goes on, "But for now—you wanna practice too, right? You don't have anyone else here, right?"
You don't have anyone else anywhere, Kageyama reminds himself. He lowers his head back to the sand and closes his eyes.
"I can be here at eight," he says.
At 7:15, Kageyama jerks awake to the sound of his alarm and spends a few seconds wondering why. When the events of the day before come rushing back to him, he sits bolt upright, hits the alarm, throws his covers off, and races downstairs. It won't take him too long to get to the sand court again, but he has to eat and get dressed first.
He's rounding the bottom step when he almost runs into Mai, carrying a cup of coffee and looking more than a little startled to see him.
"Tobio!" she says. "I . . . haven't seen you up before 10 since you've been here."
Kageyama feels like he's been caught in a trap. He rubs the back of his calf with his foot and searches furiously for an explanation. "I'm trying to go running earlier," he says, only fumbling the words a little. "Because. It's hot."
Mai laughs. "It is that," she agrees, but something in her expression tells Kageyama she's not entirely convinced. "Well, I'm about to head out. Don't forget to lock up when you go."
Kageyama tries to act as if he's not in any hurry, walking slowly to the kitchen and digging through the refrigerator for what's left of yesterday's rice and some eggs. As soon as Mai has called out one last goodbye and closed the front door, however, he stuffs the egg carton back in the fridge, tops a bowl of rice with a few much quicker pre-cooked sausages, and scarfs it down in a matter of minutes. He's dressed and out the door by 7:30.
He has no idea why it feels so important that he get to the court on time. A part of him is nervous that he'll get there and there will be no Hinata, and, by extension, no volleyball. In his rush to get moving, he nearly trips over his aunt's ancient moped, propped up against the wall next to the back door, and then nearly trips again when the neighbor's cat tries to twine itself between his legs, hoping for food or affection or both.
The obstacles only set him out running faster. The sun definitely isn't as severe this early in the morning, and he feels like he can go at almost his normal pace, especially once he's escaped the sand for the comforting cement of the boardwalk. When he at last approaches the staircase that will carry him down to the court, a glance at his phone tells him he's several minutes early.
Kageyama hovers uncertainly at the top of the stairs. If Hinata does show up, will he make fun of Kageyama for being overeager? Should he jog back a ways and return a few minutes late?
As if in answer, the sound of a volleyball being spiked, along with Hinata's accompanying grunt, floats up to him. Kageyama is almost alarmed by his own relief. His feet carry him down the stairs, past the bulldozer and around the trees, and when he steps into view Hinata is already looking expectantly in his direction, volleyball ready in his hands.
"You came!" His smile is immediate and sincere.
Kageyama has no idea what to do with his face. "You're early," he says.
Hinata's smile widens. "I was excited!" He pulls his phone out of his pocket and checks it, adding, "Anyway, you're early too."
There's no arguing that, so Kageyama just frowns and bends over to take his shoes and socks off. When he straightens up again, Hinata is still smiling at him, gripping the volleyball so tight it looks like it might pop.
"Are you ready?" he asks.
A dozen sharp replies come to mind at once, but Kageyama doesn't feel particularly drawn toward any of them. He nods and approaches the net.
Hinata throws as soon as Kageyama is in position, just the kind of ball any setter would kill for in a real match, high and steady. Kageyama adjusts his footing and gets his hands ready, and it feels so easy when he tosses the ball, sharp and tight, to the left. He realizes a fraction of a second too late that it's no good. This is exactly the kind of toss his teammates hate: fast and reckless, unpredictable, impossible to respond to in time. But as he turns toward Hinata, steeling himself for the inevitable complaints, he finds Hinata is gone, a blur in the corner of his vision, and the ball is gone too, already buried in the sand on the other side of the court. Kageyama hadn't even seen the impact.
"Wow," Hinata says, looking down at his hands and then back up at Kageyama.
Wow, Kageyama agrees, but he can't quite make himself say it.
"You really do have the best toss," Hinata says, frowning like it pains him. "Agh!" He lifts up the net and runs over to the ball, leaving Kageyama to stare down at his own hands.
"Again!" Hinata is already waiting and ready beside him and Kageyama feels like he's stuck in slow motion. He lowers his hands and centers himself, blinking sweat out of his eyes.
"Snap your wrist downward more when you hit," he says, searching for anything to mask how taken aback he is. "It's going to go out if you're too loose."
"Okay, okay." Hinata shifts impatiently. "Are you ready yet?"
He's not sure he is, but Kageyama nods anyway.
They practice until Kageyama can actually feel his skin starting to burn, hot and stinging on his shoulders and nose and cheeks. A glance in Hinata's direction shows he isn't faring any better, and with a mutual nod, they move toward the trees. Kageyama has to tuck himself in directly at the base of a trunk in order to get any shade at all. At the tree to his left, Hinata does the same, and they sit silently draining their water bottles and staring at the court for some time.
Unsurprisingly, Hinata is the one to break the silence. "Your team must have done well this year, huh? What school are you at?"
The questioning startles Kageyama. "Tentou," he says reluctantly, ignoring the first question entirely.
Hinata doesn't have any comment to make about Kageyama's school; they're far enough away that he's probably never heard of them. "I'm at Karasuno," he says. Kageyama thinks he remembers the name. "I guess we probably won't get to play each other until nationals."
If he hadn't just seen Hinata adapt within the space of a few minutes to his fastest toss, Kageyama would have laughed. Instead, he replies, "I guess."
"Kageyama," Hinata says, leaning in so Kageyama has no choice but to face him. "Why are you in Okinawa? I mean, you must be a regular, right? Don't you have summer volleyball practice?"
Kageyama's mouth tightens into a thin line. His first impulse is to push Hinata's earnest face away and tell him to mind his own business, but it's a natural question to ask, and there's no real harm in telling him at least part of the truth.
"My parents want me to . . . take a break. Just for the summer." Saying the words out loud incites a new rush of frustration inside him.
"From volleyball?" Hinata sounds so indignant that Kageyama almost smiles. He's grateful that Hinata, at least, understands.
"What about you?" Kageyama asks.
"Oh—" Hinata seems genuinely surprised to have his own question turned on him. "Uh—my mom just really wanted me to come on our family vacation. But I'm not actually a regular yet, so."
Kageyama's eyebrows lift, and he finds himself speaking without meaning to. "It's a complete waste if you're not a regular."
Hinata's face changes. He's shocked, for sure, but more than that, he looks flattered, delighted, his cheeks growing pinker and his skin seeming to glow. Kageyama furrows his brow and hurriedly looks away.
"You have amazing speed and reflexes," he grates out. "Anyone can see that. They're idiots if they're not using it. But your hit is still weak!"
It's no use; Hinata is positively preening under the compliment, smiling like an idiot, impervious to anything Kageyama could say after.
"I have to go eat," Kageyama snaps, standing and brushing sand off his shorts.
"Okay," Hinata says brightly, jumping up alongside him. "Tomorrow? Same time?"
Kageyama, pretending to be occupied with brushing away more sand, doesn't immediately speak. "I could come tonight, too," he says at length.
If Hinata was glowing before, it's nothing compared to now. "Okay!" he says; he's practically shouting. "Yeah! Me too! After dinner! What time? Seven? Eight?"
