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What Beautiful Stars

Chapter Text

The shrieks of his infant sister follow him out into the cool air, so Hinata clamps his hands flat against his ears and looks upward to the sky. He silently begs the sun, the clouds, anything, to please shut her up. He can hear his mother begging the same, cooing and pleading, her voice raspy with exhaustion.

He plops down on the hard dirt, hands still protecting his ears, and huffs in frustration. When his father told him that his mother would be very sick and fat for a while, but then a new baby would arrive, he was so excited. Hinata was a diligent assistant throughout his mother's pregnancy, bringing her water in bed, sweeping the floors of their modest wooden house, and even lugging firewood from the edge of the forest, one log at a time, often carrying chunks of wood twice his size. It helped that he never had to go far; they live on the outskirts of the village and three-quarters of their house is surrounded by forest. Although his father's bowyery shop isn't far from their home, he works long hours, and Hinata takes his position as the family's only other man very seriously, even at only five years old.

He stands and walks over to the window of the room he now shares with a tiny banshee. It's four feet off the ground, much taller than himself, but with a small jump he is able to grip the sill and pull himself up. Peering in, he sees his mother rocking a small bundle, her eyes damp and bloodshot, deep, dark bags marring her usually beautiful, youthful face.

"Natsu, please, please stop crying," she whispers, her lip quivering.

Hinata releases his grip, landing with a soft thud. He knows better than to try and help calm the baby—his attempts yesterday resulted in some of her loudest screams yet—so he decides to focus on cheering up his mother instead. With a triumphant grin, he turns and sprints off into the woods in search of wildflowers.

******

He walks along a familiar path, humming to himself. Whenever a dash of color catches his eye, he veers off to collect it, carefully adding it to the growing bouquet of flowers in his hands. Before long, however, he finds himself distracted by something else—a handsome black owl. He recalls his father explaining that owls are nocturnal, meaning they stay up all night, but this one is perfectly awake despite the bright, sunny daylight filtering down through the trees.

He tries to ignore it and focus on the task at hand, but it seems to be following him. Eventually, he can't resist going over to the tree where it currently sits on a high branch.

"Shouldn't you be sleeping now?" he asks the bird, his head tipped back so far that the muscles in his neck ache.

It doesn't reply, disappointingly, but then something else does. Hinata hears a voice behind him, that of a young man.

"Hey hey hey, what have we here?"

Hinata vaguely recalls the countless times his parents have warned him not to talk to strangers, frequent reminders he requires due to his impulsive habit of wandering up to each and every new person he sees, eager to introduce himself and make a new friend. Casting aside these words of caution, he hesitates no more than a second before bounding over to this particular stranger.

"Ohmygosh, your hair!" he gushes, wanting badly to touch it. "Your hair is so... so COOL!"

"Thanks, Shorty! It is cool, isn't it?" He tosses back his head and laughs loudly, his shoulders shaking. "Is that the only thing that's cool about me!?"

Eager to take the bait, Hinata shakes his head no and continues to venerate this man, his heels bouncing with enthusiasm. "No! Your eyes are such a cool color, and you're so TALL, and—" he nearly falls over with excitement when the black owl lands on the man's shoulder "—is that owl your pet!? How do you get a pet owl!? My mom won't even let me keep a mouse!!"

"That's smart of her, because if you did, Keiji would probably just eat it!" he says, laughing more.

When the man starts walking away, Hinata follows without a thought, peppering him with questions. "How long have you had him? Did you train him? What does he eat??"

"I've had him for over ten years! No, he has always just obeyed me! He eats whatever he wants, but mostly mice and rabbits, and sometimes people food!"

They walk deep into the woods, talking owls and the man's—Bokuto is his name, Hinata learns—general awesomeness. When Hinata is hungry, Bokuto has his owl catch a couple rabbits which they roast over a fire; when Hinata is thirsty, Bokuto leads him to a stream of cool, clean water. Shortly before the sun sets, they arrive at a small cottage, with a thatched roof, purple window dressings, perfectly manicured shrubs under each rounded window, and a small vegetable garden out front. It reminds Hinata of somewhere a grandmother might live, except no grandmother would live this deep in the woods, and then Bokuto introduces it as his place.