"Eight is fine." Kageyama feels extremely embarrassed now, and he's careful to hide his face as he bends to put on his socks and shoes. "See you later."
Hinata's glow seems to follow him all the way up the stairs and down the boardwalk, but maybe, Kageyama reasons, shielding his eyes with an arm, that's just the midday sun.
Practicing at night is more difficult than Kageyama had initially anticipated. First of all, it involves lying directly to his aunt's face, which isn't something he's especially good at.
"A night run?" Mai, stretched out on the sofa with her legs up on the coffee table, sets down her book and frowns. "Do you usually do night runs?"
"Sometimes." Kageyama rubs his elbow, then the back of his head, then lets his hand drop stiffly to his side.
"You haven't joined some secret night volleyball league or something, have you?"
It's a joke, but still Kageyama can feel his face growing hot. "I—"
Mai cuts him off with a wave of her hand. She might have mistaken his awkwardness for sadness, because she looks a little sympathetic now.
"Just be safe," she says. "Stick to the lighted areas and don't be out too late. And bring your phone."
"Thanks," Kageyama says. He stuffs his phone in his pocket, grabs his running shoes, and slips out the back door before Mai can ask any more questions.
When he gets to the sand court—earlier than Hinata this time—Kageyama discovers the second problem with night practice: the lights from the boardwalk aren't strong enough to properly illuminate the court. He can see the net and the side of the court he's standing on, but only just, and nothing at all beyond that.
"Hey! Kageyama!" Hinata jogs around the trees, volleyball under one arm, waving enthusiastically. "Sorry—am I late? I had to read to my sister, and then I couldn't find my shoes."
Kageyama doesn't speak, waiting for Hinata to acknowledge their obvious problem. Instead, Hinata starts toeing off his shoes and keeps talking.
"My phone's probably gonna die soon," he babbles, dropping the ball and bending over into a stretch, "so if we end up being later than ten, can I use yours to call my mom? She gets really weird about checking in—"
"Hinata," Kageyama says.
Still touching his toes, Hinata stops babbling and blinks up at him. "What?"
"We can't play."
"Huh?" Hinata straightens up now, like a shot, like Kageyama just insulted him personally. "What do you mean? Why?"
Kageyama waves in the general direction of the court. "It's too dark. You can barely see the net."
To Kageyama's surprise, Hinata seems to relax at this. "Oh," he says, "that's fine. I don't mind."
It's hard to decide whether to be impressed or annoyed by Hinata's nonchalance. "There's no way you can spike when it's this dark out," Kageyama says, exasperated.
Hinata picks up the ball and takes a step closer; even in the dim light, Kageyama can see his eyes flash mischievously.
"I can play in the dark," he says. "Are you scared?"
All the blood rises to Kageyama's face, and at his sides, his hands ball into instinctive fists.
"Don't be an idiot!" He kicks his shoes off—they go flying wildly in opposite directions, toward either end of the bulldozer—and stomps onto the court, pretending not to notice Hinata's grin following him. "You'd better have improved your strength since this morning," he snarls, getting into position.
Hinata doesn't even bother replying. "Here I go," he says, still grinning, and then the ball is in the air, and Kageyama has to shift his focus toward the game.
It's not easy setting for a ball you can barely see. Still, if he channels all his concentration, Kageyama can feel the ball coming with almost as much clarity as he can normally see it—something about the wind, and the sound, and the angle of Hinata's arms when he throws, helps guide Kageyama's hands. Hinata whoops the moment the ball is airborne and takes off.
For all his talk, Hinata is terrible. Again and again, Kageyama manages to set the ball, maybe not with quite his usual accuracy but still generally on course, and again and again Hinata whiffs it. It would be satisfying to see him eating his words except that it's not; like it or not, Hinata is the only spiker Kageyama has, so when his performance suffers, Kageyama's does as well.
"That hit was a mile off," Kageyama snaps, glaring at the ball as it rolls back to his feet.
"I know, I know!" Hinata's voice has taken on a similarly sharp edge that Kageyama hasn't heard before, and he kicks out at the sand, spraying Kageyama's ankles.
"Just give it a rest." Kageyama shakes sand off his feet and turns away, heading back toward the bulldozer. There's a disappointed hollowness settling in his stomach from such an unproductive practice, but, he reminds both himself and Hinata, "We can try again in the morning."
Kageyama glances over his shoulder, furrowing his brow at the sight of Hinata tugging furiously at his hair.
"I can feel it coming," Hinata says, turning his earnest gaze on Kageyama, "but then the place I see it coming looks different, and I end up hitting somewhere in the middle."
Kageyama hesitates. "You can feel it?" he repeats.
Hinata nods. After a moment's pause, Kageyama returns to the court and scoops up the ball.
"Try again," he says, throwing it to Hinata, who only barely catches it in his surprise. "Don't pay attention to your eyes this time. Just feel it."
It sounds stupid to say it out loud, but Hinata doesn't show any sign of doubt. He nods seriously, takes two steps back, and waits for Kageyama to settle in before he throws. Kageyama feels it, too, when he jumps to send it left and high, and he closes his eyes when he comes back to the ground. He's rewarded with the most satisfying smack of a hand against a volleyball he's ever heard, followed by Hinata's excited laugh, and when he opens his eyes again, it's just in time to see Hinata jumping on him.
"How did you know that would work?" Hinata trills, half-hugging, half-tackling Kageyama, who twists his body violently in an effort to get away.
"Get off me!" Kageyama is so startled he loses all strength for a moment, but when it returns, he wastes no time in prying Hinata's hands away from his waist, heart beating fast.
Hinata is entirely unfazed as he's forcibly shoved away. "That was so cool!" he persists, shining eyes fixed steadfastly on Kageyama. "It, like, floated into my hand!"
Rather than continue to face Hinata's irrepressible enthusiasm, Kageyama lifts the net and storms onto the other court in search of the ball.
"It was out," he announces, avoiding Hinata's eyes when he comes back, but he knows Hinata is no less elated; out or not, the spike was undeniably a victory.
"The sand volleyball courts are so small," Hinata says. Then, in an excited rush, "Let's try again!"
"Just as long as you don't hug me this time." Kageyama feels weird as soon as he says it, like it should be taboo to even mention again, but Hinata only laughs.
They successfully pull off the quick with every single subsequent attempt, and Hinata manages to keep it inside the court a fair amount of the time, although not with as much consistency as Kageyama would like. Even so, by the time they stumble back to the trees, panting and sticky with sweat, Kageyama's chest is strangely light. He hasn't had this much success tossing for someone, even in a brightly lit gym, for as long as he can remember. It feels like they're on the verge of something momentous.
"That felt really good." Hinata flumps down in the sand and Kageyama follows suit, unable to help but look as Hinata pulls his phone from his pocket. It's flashing with several unread messages.
"Do you need to call your mom?" Kageyama asks. It's not quite ten yet, but someone is obviously trying hard to get a hold of him.
"Oh, no." Hinata is smiling down at his phone as he scrolls through the messages, but eventually slips it back into his pocket without replying. "That was just a few of my teammates."
Despite the humid night air, Kageyama suddenly feels a little cold. "Oh," he says.
"They've been sending me updates since I've been gone," Hinata continues, oblivious to the fact that Kageyama couldn't be less interested in discussing the topic further.
"They sound great," he says, flatly, hoping to end it there. But Hinata, of course, isn't interested in letting anything go peacefully.
"They are!" he chirps. "Next semester is gonna be weird, since some of our senpai are graduating. But we're gonna be sure we make them proud!"
Kageyama keeps his mouth pressed into a tight line, which Hinata notices not at all.
"What about you?" he asks, turning his full attention to the side of Kageyama's face. "What are your teammates like?"
"They're fine," Kageyama says briskly. "Do you want to call your mom now?"
Hinata scrunches his nose in what might be confusion, but all he says is, "Yeah, okay. My phone's at one percent. Can I use yours?"
Kageyama hands it over wordlessly and gets up to search for his shoes while Hinata makes the call. Hinata assures his mother he'll be back in ten minutes before bidding her goodnight, and Kageyama, shaking the last dregs of sand from his shoes, returns just in time to find Hinata keying something into his phone.
"Hey—what are you doing?" He nearly drops his shoes in his haste to snatch the phone back, but Hinata is too quick for him.
"Just hold on a minute!" Hinata buckles forward, out of Kageyama's reach. Kageyama can see now that he's making a call to a contact listed as ~☆Hinata Shouyou!!☆~
Hinata pulls his own phone from his pocket, and it flashes with the incoming call just once before going dark. The battery finally gave in.
"There," Hinata says, placing Kageyama's phone squarely in his outstretched palm and smiling up at him. "Now we can message each other!"
Kageyama pulls the phone back with more force than necessary and shoves it into his pocket without looking at it. "We don't need to message each other if we meet at the same time every day," he mutters, jamming his shoes on his feet, but Hinata ignores this.
"I've gotta go," he says, rising from the sand to collect his ball. "That was fun," he adds, slipping his own shoes on without shaking any sand out, making Kageyama cringe. "Thanks!"
"Uh. Yeah," Kageyama says. He feels compelled to leave first, for whatever reason, so he turns around without looking at Hinata and says, "See you tomorrow."
"Same time!" Hinata agrees from behind him. "Bye!"
The run home is easy, cool and peaceful, uninterrupted by another human being. Mai has already gone to bed when he gets back, but Kageyama still takes a quick shower, knowing full well he'd be unable to sleep with that much sweat and sand stuck to his skin. By the time he's made it to his room, he's completely forgotten about his phone, and the sound of buzzing from the laundry pile almost makes him jump a foot out of bed.
He digs the phone out of his shorts pocket and sees ~☆Hinata Shouyou!!☆~ flashing at him.
I'm gonna hit it in every time tomorrow!! Hinata's message reads.
Kageyama scoffs out loud, but his mouth curves into a smile.
Good, he sends back, before resolutely hitting the power button.
He's still smiling when he turns off the light and climbs back into bed.
For a week straight, they meet for practice twice a day every day. It becomes enough of a routine that soon Kageyama doesn't even need to set an alarm, instead springing out of bed naturally a little after seven. Their morning practices are productive—even in the space of just a few days, Hinata's accuracy is beginning to noticeably improve, and Kageyama, too, can feel his tosses getting cleaner—but the night practices are what leave him feeling especially invigorated. Every time they pull off a quick in the near-black it feels like a step closer to invincibility; Kageyama finds himself daydreaming about it when he's home, quietly working through the steps in his head, looking for chinks in their armor. If Hinata could just up his power a little bit—
Kageyama drops the bowl he was washing into the sink and lifts his head, meeting his aunt's gaze sheepishly. Judging by her tone, this isn't the first time she's said his name.
"Good lord," Mai says, looking at him with real concern. "Did you hear a word I just said?"
"Sorry," he says.
Mai narrows her eyes and keeps watching him, searching. Kageyama hunches his shoulders and scrubs faster. He's just sticking the last dinner plate in the drying rack when Mai says, "Did you meet someone? Is this some kind of summer romance thing?"
"What?" Kageyama's neck and cheeks go instantly hot. "I—no! No."
"Hmm." Mai's eyes are still narrowed. "Are you playing volleyball?"
"No!" Kageyama yelps. Terrified of giving himself away, he scrabbles for a fuller answer, one that will actually convince her. In the end, his only option is another half-truth.
"I did meet someone," he says, adding quickly when Mai's eyebrows shoot upward, "a guy! Just a—friend." The word feels strange when he says it, but he plows on. "We—he plays sports too, so we've just been—running together."
"Running," Mai repeats. "With a friend."
Kageyama nods, face still burning.
"Okay," Mai says. She's obviously skeptical, but Kageyama can sense that he's dodged a bullet, at least for now. "Well, then. I guess it's about time you go meet your friend."
Kageyama nods again.
"Take a sweatshirt," Mai says, finally turning her gaze away from Kageyama's face. "It's supposed to rain."
"Okay." Kageyama almost gasps it, he's so relieved to be released from his interrogation. He races upstairs for a hoodie, but comes back down more cautiously, like if he runs too loud Mai will start asking questions again.
"Hey," Mai says, just as Kageyama is opening the back door.
He freezes. "Yeah?"
"What's your friend's name?"
Kageyama relaxes. "Hinata Shouyou," he says.
Mai nods, as if in approval. "Okay. Have fun."
Kageyama runs faster than usual, doing his best to ignore the ominous purple shade of the sky. When he gets to the sand court, Hinata is waiting for him, sitting by the trees instead of playing by himself for once, his leg jiggling with impatience.
"You're late!" he says.
"My aunt," Kageyama says, by way of explanation, dropping his hoodie to the ground and kicking his shoes behind him.
"You should text me if you're gonna be late." There's a hint of a pout in Hinata's voice. "That's why I gave you my number."
He doesn't understand why Hinata is making such a big deal out of a few minutes. Kageyama straightens up, intending to say so, but the words catch in his throat at the sight of Hinata's face. There's genuine hurt there.
"Sorry," he says. It falls from his mouth without his permission.
Hinata bounces upright, instantly appeased. "It's okay," he says. "Just tell me next time."
Then he leads the way onto the court, and Kageyama, still a little off-balance, follows.
They barely get to play for fifteen minutes before it starts raining. Kageyama glares up at the storm clouds from under the cover of the trees while Hinata races in circles, trying to find his shoes and socks before they get soaked. When he joins Kageyama, he's carrying his shoes in one hand and Kageyama's only slightly damp hoodie in the other.
"You forgot this!"
Kageyama keeps glaring at the sky. "Don't need it," he grunts. It's still warmer than he would like, even with the rain.
Neither of them says anything for a while. After the third rumble of thunder, it becomes apparent that the weather isn't going to let up anytime soon.
"I guess we should—" Kageyama starts, then stops dead when he looks sideways at Hinata. Who is wearing his sweatshirt.
Hinata meets his gaze innocently. "What?" he says. "It's cold! And you said you weren't gonna use it!"
"That doesn't mean you can just put on someone else's clothes!" Despite the bite to his words, Kageyama is more flabbergasted than angry; Hinata is quickly proving to be the biggest mystery he's ever encountered, more incomprehensible even than classical literature.