Once inside, there is no doubt that Bokuto loves owls. Every inch of the place is decorated with them; tiny owls made of glass and clay line every shelf, owls are carved into the wooden chairs and doors; in the kitchen, Hinata finds owl-patterned china, and, upon further inspection, even the purple curtains have tiny white owls embroidered along the edges.

To a five-year-old, it's awesome, and he promptly tells Bokuto so, but when Hinata pushes aside the curtains to see the sun disappearing below the horizon, he turns to him and says, "Okay, well, I gotta get back to my mom now."

"What?" Bokuto asks, looking slightly alarmed. "Oh, no no no, sorry, it's not safe! Look how dark it is! Hear those wolves? Stay here for the night!" When Hinata protests, Bokuto insists, putting a firm hand on his shoulder. "You can go home in the morning!"

He guides Hinata to small room in the far corner of the house. There is a child-sized bed there, made up with owl-patterned blankets. A stuffed owl rests on the pillow. Exhausted, and not particularly bright generally, Hinata doesn't dwell on the oddity of a single man who lives in the middle of the woods in a house with a spare child's bedroom.

His only suspicious thought is that of Keiji the owl, who decides to perch on the headboard just above his head. Hinata lets himself wonder if it's strange for an owl to stare at a little boy with wide, unblinking yellow eyes as he slowly falls asleep.

******

As the days pass, Hinata is kept well fed and entertained. Bokuto takes him out around the woods, plays games with him, and teaches him about owls. As days turn into weeks, Hinata becomes slightly more persistent that he should check in with his parents, but Bokuto finds endless excuses to delay this, and Hinata knows he wouldn't be able to find his way back alone. Moreover, the owl continues to watch him sleep, and although it has shown itself to be nothing if not a sweet, gentle bird, Hinata suspects it wouldn't be very happy if he tried to sneak away in the middle of the night.

Weeks later, Hinata tries, yet again, to convince Bokuto to take him back to his parents, when the door to the cottage opens unexpectedly. A man with short black hair and blue eyes steps inside and stops with a jolt, looking very surprised to find a little kid sitting on the floor of his living room playing with wooden blocks.

"Bokuto, what the hell is this?"

"Akaashi!" Bokuto shouts with obvious joy. He dashes over to the new arrival with his arms outstretched, but Akaashi rebuffs him, stepping aside so that he slams into the wall instead. This doesn't deter Bokuto, who rubs his slightly-bleeding nose but remains joyful. "Isn't he cute, Akaashi? I found him in the woods!"

"You mean," Akaashi replies, his eyes narrowed and voice deadpan, "You kidnapped this child?"

"Don't be like that!" Bokuto whines, going in for a second attempt at a hug, and again being rebuffed, this time by a flat, outstretched palm. "He was by himself! He doesn't have any parents!"

"I do!" Hinata interjects, standing up very suddenly. "I told him, but he just said—"

"Shh, Shorty, shhh!" Bokuto slides a hand down and over Hinata's mouth, muffling his objections. "Like I said, found him all alone! He is a sad little orphan!"

"Bokuto," Akaashi says over Hinata's muffled protests, "You have to put him back where you found him."

"But Akaaaashi—"

"Now!" he shouts, and Bokuto shrinks back a little.

"Fine," he says, hanging his head and looking truly dejected. "C'mon, Shorty, follow me."

Doubting Bokuto's ability to follow through with this promise, Akaashi comes along, and together they lead Hinata back to the clearing where he first saw the owl. That was almost four weeks ago.

"You can find your way home from here?" Akaashi asks.

"Yah," Hinata replies. He hesitates for a moment, and then dives at Bokuto for a hug. "Bye, Uncle Bokuto. I'll visit you again if you promise to let me go home every day."

"Certainly, Shorty!!" he replies, tears in his eyes. He ruffles Hinata's hair and waves goodbye.

Hinata turns and breaks into a run, desperately missing his mother, father, and even little baby Natsu. The closer he gets to his village, however, the faster his heart begins to race. Horrible sounds are coming from the direction of his home. He runs closer, and soon bloodied people are running past him, trying to escape the very place he is hurrying to reach. Hinata recognizes these people, all of them, and knows with a sickening certainty that something very bad has happened in his village.