"It's fine," Kageyama says, when Hinata frowns and starts to tug at the neck of the sweatshirt. "Just—give it to me tomorrow."
Hinata doesn't need to be told twice. "Okay!" he says, cheerful again.
"You should come to my place," Hinata interrupts.
Kageyama has lost count of how many times he's stopped to gape at Hinata in the past thirty minutes. "What?" he says.
"It's only five minutes away if you run," Hinata says. "And the rain is pretty heavy."
Another clap of thunder sounds, emphasizing Hinata's argument. There's no reason to refuse, Kageyama realizes, frowning at the way his stomach still tangles up a little in anxiousness. He's not sure what he's afraid of; maybe Mai?
"Okay," he agrees, shaking a few water droplets out of his bangs. The trees are starting to drip on them. "I'll have to call my aunt."
"When we get there," Hinata says. He waits patiently while Kageyama struggles into his shoes with damp feet, then flips Kageyama's hood up over his hair. "You sure you don't want your hoodie back?"
Kageyama looks away, glowering. "It's fine," he says. "Let's go."
Hinata leads, up the boardwalk stairs and then right, in the opposite direction of Mai's house. He was telling the truth when he said it was close, but even so, they're soaked by the time they approach Hinata's place, one of a number of identical narrow townhomes standing in a snug row not far from the boardwalk. Hinata points to it, but catches Kageyama's elbow before he can start up the front step.
"Oh, shoot—hold on a sec—" And Hinata disappears, around the back of the row of townhomes, leaving Kageyama alone to blink against the worsening rain. When Hinata appears again a minute later, the volleyball is gone.
"Come on!" Hinata breezes past Kageyama, jogging up the steps and wrenching open the door, motioning for him to keep up.
"Why did you—" Kageyama begins, hurrying into the entryway behind Hinata, but he's immediately shushed.
"Mom!" Hinata calls, pulling down the hood of Kageyama's sweatshirt. "Mom, we need towels, please!"
A small, simultaneously friendly- and worried-looking woman with graying red hair appears from around the corner.
"Shouyou, thank goodness—I was starting to wonder where you were!" She opens a nearby closet door and produces two immense, fluffy towels, which Hinata and Kageyama accept gratefully.
"Thanks," Hinata says, and when Kageyama echoes him, Hinata's mother turns all her attention his way.
"You must be the friend Shouyou has been talking about!" she says, smiling all the way to the corners of her eyes.
Kageyama, in the midst of toweling his hair dry, goes still.
"Yeah, um, this is Kageyama," Hinata says quickly, face hidden by his towel. "It's raining really hard, and his place is farther away, so I told him—"
"Of course," says Hinata's mother. "You can stay as long as you need, dear. You must be tired from all that swimming this morning."
Lowering the towel, Kageyama looks to Hinata for help. "Uh—"
"Yeah, lots of swimming!" Hinata chirps. He struggles out of soggy, squeaky shoes and finally steps away from the genkan and onto the floor. "Anyway, we should go dry off."
"Just make sure not to wake Natsu," Hinata's mother says.
"We'll be quiet! Come on, Kageyama!" Hinata shoots him a significant look and makes for the stairs.
"Thank you for your hospitality," Kageyama mumbles, also struggling out of his wet shoes before staggering after Hinata.
The moment they're in Hinata's bedroom, the door safely closed behind them, Kageyama pulls his towel down around his neck and crosses his arms.
"You're not supposed to be playing volleyball, either."
Hinata doesn't meet his gaze, but his cheeks are definitely pink as he turns toward a small dresser and starts to dig around for fresh clothes.
"Why not?" Kageyama can't understand. Wanting Hinata to come with on a family vacation is one thing, but there should be no reason for his mother to expressly forbid him to play volleyball.
"I actually, ah, got injured," Hinata says. He tugs at the too-long cuffs of Kageyama's sweatshirt sleeves and keeps his eyes on the open dresser drawer.
Kageyama can feel his eyes widen. He quickly runs through Hinata's movements in the hours they've put in playing together so far, searching for any sign of hesitation or tenderness. It couldn't be a sprained foot or ankle, not with the speed he's demonstrated even on sand, and he has plenty of flexibility in his shoulders and elbows. The only thing that's seemed potentially off is—
"Your wrist," Kageyama says, frowning down at Hinata's hands.
"It's fine now!" Hinata says, but he starts rubbing the offending wrist anyway, maybe subconsciously. "It was just a sprain, and it's mostly back to normal. My mom just thinks I need to rest more."
"You could've told me." Kageyama tries to count the number of times he's called Hinata's spike weak in the past week. His stomach tangles unpleasantly.
"I thought . . . maybe you wouldn't play with me if you knew." Hinata has been avoiding Kageyama's eyes throughout the entire conversation, but he risks a glance upward now, nervously.
That's stupid, Kageyama opens his mouth to say. But he stops before the words can come out, considering just what his reaction would have been the first day he ran into Hinata on the beach if he'd said his spiking wrist was injured. Probably something along the lines of, What a waste of time.
His mouth closes.
"Are you gonna stop playing with me now?" Hinata asks. He's back to looking down at the dresser drawer, his shirt sleeves, anywhere but Kageyama.
"No." Kageyama isn't sure why so much has changed in the space of a week, but he knows he couldn't bear the idea of stopping their daily practices. "But we should practice some other stuff too. You shouldn't be spiking so much if your wrist is still healing."
Hinata seems only vaguely reassured. "I like spiking," he whines.
"Then don't ruin your chances of ever doing it again by pushing an injury!" It comes out harsher than Kageyama intends, but he doesn't feel that bad, even when Hinata flinches.
"So," Kageyama says, changing the subject mostly because Hinata's pouting is annoying, "you told your mom we've been . . . swimming?"
"Oh," Hinata says. "Yeah—I told her you don't know how so I'm teaching you."
Hinata starts to struggle out of Kageyama's damp hoodie, pulling up his T-shirt at the same time, and Kageyama sputters, his cheeks heating in indignation.
"What? I know how to swim!"
"Well, she doesn't know that!" Hinata starts to tug down his shorts, and Kageyama, tsking loudly, turns away. His face is blazing, but he decides to let the humiliation go for now.
"What about when we practice at night?" he asks, glaring at the wall.
Out the corner of his eye, he can see Hinata step into a fresh pair of boxers, then straighten up and shrug. "I just said we've been hanging out."
It takes a few seconds for Hinata's answer to register; Kageyama feels weirdly unfocused, and has to towel off his hair once more to return to his senses.
"Hanging out?" he repeats, perplexed. How could any parent buy that as an excuse for anything?
Just as he says it, the sound of a phone vibrating comes from the pile of wet clothing at Hinata's feet.
Right, Kageyama thinks, watching Hinata bend to rescue his phone and flip it open to check his messages. It's not that inconceivable that Hinata might actually do things with people that aren't related to volleyball from time to time.
"Your teammates message you a lot."
He doesn't mean for the comment to sound quite as bitter as it does, but something in his tone makes Hinata look up sharply. After considering Kageyama for a moment, he tosses his phone onto the bed and then sits down beside it.
"Yeah," Hinata answers at last, "I guess."
Kageyama feels strange, standing in the middle of the room while a shirtless Hinata studies him, so he takes a seat on the edge of the bed too, as far away from Hinata as possible.
"You don't get along with your teammates, huh?"
It's Kageyama's turn to look up sharply now. "I—" he starts, voice rising with a hot flash of anger, but as soon as he meets Hinata's eyes, it fizzles out. He turns away again.
Hinata, maybe sensing he's walking on a minefield, waits a little while before asking, "Is that why you're not playing volleyball this summer?"
Just leave, Kageyama thinks, his shoulders going taut. Just tell him to shut up and leave.
He has no idea how much time passes before he finally opens his mouth, forcing out an answer that is, unexpectedly, completely honest.
"They're thinking about kicking me off the regulars." It hurts physically when he says it, like the words are full of poison, burning his throat.
He can feel Hinata tense beside him. "They—who?"
"The captain. The coach. Everybody." Now that he's started it's easier, somehow, almost a relief to get it out. He hasn't even really talked about it with his parents, although he knows they've talked to his coach. "They think I'm bad for the team."
"But—" Hinata lets the word hang there long enough that Kageyama glances sideways at him. The shirtlessness makes it obvious that he's still too skinny on top for a volleyball player, and his hair is half-mashed-down from the towel and rainwater. His cheeks and nose are peeling a little from sunburn and his brow is furrowed hard, like he's working out a difficult math problem. "But you're, like, perfect."
Something happens in Kageyama's stomach, a fierce kind of jerk, so unfamiliar he wonders briefly if he's going to be sick. But then it passes, or at least fades, and he's left with nothing to focus on but how to formulate a response.
"I mean," Hinata goes on, sparing Kageyama from speech for at least a little longer, "you're like, super tall, and good at serving and receiving and everything—and your setting is like . . . !" He waves his hands in circles a few times, as if this illustrates his point perfectly. "What team wouldn't want you?"
"I'm—" Kageyama starts, pausing to clear the roughness out of his throat. "I'm not really good at teamwork."
Impossibly, Hinata still looks disbelieving. "You work fine with me," he says.
He comes very close to saying, You're different. "That's different," is what he says instead.
They both fall quiet. Kageyama stares down at his feet, stained gray with water and sand dust, and thinks about his team. He has no idea how practice is going to go when he returns; the coach called it a trial period, a test to see if an extended time-out will be enough to improve Kageyama's teamwork and, if not, whether the team can operate without him. For the first time since his arrival in Okinawa, Kageyama feels a twinge of dread at the prospect of going back. If only—
"I wish we were on the same team," Hinata says.
Kageyama startles. His shock must be apparent on his face, because Hinata takes one look at him and starts stammering.
"I mean—it's just—well, we're doing good, right?"
They are doing good. Kageyama nods.
"And—I don't know—my team is great," —Hinata is speaking in a rush, his words slightly breathless— "and they like me and stuff, but they don't really need me. I'm like their mascot or something."
Kageyama thinks back to the first time they played on the court at night, when Hinata hit his toss without even properly seeing it. A waste, he thinks again.
"I just think we might play well together for real," Hinata finishes, trailing off, obviously embarrassed now.
"Yeah," Kageyama says. "Maybe." He wants to say more, but even this small concession is exhausting. He feels lightheaded.
Still, Hinata smiles. "Okay," he says, jumping of the bed with renewed energy. "This just means we have to practice really hard while we're here. So when we go back, they have to put us both on the regulars. And then we can finally meet at nationals!"
Kageyama can't help it; he starts to smile, too. "Obviously," he says. "But you still have to lay off the spiking for a while."
Hinata's face falls. "You're the worst."
As he's deciding whether to be offended or not, Kageyama's phone starts ringing. He stands, a little surprised, and swallows nervously when he sees his aunt's number flashing on the screen.
"Hi," Kageyama says, flipping his phone open at the exact moment that Hinata yelps.
"Your shorts got my bed all wet!"
"Shut up," Kageyama hisses. He turns his back to Hinata and protects the mouthpiece of the phone with his hand. "Uh—hello? Aunt Mai?"
"Tobio," comes Mai's voice, in a tone he's not sure he recognizes. "Where are you?"
"Sorry," Kageyama says quickly, "I was about to call—it started raining, so we, uh—I—I'm at my friend's house."
He feels, rather than sees, Hinata perk up at this.
On her end, Mai is quiet for a beat longer than Kageyama likes. Then she says, "At Shouyou's?"
Hinata is standing on tip-toe now, trying to crane over Kageyama's shoulder and listen in. Kageyama elbows him in the ribs.
"Yes," he says.
"Okay," says Mai. "Can I speak to his mother?"
"Sure!" It's Hinata who answers. Kageyama shoots him a glare.
"Come on." Hinata opens the door and leads the way down to the living room, and Kageyama has no choice but to follow and deliver his phone to Hinata's mother. She and Mai only talk for about a minute, but Kageyama feels anxious the entire time, and therefore extra annoyed that Hinata keeps beaming at him for some stupid reason. When Hinata's mother finally hands his phone back, he steps into the kitchen before pressing it to his ear.
"Hi." Mai's voice sounds a lot warmer now, and Kageyama relaxes a little. "Well, I'm glad you got indoors before it started raining really hard. It sounds like they don't live too far away."
"Yeah." Kageyama doesn't know if he's supposed to say something else.
"You can stay the night if you want," Mai continues, after a beat. "Hinata-san said it's not a problem."
That thing happens in his stomach again, and he has to exhale slowly to make it go away. "No, I think I'll come back soon."
"Okay." There's another beat. "I'm glad you made a friend, Tobio."
Hinata's head peers around the corner, like he has some kind of sonar that can only detect when people are talking about him.
"Yeah, okay—I'll see you later, good night." Kageyama hangs up without waiting for Mai's answer.
"Are you sleeping over?" Hinata asks the second Kageyama's phone is closed. He's still not wearing a shirt.
"No." He can't look at Hinata when he says it, which is just as well, because he's probably pouting.
"Why not?" Hinata says, definitely in a pouting voice.
"Because—none of your clothes would fit me." It's at least not a point Hinata can argue, and Kageyama uses his stumped silence as an opportunity to escape to the genkan. He only pauses to thank Hinata's mother on the way out.
"Shouyou, give him an umbrella if he's not staying!" she calls after them.
"Yeah, okay." Hinata trades Kageyama an umbrella for his wet towel and stands watching the whole time he struggles back into unpleasantly cold and wet socks and shoes.
Kageyama is expecting Hinata to keep pouting, but when he looks up to say goodbye, Hinata is smiling again.
"See you tomorrow," he says. His voice is weirdly quiet. Kageyama grips the handle of the umbrella and eyes him uncertainly.
"For swimming lessons!" Hinata almost shouts it, his grin broadening.
"Shut up," Kageyama growls, flushing and grappling for the door handle.
He jogs down the stairs and across the beach to the boardwalk without looking back. It takes him over five minutes of running in the rain before he realizes he forgot to open the umbrella.