When he arrives at his family's home, it's empty. The front door is in splinters on the ground beside the doorway, and inside the family's belongings are tossed about, some broken and others missing. Tears spring to his eyes as he checks everywhere, even under the bed and in the closet, unwilling to believe that his parents and sister are gone, but they are.

He dashes back outside and spots some men that he recognizes by their uniforms—the Grand King's soldiers. Before he can call out to them for help, he feels strong arms grabbing him on either side, holding him in place, a man on either side of him.

"This is the one?" the one on the right asks.

"Looks like it," comes the reply from the left one.

A third man comes to stand directly in front of Hinata, but he doesn't get a good look at him either, too focused on the thick stick of wood in the man's hands. The end of it burns orangey-yellow, and soon that glow becomes the very last thing he sees. Before he can begin to comprehend what is happening, his left eyelid is being held open, followed moments later by a searing hot pain. The pain engulfs him, starting in his eye socket and traveling to the tips of his toes, his fists clenching and mouth opening in a wide scream. They do the same with his right eye, but he can barely keep up, too consumed by pain and fear... and then, just as quickly as they'd come, the three men release him and run away, leaving him with no explanation, apologies, or comfort.

He tries to crawl away, but he can't see, doesn't know which way is safe, and the sounds of chaos still surround him, crying people and panicked animals and the scrape of horse carts along the pebbled streets. He scoots backward until he feels the walls of his home against his back, pushes his knees to his chest and hugs his arms around them, making himself as small and tightly protected as he can. He rests his chin on his knees and doesn't bother trying to wipe away the tears pouring down his face, too afraid to touch anywhere near his eyes, irrationally worried he will somehow damage them further, even though he can see no more than a faint orange glow on a sea of black.

Don't cry.

He hears the voice and lifts his head, turning it sharply to either side, as if searching, but everything is still darkness.

I'm right here. Don't freak out.

He feels soft tips of fur tickling his skin and jumps to his feet, but he loses his balance and falls backward, landing on several sharp stones that bruise his skull and cut his hands. He feels something land on his chest, four soft points of pressure, and reaches out with both hands to grasp at a small animal, warm and soft. A cat?

I'm sorry this happened to you. Please, let me help you. My name is Kenma.

He opens his mouth as if to speak, but nothing comes out. He feels crazy; Kenma's voice doesn't sound like the rest of the noises around him, of crying women and whinnying horses.

I'm speaking to you telepathically. Nobody else can hear me. But you aren't crazy. Stand up, and do what I say. You'll be alright.

Hinata lays there, breathing heavily, but eventually finds the strength to push himself up with shaking arms, tears still streaming down his face and drenching the backs of his bleeding hands.

Turn right.

He does.

Now go straight... yes, good. Turn left, just a little... now run. It's okay, nothing is in your path. Keep running. Don't stop until I tell you to.

He obeys, running until his chest hurts, toward nothing but more darkness.

Chapter Text

Hinata wakes with an unfamiliar chill. He reaches an arm over to the left side of his head, groping for Kenma and getting nothing but a handful of soft bedding instead.

"Kenma?" he asks, his voice raspy with sleep. He sits up and continues searching for his cat, using the flat of his palm to feel every inch of his mat and the narrow space around it, everywhere he can reach. "Where are you?" he asks again. He tries to calm his rising panic, but by the time he's running his hand over the same spots for the fourth, fifth time and still finding nothing, there is an obvious sense of urgency to his movements.

In their ten years together, Kenma has almost never left his side. Only in an unavoidable circumstance do they separate, and only then when there is a trusted adult or friend nearby to help Hinata during his absence. Kenma wandering off in the middle of the night simply does not happen.

Hinata stands and stumbles out of the bedroom he shares with a dozen other orphans, a large room covered in sleeping pads laid only inches apart. On his way out, he accidentally steps on the hand of one four-year-old who starts to cry and bumps into another boy, this one closer to his own age, who shoves Hinata aside so hard he slams into the wall. By the time he feels his way to the kitchen, there are tears in his eyes.

"Shoyo! Good morning!" It's the voice of Suga, a compassionate man in his early thirties who lives full-time at the orphanage, cooking, cleaning, and caring for the nearly thirty kids, all of whom he treats as his own. He must spot the distressed look on Hinata's face, because his tone quickly changes from cheery to concerned. "What's the matter?"

"Kenma's missing," Hinata replies, his lip quivering. "I can't find him."

"I'm very sorry to hear that. Do you think maybe he went out to hunt mice?"

This question is stupid; Kenma isn't a normal cat; he wouldn't go off chasing mice and leave Hinata alone, but he can't be mad at Suga for not knowing this. With so many kids, it's a minor miracle Suga can juggle their countless problems and childish dramas as well as he does. Also, Kenma's unique intelligence is a secret that Hinata hasn't shared with anyone, not his foster parents, and not even with his best friend. As far as they all know, Kenma is just an especially loyal pet—and Hinata a weirdo for always talking to him.

"Maybe," Hinata concedes, not wanting to get into it. He feels his way to the kitchen table and takes a seat, planning to wait for Kenma to return. He refuses to even contemplate what will happen if he doesn't reappear.

Hinata smells the eggs and bacon before he hears the sound of the plate being set on the wooden table. He thanks Suga and starts to eat. He takes small, slow bites, too queasy with worry to eat as ravenously as he normally would. The food will likely worsen his nausea anyway, but he is too grateful to ever turn his nose up at a meal. Thanks to Suga's husband's highly sought-upon smithing skills, the couple have the means to single-handedly support this massive household, to say nothing of their generosity in choosing to do so.

"Good morning, Hitoka!" Suga says, back to sounding cheerful.

There is the scrape of a chair, the sound of a person sitting down in it, another scrape, and then more hot breakfast being brought over. As soon as Suga returns to the stove, Hinata leans in toward Yachi and blurts out in an urgent whisper, "Kenma's missing!"

Her reaction is immediate. "Oh my god!" she shouts, panicked, attempting to whisper but failing as well. "That's horrible! I hope a dog didn't eat him! He was with you last night, right? He wouldn't have just wandered off... do you think someone stole him??"

Hinata shakes his head no, more to convince himself than her. "No, he is too smart to get himself eaten... and stolen? Why would anyone do that?"

"There are thieves all over the place!" Yachi insists. "I'm pretty sure half the kids in this very house are spies or minions of the Grand King!"

"Now, Hitoka," Suga scolds, obviously listening in. "We've talked about this! Nobody here is a spy. You need to stop jumping to conclusions. It is much more likely that Shoyo's cat went out to chase birds. I'm sure he'll be back soon."

Hinata can feel the tension radiating from Yachi as she goes rigid in her chair.

"Yes, sir! Sorry, sir!" She sounds petrified.

"Please don't call me sir... we've talked about that, too!" Suga says, exasperated. "Have you been doing those meditation exercises Chikara told you about?"

"I'm sorry!" she squeaks, "And, um, yes? Should I do more? Am I not relaxed enough for you? I'm so sorry! Please don't throw me out!! I promise I'll get better at relaxing!!"

"We're not throwing you out," Suga says in his calmest possible voice. It is a familiar phrase; he has to assure her of this at least four times a day. "You know what? I'm running low on eggs. Shoyo, why don't you and Hitoka go to Asahi's stand and fetch me some? Maybe you'll see your cat along the way."

Understanding themselves to be dismissed, they finish their breakfasts and head out the door.

******

They walk together at a slow pace, hand-in-hand. Yachi has a minor panic attack every time Hinata risks tripping, even if there is nothing more than a thin twig in his path. Hinata loves her like a sister, and she is his best friend out of everyone who lives at the orphanage, but he definitely prefers Kenma's calm directions to her erratic outbursts. Before they reach Asahi's cart, a jeering voice stops Hinata dead in his tracks. Yachi stumbles a step, briefly panics that Hinata has tripped, and then nearly shrieks when she sees who they've run into.

"So, you've got yourself a seeing-eye girlfriend now?" Tsukishima taunts. "Did someone eat your cat? Or did Daichi finally realize you need as much help as you can get?"

"How do you know Kenma is missing?" Hinata demands. He suddenly reconsiders Yachi's earlier conspiracy theories, remembering that there actually is someone who might want to steal Kenma.

"You don't have it with you, clearly." Tsukishima replies. "It usually sits on your shoulder, doesn't it? Do you forget the rest of us can see? Are you that stupid?"