Practice goes smoothly over the next week. Hinata only wastes a few minutes of the first day begging for unlimited spiking practice before he has to accept Kageyama won't budge, and after that they're productive—more than productive. Even practicing other skills besides setting, Kageyama feels incredibly focused when he's working with Hinata. It's as if his mind is regaining some of the sharpness that got dulled over the course of the past year, as if just demonstrating how to serve and receive—Hinata is almost unspeakably bad at both—is transforming him into something better.
On Friday, he wakes up earlier than usual, full of energy and eager to get to the court. He throws on a clean pair of shorts and a shirt, grabs his water bottle from the fridge, and bids Mai a distracted goodbye before heading out the door. He thinks he can hear her call something after him, but probably she's just telling him to take his key, and for once he didn't need the reminder. Without wasting any more time, he takes off for the boardwalk.
Hinata is approaching at the exact same time as Kageyama when he reaches the stairway.
"Oh!" Hinata draws up alongside the railing, stops, and stares. "You're really early!"
"I woke up early," Kageyama says with a shrug. He wonders suddenly if Hinata is always at the court this far ahead of their arranged meeting time.
"Huh." Hinata nods, but doesn't stop staring. He runs a hand through his hair and ends up giving himself an impressive cowlick.
"What?" Kageyama says, with a self-conscious twinge. "Why are you looking at me like that?"
Hinata shakes his head slowly—the cowlick starts to settle—but doesn't look away. "You were smiling," he says.
"When you came over just now. You were, like, smiling like a normal person."
"What the hell is that supposed to mean?" Kageyama screws his face into the nastiest glare he can manage, but Hinata, far from intimidated, laughs.
"Nothing," he says, grinning. "Anyway, don't worry, it's back to normal now."
Hinata turns down the staircase first, and Kageyama, flustered, his cheeks burning in annoyance, reluctantly follows.
Neither of them notices the sound of the bulldozer until they're almost to the court. They round the stretch of trees and Hinata comes to a sudden halt, Kageyama bumping into him from behind.
"Watch—" Kageyama starts, but the words die on his tongue.
The bulldozer is moving—it's so loud he has no idea how they missed it from the boardwalk—and a handful of construction workers are milling around, some dragging a few uprooted trees into a pile, others helping direct the bulldozer operator. The poles that once supported their volleyball net are lying side-by-side in the sand, next to what used to be their court.
"Woah, woah, woah!" A construction worker jogs over, holding up his hands like he expects them to leap out in front of the bulldozer. "What are you kids doing here?"
Kageyama's mouth works soundlessly. Luckily, Hinata never appears to be at a loss for words.
"What are you doing to our volleyball court?" he demands. The construction worker has to be at least 185 centimeters, and Hinata has taken a nervous step behind Kageyama, but still his voice is fierce, and he's digging fingers into his volleyball like he's ready to fight.
The construction worker is unfazed. "It's not your volleyball court, kid, it's the hotel's," he says, jerking his thumb behind him, toward one of the buildings on the other side of the boardwalk. "And nobody uses it anymore. They want the area cleared out for a restaurant."
Hinata lowers the volleyball, shoulders drooping. "But—you can't!" he argues, turning worried eyes up at Kageyama. It makes Kageyama feel strangely guilty, even though none of this is his fault; his chest tightens.
"Come on," he says, voice low, putting a hand on Hinata's shoulder. Hinata hesitates, then wilts. He turns away and trudges toward the stairs, and Kageyama lets his hand drop and follows.
They climb the stairs silently, but Hinata whirls on him as soon as they reach the boardwalk. "What are we gonna do?" he demands. His eyes are very serious.
"I—I don't know!" Kageyama is both perplexed and a little gratified by the amount of faith Hinata seems to have that he will be able solve this problem. He wracks his memory for everything he can recall about the surrounding area.
"My parents used to take me to a resort beach that had a court," he says at length, squinting as he struggles to remember details, "but it wasn't that close. We always drove."
Hinata's eyes remain fixed on him, unwavering. He doesn't say a word.
Kageyama feels pinned. He tries again. "Or, uh . . . my aunt has a computer. We could—look at a map. Maybe there's something else nearby."
Appeased, Hinata nods. "Let's go."
It's strange leading Hinata to his aunt's house, but Hinata is nothing but enthusiastic. Now that he's been given some hope, however distant it may be, he's gone bright and cheerful again, Oohing in impressed delight as they draw close to Mai's.
"Wow, it's huge! And you have a really nice view!"
Kageyama grunts and digs in his pocket for the back door key. "Make sure you brush off all the sand before you—" he starts, working the key into the deadbolt, but he's interrupted by a loud squeal.
Kageyama turns to find Hinata crouching to pet the neighbor's cat. He scratches its ears and laughs when it makes a weird warbling noise at him.
The word Cute comes to Kageyama unbidden, and he frowns; he's seen that cat a million times and never found it anything but annoying.
"You—just—wait out here then," he mutters. Hinata chirps an easy "Okay!" and Kageyama pushes open the door, toeing off his shoes and brushing the sand from his feet and ankles before stepping inside.
He finds his aunt's laptop on the kitchen table and starts searching right away, but the sound of Hinata cooing at the cat carries though the open window and makes it hard to concentrate. Kageyama sits heavily on a chair and scrubs his forehead with the back of his hand.
The first map he checks has nothing but restaurants on it. The second map includes the names of all the major nearby beaches, but doesn't indicate whether they have volleyball courts or not. Google Maps has pictures of all the beaches, but it would take him a hundred years to scan every single one for any sign of a volleyball net.
"Kageyama!" Hinata's voice calls for him through the window. Kageyama sighs, slams the laptop shut, and rises from his chair.
"What is it?" He's half-expecting to find Hinata scratched and bleeding when he comes out, but Hinata is just as bright-eyed as when he left him, standing near the door and pointing. The cat is sitting on the back of his aunt's moped now, cleaning its leg and ignoring them both.
"I've seen the cat before, Hinata—"
"No," Hinata says, in such breathless excitement that Kageyama has no choice but to fall quiet. "The bike."
"What?" Kageyama follows the path of Hinata's arm again, blinking at the moped. The cat jumps off and wanders away, maybe annoyed it's no longer the center of attention. "No," Kageyama says, shaking his head and scowling at the moped's chipping white paint and bent rear-view mirror. "No way."
"Why not?" Hinata bounds forward and grabs hold of Kageyama's wrists. Kageyama tenses and tries to pull away, but Hinata's grip is tight. "You said we could get to the beach court if we drove, right?"
"That's not—I don't even know if it's still there! It was years ago!" Kageyama tries to tug his hands back for the second time, but he just ends up pulling Hinata in toward him. It's disorienting being close enough that he could count every one of Hinata's freckles; Kageyama winces against the wave of heat that overtakes him, settling heavy in his stomach, just like the night at Hinata's house.
"So?" Hinata doesn't seem to have noticed their proximity, nor Kageyama's wince. He presses closer, standing on tiptoes, tilting his chin up. "Let's try it and see!"
Kageyama has to close his eyes. He wonders if he might be getting heat stroke. "I don't have a license," he says. He almost chokes on the words, his mouth is so dry.
"But you've driven it before, right?"
Hinata releases him so swiftly Kageyama staggers backward, his back hitting the wall. He opens his eyes, embarrassed, but Hinata isn't paying any attention—instead, he's dancing around the moped, touching the back tire and the seat and the handlebars in turn.