Hinata feels Yachi trembling beside him, yet she still finds the courage to shout back, "Hey, please stop bullying Shoyo! He has never done anything to you!" The moment after these words leave her, however, Yachi squeals in terror and jumps behind Hinata. He can feel her nails digging into his shoulders.

"Except that he is the favorite, isn't he?" Tsukishima says, jeering, his petty jealousy starting to show. "Daichi and Suga's golden boy? Just because he has particular damage? The other boys have to work, but he gets to laze around with you girls, doesn't he? None of us are allowed pets, so why should he get one?" He scowls at them, and possibly without even thinking, adds, "I just evened things out."

"Wait," Hinata starts to say before his brain can catch up. A sick feeling has quickly spread to his gut, making it difficult to think. "You," he tries again, still struggling to speak.

"Wait—you—" Tsukishima says, imitating Hinata but greatly exaggerating the pitch of his voice. "Are you becoming mute now too? God, you are pathetic!"

"You did do something to Kenma!" Hinata shouts as soon as he finds his voice again.

"Congratulations, your brain works after all!" Tsukishima taunts.

"Where is he?" Yachi asks, peeking out for just a moment from behind Hinata.

"I dunno, why don't you go and find him? He's not that hard to see," Tsukishima says. He laughs hard at his own joke and walks away. He knows Yachi won't follow him just as surely as he knows Hinata can't.

******

They search around the village and ask everyone they come across, but nobody's seen a cat of Kenma's description. They search for hours until they stumble directly into Daichi’s path on his way home from work.

"Shoyo, Hitoka, what's the matter? Why do you both look so distressed?" he asks.

They immediately start talking over one another in a duet of panicked voices, rushing to try and explain. Daichi listens just long enough to get the idea, then quiets them with a hand on each of their shoulders.

"Let's go home. I'll speak to Kei about this," he says.

"No, please don't tell him. He'll kill me," Shoyo whispers, horrified.

"He will not," Daichi assures him.

As soon as they are through the door, Daichi's voice carries throughout the entire house, calling Tsukishima in a terrifying tone that leaves no doubt he is in big trouble. Shoyo and Yachi duck back outside and speed walk to the garden, not wanting to be anywhere near what's about to happen, even if it's in their defense.

The thin wooden walls and glass windows do little to contain Daichi's shouting, however, so they end up forced to listen anyway. Shoyo sits down in the grass and starts pulling on weeds. He frowns deeply. Regardless of what Daichi said, Tsukishima is definitely going to get him back for tattling, and much worse, Kenma is still missing.

"Hey," Yachi says, "Isn't that Kenma?"

"What? Where?" Hinata asks, pausing his weed-pulling to listen for movement. He can't hear a cat moving anywhere, but seconds later he hears a voice in his head instead.

I'm here. That mean kid grabbed me and tied me to a tree, but I managed to free myself. I'm sorry to have worried you.

Hinata can't speak for all the relief he feels, so as soon as he feels Kenma brush against his hand, he grabs him and hugs him tightly to his chest. It's an awkward scene, and Kenma is definitely uncomfortable, but he allows it. Kenma will allow pretty much anything, so long as it's coming from Hinata.

Remind me to bite him later.

Hinata nods, looking forward to it.

******

Nobody believed that Daichi's scolding would put an end to Tsukishima's nastiness, but he hasn't formerly retaliated either. Kenma keeps an especially close watch on him just to be safe. He is watching him now, from his perch on Hinata's shoulder, as they, along with Yachi, walk together to the marketplace. There is something causing a commotion and drawing the attention of nearly the entire village including every one of Daichi and Suga's charges.

Kenma describes the scene to Hinata: There are three men sitting atop white horses, dressed in pompous sky blue suits with white trim. Their horses are all white and draped in shimmering blankets which display the sigil of the Grand King—four sky blue leaves floating in the breeze.

Hinata and Kenma have given their share of ridicule to the sigil; aren't kingdoms supposed to display power and strike fear into the hearts of their enemies? If so, why choose a stupid leaf?

Regardless, they are as enthralled as the rest of the villagers to hear what these men have to say. The Grand King is reclusive and almost nothing is known about him. Even his soldiers rarely venture beyond the walls of the castle. One of the men, presumably the leader, opens a scroll and begins to read from it.