"I've driven it," Kageyama says. It occurs to him in that exact moment, even as the words are leaving his mouth: he is going to do what Hinata asks. There isn't any question.
"Then it'll be fine!" Hinata looks over his shoulder at him now, finally, and smiles. "Just be careful and we won't get pulled over!"
He takes a few seconds to recover from whatever is wrong with him. When at last his legs feel steady, Kageyama moves toward Hinata and the moped.
"I'll have to look for the helmets," he says, working hard to sound as reluctant as possible.
Hinata follows Kageyama inside, vibrating around him like a hummingbird. Kageyama sends him to dig through a closet while he plucks the moped key from a hook by the front door, and by the time he turns around, Hinata is already there, one helmet in each hand.
"Found 'em!" He extends the larger helmet toward Kageyama proudly. His cheeks are stained red with an excited flush—or maybe he has heat stroke, too.
Kageyama takes the helmet and ducks his head. "Let's pack some stuff for lunch."
Ten minutes later, he's pushing the moped out to the main road, batting Hinata away while he gives it a final inspection. There's probably enough gas to get them to the beach and back, which had been his main worry, and the oil level is okay. Nothing seems more complicated than he remembers from the last time Mai let him take it for a loop around the neighborhood.
"It's fine, let's go, let's go," Hinata whines, hitching a bag weighted down with lunch and water bottles and a volleyball higher on his shoulders.
"Calm down," Kageyama growls, but he's the one who's far from calm as he snaps on his helmet and mounts the seat of the moped. His heart is beating wildly, and he still feels lightheaded, vaguely sick; it's probably not a good idea for him to be driving this thing.
His heartbeat picks up even more when Hinata climbs on behind. "Just a second," Hinata says. Kageyama can hear the click of his helmet's chin strap, and then Hinata slides forward, his chest pressing flush against Kageyama's back. A moment passes—Kageyama counts five erratic heartbeats—before Hinata's arms wrap loosely around his waist.
"Is this okay?" he asks. His chin hovers near Kageyama's shoulder, not quite resting there.
"You should probably," Kageyama says, his own voice unfamiliar to his ears, "hold on tighter."
Both Hinata's hands curl against Kageyama's stomach, and his arms squeeze him tight. His chin has nowhere to go but Kageyama's shoulder now.
"Okay," he says, breath warm against Kageyama's neck. "Ready!"
It takes Kageyama some time to orient himself. He kicks the kickstand, squeezes the breaks, hits the kill switch, and, as the engine rumbles to life, Hinata grabs fistfuls of his shirt.
Kageyama takes a deep breath and twists the handlebars. They accelerate with a little jerk, which Hinata accentuates with a little "Oh!", right next to Kageyama's ear, and then they're off, down the street and gaining speed.
"Oh," Hinata says again when they hit forty kilometers per hour. The wind is whipping loudly around Kageyama's ears, and he has to squint so his eyes don't water; he'd forgotten what this felt like. Hinata's arms are tightening around his waist.
"Are you okay?" Kageyama asks, raising his voice to be heard over the wind.
To his surprise, Hinata's immediate response is a laugh. "Great!" he shouts, louder than necessary. His arms tighten even more. "It's really pretty!"
Kageyama risks a glance over his shoulder, taking in the ocean and the sand and the beach houses they pass on their left, and then Hinata's profile, bright-eyed and windswept as he takes it all in, too. Hinata catches his eye and smiles.
Careful, Kageyama thinks. He faces forward with renewed focus on the road in front of them.
Navigating to a beach he hasn't visited in years takes all the focus he can muster. They have to stop and turn around twice, and at one point he ends up almost driving them into a ditch when he thinks he sees a police car that turns out to be a taxi. But then, just as he's starting to go tense with frustration, he spots a sign that looks familiar.
"Did that say Hearth Café?" he calls over his shoulder.
"Huh?" Hinata's mouth draws in close to Kageyama's ear. "Uh—maybe?"
Kageyama twitches his shoulder and Hinata draws back. Without warning, Kageyama turns—probably a little too sharply, judging by the way Hinata's fingernails dig into his abdomen—and takes them down the side street to their left. They pass a hotel that also looks familiar, and Kageyama directs the moped on instinct, swerving through a few more side streets, losing speed as they struggle up a small hill that curves right.
Hearth Café is there, at the end of the block. As soon as he spots it, Kageyama knows he's found the place. They used to come here for shrimp and avocado sandwiches after swimming and volleyball.
"What," Hinata says as they start to lose even more speed, "are you hungry or—" but he stops talking when he spies what Kageyama already knows is there, down and left, at the bottom of a steep embankment that leads to the beach. The volleyball nets are gleaming as much as the water, they're so white and pristine, a hundred times nicer than the court they've been playing on by the boardwalk.
"Kageyama!" Hinata grips Kageyama's shoulder with one hand and points with the other. "Down there! There are two!"
The only way to the courts is down the embankment and through the sand. Kageyama pulls over behind a parked van and cuts the engine.
"Okay," he says, pulling the key from the ignition. "I think we have to—"
Hinata leaps from the back of the moped, yanking his helmet from his head, and grabs Kageyama's elbow. "Come on, let's go!" he says, tugging so hard Kageyama has to scramble to swing his leg over the seat so he doesn't fall.
"Hey!" Kageyama yells, but Hinata lets go of him and takes off for a nearby staircase. Kageyama runs after him, stuffing the keys in his pocket and struggling to unsnap his helmet as he goes.
They race all the way to the waterfront, Hinata laughing and Kageyama fighting not to do the same. Neither of the courts are being used, but as they approach, an attendant from the resort appears and informs them the beach isn't free. After one glance at Hinata's devastated face, Kageyama sighs and shoves a crumpled bill into the attendant's hand.
"Thank you thank you sorry thank you!" Hinata is hopping on one foot trying to pull off his left shoe, but he still looks up at Kageyama in earnest gratitude.
"Whatever. You owe me," Kageyama says, even though Mai is fairly free with his allowance, and up until now he's had nothing to spend it on all summer.
Freed from his shoes at last, Hinata wrestles the volleyball from their bag and straightens up. "I'll make it up to you!"
"Oh yeah? How?" Kageyama bends down to take off his own shoes, which means his head is mercifully bowed for Hinata's response.
"I'll always spike for you, forever, no matter what!"
He runs away as soon as he's said it, too impatient to wait, charging onto the court with the ball raised above his head. Kageyama stays bent at the waist, fingers tangled in the knots of his laces, and tries to calm the frantic stutter of his heart.
He wants to ask a hundred follow-up questions. What does that mean? Would you say it to anybody? Why would you say it when you know it's not possible? And then, a smaller but nonetheless nagging question, for himself as much as Hinata: Is it possible?
"Kageyama, come on," Hinata whines, sending the ball sailing toward the back of Kageyama's head. Kageyama raises a hand to deflect it on instinct.
"Don't just start playing without stretching first, dumbass," he snarls, with far more venom than necessary, because it helps him gain at least some semblance of composure.
But Hinata's good mood is impenetrable, and at last Kageyama surrenders, picking up the ball and joining him on the court. Neither of them really spends as much time stretching as they should.