"We come here in search of young men between the ages of fourteen and sixteen," he explains. "The Grand King seeks companionship for the Young King. You will be fed and sheltered for so long as you choose to stay in the castle, or until your presence is no longer requested. You will work when you are not socializing with the Young King. This is strictly voluntary."

"Oooh, I've heard horrible things about the Young King," Yachi whispers into Shoyo's ear. "I heard he's a shadow demon who has never even seen sunlight! You'd be crazy to volunteer! It's probably a trap! They'll execute anyone who says yes!"

"You're almost as big an idiot as he is," Tsukishima says, scoffing. "It sounds like a great deal to me. A chance to get away from stupid children and the adults who pick them as their favorites? Sign me up," he says, and then he really does. Tsukishima raises his hand to get the man's attention and volunteers himself.

You should volunteer too.

"Absolutely not," Hinata says, though he continues to look forward rather than turn toward Kenma. He knows Yachi is looking at him like a weirdo, the way she always does when he talks to Kenma this way. "You heard Hitoka!"

Kenma's lack of further pressuring seems like enough evidence that Hinata is right not to volunteer. Yachi and Kenma watch—and Hinata listens—as Tsukishima is given instructions before being led to the castle. There are six volunteers in total.

"We'll probably never see him alive again," Yachi whispers ominously.

******

They do see Tsukishima again. They see him later that very same day, when he returns to the orphanage looking even more sour than usual. He doesn't say much in explanation, but rumors quickly penetrate the entire village; after only one day, every volunteer either demanded to leave or was kicked out. There was no funny business, as some of the older women had deviously theorized, but rather just a low-key party meant to introduce the Young King to some potential friends. Apparently, it took less than one hour for everyone involved to accept that it wasn't going to happen.

Then, two days after their initial visit, the Grand King's men return. Again, they advertise for young men who wish to visit the castle, though they're now accepting a wider age range. Again, Kenma gently suggests that Hinata volunteer.

This time, they leave with only two volunteers. Neither of them are Hinata.

Another two days pass, and the men are back for a third time. This time, they offer food, but rather than shelter, they promise soldiers will escort the volunteers to and from their homes in the village each day. In addition, there is no longer a requirement to do work. Despite these changes, they get only a single volunteer, and despite Kenma's encouragement, it still is not Hinata.

A fourth visit seems unlikely. Two weeks pass and the village starts to forget about the men and their quest to find companionship for the Young King. The gossip dies down as everyone begins to assume they finally found a friend for him, unlikable as he may be.

That is, until a knock on the orphanage door gets Suga's attention. Each kid home at the time, twenty-five in total, cram into a single doorway to eavesdrop on the conversation between the Grand King's gopher and their foster parent. They hear the man begging Suga to volunteer just one kid, please.

"Just give us your kindest, most patient kid," he asks, sounding to be on the verge of tears. "Preferably a teenager, but we can be flexible! Just, definitely not a girl, that is forbidden. And, and it's just for a few hours! We'll bring him right back! We promise!!"

You're kind, and patient enough, and a teenage boy. You should volunteer.

Hinata ignores him.

The volunteers have all been returned safely.

True, but none seemed particularly glad to have gone either.

Okay, so there are rumors that the Young King is a nasty brute. You really think he'll be any worse than Tsukishima?

Hinata opens his mouth to reply, then shuts it.

Why not give it a try?

"Why do you want me to go so badly?" Hinata whispers, aware of his close proximity to the other orphans and their suspicious looks.

I just think it would be an interesting experience for you.

"Fine," he says with a sigh. He steps out from the crowded doorway and walks over to Suga. "I'll go."

Chapter Text

Hinata has never ridden a horse before. Only the truly wealthy can afford them, and he has never been anything more than a penniless orphan. Admittedly, he has some vague memories of a life before Daichi and Suga took him in; occasionally images flash across his mind, of a man with golden eyes and orange hair and a beautiful dark-haired woman holding a crying baby, but they're fuzzy, possibly imagined, and anyway, he certainly doesn't remember any horses.

Horses, it turns out, are a very bumpy, uncomfortable mode of transportation; Hinata grips the reins until his knuckles are white as he struggles to stay upright. He can feel Kenma's claws digging into his shoulder and assumes his companion is fighting a similar battle. The journey to the castle takes about two hours, and besides focusing on not toppling sideways to his death-by-trampling, Hinata has little to entertain himself with, besides his own thoughts.