It's impossible not to start out with spiking practice, even despite Hinata's wrist, with a volleyball oasis spread out in front of them. Hinata throws without asking permission and Kageyama doesn't think to criticize it, moving naturally to set up the toss. Hinata hits it with pinpoint accuracy, once and then again and again, and Kageyama can feel the rightness of every quick they execute, the razor-sharp edge of their technique shaping itself into a blade.
After a little while, the resort attendant who took their money abandons his post at an umbrella rental stand to watch. A few passersby set down their beach towels just outside the ball danger zone to do the same, and from the water, a group of teenagers on inflatable rafts occasionally hollers encouragement.
"Will you toss for us?" Hinata asks the attendant eventually. Kageyama marvels at how easily the man agrees, although he's learning rapidly that turning down a request from Hinata is no small feat.
He has no idea how long they practice. It feels like barely twenty minutes when, at a shout from the attendant, they stop, except that Kageyama is positively soaked in his own sweat, his shirt clinging to his skin and his breath coming shallow and ragged.
"You kids are gonna have to take a breather for a couple hours," the attendant informs them. "There's a league that's got the courts booked."
"What? But we paid!" Hinata's voice is outraged, but he's just as sweaty and breathless as Kageyama, and, Kageyama notices with a pang, he's started rubbing his wrist distractedly.
"You paid to use the beach, not the court."
"Okay," Kageyama says, ignoring the glare Hinata shoots him.
A few of their onlookers, realizing they've come to a break, start clapping, and just as quickly as Hinata's outrage came, it fades. Kageyama can't contain a smile at the sight of Hinata melting under the attention: he turns, rubbing the back of his head, and waves, ears going instantly red when all the swimming teenagers wave back and cheer.
"You guys are pretty good." The attendant looks impressed as he hands off the ball to Kageyama. "You on a team together or something?"
"Something like that," Kageyama mutters.
They retreat under a beach umbrella, free of charge for the "pros in training," and eat a lunch of crumbling onigiri, Hinata still flushed and staring out toward the water.
"Kageyama," Hinata says, one bite into his second onigiri. There's rice on his cheek, almost camoflauged among the freckles, and Kageyama thinks about brushing it off.
"What?" Kageyama says.
Hinata is quiet for so long that Kageyama stops staring at the rice, his eyes darting nervously upward.
"I'm a better player when I'm with you," Hinata says at last, meeting Kageyama's eyes seriously, without a trace of embarrassment. Meanwhile, all the blood rushes to Kageyama's face so fast he feels dizzy.
He opens his mouth but knows before even trying that it's futile. Why Hinata insists on doing this to him so often, he has no idea, but it's beyond infuriating, being struck speechless once again while Hinata just favors him with an easy smile.
"Okay." Hinata says it emphatically, like they've come to some sort of agreement, and jumps up, stuffing the last of his lunch into his mouth and brushing his hands on his shorts. "Let's go swimming!"
Finally, Kageyama's throat starts to work. "Huh?"
Hinata gestures at the courts behind them, which have been taken over by old people in sunhats. "What else are we gonna do?"
The old people have probably served a grand total of five times since Kageyama and Hinata sat down. They seem more interested in cocktails than actually playing volleyball. Still, Kageyama screws up his nose in distaste; he doesn't like swimming much, and he still hasn't recovered from Hinata's strange confession.
But Hinata doesn't wait for him to agree. He strips off his shirt, dropping it to the sand, and starts off for the water. He's halfway down the beach before he stops, apparently realizing Kageyama isn't right behind him.
"Aren't you coming?" Hinata calls, turning and shielding his eyes from the sun.
Kageyama stands and slowly peels off his own shirt. Hinata waits until he catches up.
"You have rice on your face," Kageyama says as they take their first wading steps into the ocean.
"Hmm," Hinata says. "Better wash it off." At which point he promptly, and with surprising force, tackles Kageyama into the waves.
The day passes quickly. After Hinata gets over making fun of Kageyama for disliking getting his head wet, the swimming even turns out to be a little fun, although that's mostly because Kageyama's height makes revenge-dunking Hinata so easy. When the courts open up again, they return to practice serves and receives, and once the heat starts getting to them, they bring the ball into the water and practice receives there. Finally, they can't ignore their sunburns and exhaustion anymore. They drag themselves back to the beach to collect their things and, waving goodbye to the attendant, make their way up to the road where they parked.
"We've gotta get back before six," Kageyama says as he stuffs his helmet on over sweaty, sandy hair. "My aunt will kill us if she finds out we took the moped."
"Mmm." Hinata seems to have reached a level of sun-soaked weariness that has taken away both his speech and large muscle strength. As soon as Kageyama takes a seat, Hinata climbs on behind him and collapses onto his back, cushioning his helmeted head between Kageyama's shoulder blades and hugging his middle with listless arms.
"Oi," Kageyama says, but it's pretty feeble.
"'M just gonna sleep on the way back," Hinata murmurs, barely audible with his mouth pressed to Kageyama's shirt.
"You'll fall off and die," Kageyama says.
"I'm serious. Sit up straight and hold on."
Hinata makes one last moan of protest but does as he's told, and Kageyama brings the moped to life, only wobbling for a second as he fumbles with the kickstand.
"Kageyama," Hinata says, in a normal voice now, loud enough to be heard over the engine. "Can we come back on Monday?"
Kageyama pauses, hand on the accelerator. Hinata's fingers uncurl and curl again over his stomach, trailing traces of heat right through the fabric of his shirt. Normally, Kageyama knows he would find this strange, but now, maybe because he's so exhausted, too, it makes a sort of dreamlike sense that Hinata would be kneading him like a cat.
"Yeah," Kageyama says.
Hinata's hands finally grip more secure handfuls of Kageyama's shirt, but he pillows his head on Kageyama's back again, and that makes a sort of dreamlike sense, too. Kageyama wills himself to wake up as he twists the handlebar and they leave at last, but all the way home, Hinata stays just like that, his cheek warm between Kageyama's shoulders, and by the time they pull into the yard in front of Mai's house Kageyama still isn't confident he's not unconscious.
"Hinata," Kageyama says, turning the key in the ignition.
Hinata stirs and lifts his head, so slowly Kageyama wonders if it's possible that he actually did fall asleep. Then, Hinata releases him, sliding off the moped and landing unsteadily at its side. His eyes are on Kageyama as he removes his helmet, brows knit thoughtfully together.
Something in the expression catches Kageyama off guard. He's wide awake now, even if he wasn't while driving. He slides off the moped too, on the same side as Hinata, and is quick to dispose of his helmet in the grass at their feet.
"Hinata," Kageyama says again, but he has absolutely no idea where to go from there. Still, Hinata's eyebrows lift expectantly, reassuringly; he takes half a step forward and Kageyama doesn't back away.
The sound of the front door slamming causes both of them to jump. Mai is coming down the steps toward them, her stride furious, phone clutched in one angry fist. Reality douses Kageyama in ice. He steps away from Hinata as fast as possible and doesn't miss the way it makes him flinch.
"Okay," Mai says, stopping just short of strangling distance and lifting her free hand to squeeze her temples. "You two are in, uh. Really big trouble."