Or rather, a single thought. He can't stop obsessing over the promise Suga extracted from the Grand King's messenger, an assurance that Hinata would definitely be delivered back home by nightfall. He dwells on this for a long time without knowing why, then suddenly a series of visions flash across his mind. The images are blurry and full of holes as though seen through a filthy, cracked pair of glasses; he is five years old, standing in a forest and begging a tall man to take him back to his parents. The man is telling him not now, Shorty, but I promise to take you back tomorrow! But that's silly; he doesn't know anyone who looks or sounds like that, nor has he ever seen those kinds of trees. Technically, he hasn't ever seen anything, outside of his dreams.

Something wrong, Shoyo?

"Are you sure they're gonna take me back home tonight?" he mutters as softly as he can. Until now, he and Kenma have resisted the urge to converse. Neither wants the Grand King's messenger thinking Hinata hears voices and talks aloud to them. For Kenma to ask, Hinata must be wearing a fairly grave expression.

Yes, of course. Are you sure that's the only thing bothering you?

"Well," he confesses, still muttering as softly as possible without his words being lost to the ruckus of the horses. "I just had a weird... thought. Memory? I dunno, my mind did a weird..." he trails off, struggling to describe it. He makes a sound like 'wuuoo' and continues, "...thing. It's like, I remembered something, but I know it never happened?"

That feeling is called déjà vu. It might be a memory from your childhood.

"No, I don't think so," he says, confident about this.

Hinata has a feeling that Kenma disagrees, but neither of them say anything for the rest of the journey.

******
Hinata, Kenma, and the Grand King's man approach the castle sometime in the late morning. After they dismount their horses, they walk together through a large stone archway that leads to the front courtyard of the castle. The man walks ahead but stops every few steps to glance back at Hinata. He obviously expects him to need help getting around, but Hinata navigates his own way up the stairs, through the entryway, down the corridors, and into the warm, brightly-lit room where he is told to wait for the Young King to come to him. He can sense the man staring at him with suspicion, but he doesn't dare ask the question that Hinata gets surprisingly often: Are you sure you're actually blind?

After the man leaves, Hinata walks around the perimeter of the room, running the flat of his palm against the walls. As always, Kenma offers guidance as he does so, helping him get a better understanding of this new place.

Nobody is in here but us. It's a big room and very open. Not much furniture to worry about tripping over, but there is a table pressed up against the next wall; it has food on it: bread, vegetables, meat, and things like that. There's also drinks... I see water, iced tea, and some sort of fruit juice. Careful not to knock them over! This room is very fancy… there are stained-glass windows and those curtains look expensive. If I had to guess, this place is usually used to host big parties. It's a strange place to have a one-on-one meeting.

Once Hinata feels a comfortable familiarity with the room, he goes over to the refreshments and, with Kenma's help, pours himself some of the juice. He pauses, mid-pour, as voices filter through the far doorway, growing louder as the two men walk toward the room. They seem to be arguing; their voices are raised enough to allow him and Kenma to overhear their conversation.

"You can have your bow back in an hour. One hour, Tobio. You can't spend your entire life alone on an archery range."

"Why not? That's how I've spent the last sixteen years of it! I keep telling you, I don't need any friends! I don't fucking care!"

"Watch how you speak to me," the older man scolds. "You've never had a friend, so how would you know? You've never even spoken to anyone besides Toru and myself—that is, if I don't count you barking orders at the servants or the five minutes it took you to scare off those other boys. Stop acting like a brat and just meet with him."

They hear a frustrated growl and the sound of something getting punched—the door, maybe? Hinata sets down the pitcher of juice and starts backing away from the direction of the voices.

"One hour," older man repeats. He opens the door before the Young King can argue further. Hinata hears someone step into the room, then the sound of a door closing.

"Is that him?" Hinata whispers.

I guess so. Black hair, blue eyes, tall, fairly lean. Honestly, he looks like a normal teenage boy. You'll be fine.

Hinata can feel Kenma tensing up, so obviously that's not all there is to it.

"And?" Hinata insists, allowing his annoyance to show. Kenma dragged him here in the first place and he isn't going to let him forget it anytime soon.

Alright, he has a scary face. Really scary.

"This was entirely your idea, remember," Hinata whispers as quickly and quietly as he can. He hears footsteps approaching and doesn't want to give this scary guy a bad first impression. The Young King walks over and stops maybe a foot away; Hinata notes his scent, an odd combination of peppermint and wood shavings.

"Your eyes are weird," the Young King greets.

"Um," Hinata replies, taken off guard. "What the hell?"

"Your eyes. They look weird," he repeats. "Is that a cat? I hate animals. Put it outside."

Both of Hinata's hands immediately grasp for Kenma, who is resting on his shoulder as always. He clutches him defensively.

"What? No! He helps me see! If Kenma goes outside, then so do I!"

"Fine. Bye," the Young King says, and by the sound of it, he is already walking away, presumably back to the door through which he entered.

Is his dad going to be cool with that?

"Is your dad going to be cool with that?" Hinata says aloud, parroting Kenma. "I heard him say something about an hour? It's been like, thirty seconds."

He stops and scowls.

"He is not my dad, dumbass. Iwaizumi is Oikawa's adviser," he explains, as if Hinata knows who Oikawa is, or why that question was dumb. The Young King also fails to address whether or not Iwaizumi will be happy to hear that this meeting ended early. After a pause, he asks, "What do you mean, the cat helps you see?"

"I'm blind, idiot," Hinata snaps. His minimal patience is already spent. "Isn't it obvious?"

"How the hell am I supposed to know that? I've never seen a blind person before."

"Just how sheltered are you, exactly?" Hinata asks.

Tactlessly sidestepping the topic of his sheltered upbringing, the Young King asks, "How... exactly does a cat help you see?"

"He just does," Hinata mumbles, evading the question.

"Prove it."

"And how exactly do you suggest I do that, King?"

"Don't call me that!" he shouts, suddenly furious.

"Jeez, sorry!" Hinata appeases, his heart skipping three beats. He takes a few steps back and throws his hands up in surrender. "What the hell do I call you, then? It's not like you introduced yourself!"

"Tobio."

"Is... your name?"

"Yes, dumbass."

"Okay," Hinata says, taking a deep breath. "Well, how about this? I won't call you King if you don't call me dumbass. My name is Hinata. Not dumbass, okay? Hi – na – ta!" he says, enunciating each syllable with a sing-song tone and finishing with a big, toothy smile. "Got it!?"

"Fine," Kageyama concedes, sounding reluctant.

They fall quiet, neither knowing where to go from there. After several minutes pass in dead silence, Hinata starts to suspect that Kageyama is just running out the clock, desperately waiting for the hour to be up.

Remember, Kenma says, trying to be helpful, He has never had a friend before. He doesn't know what to do with you. Help him.

Nodding slightly, Hinata hums to himself, rubbing his chin and glancing upward. What might this scary guy want to talk about?

"Hey," Hinata says, suddenly very curious, "Why didn't you get along with Tsukishima?"

"I don't know who that is."

"He came here a couple weeks ago," Hinata explains. He tries to recall how Kenma most recently described Tsukishima. "He has blonde hair and yellow eyes and wears thick black glasses and is a super mean dickhead," Hinata says, all in a single breath.

"Oh. Right. Him," Kageyama says. There is another long pause, during which Hinata starts to brainstorm other topics of conversation, but then Kageyama continues, "He was an asshole."

"I know, right!?" Hinata gushes a bit too happily. "He is always such a dick to me! He even stole my cat a while ago!"

"Oh," Kageyama says before going silent yet again. This time Hinata knows to be patient, and as he expects, Kageyama eventually finishes his thought. "He called me pathetic, so. I had him kicked out."

Hinata can't stop smiling, though he suspects it's partly because he can't see this guy's so-called scary face which, admittedly, would probably have him quaking in terror. Instead, he gets to simply enjoy a mental image of Tsukishima being forcibly removed from the castle by several armed guards. He doubts it happened that way, but a guy can dream.

Scary face or not, Hinata figures, anyone who can acknowledge Tsukishima's awfulness probably isn't that bad, so he swears to himself to keep trying to crack this grumpy walnut.

"Sooo," Hinata ventures cautiously, "Do you, uh, have a girlfriend?"

"No."

"What's your favorite food?"

"Milk."

"Do you have any pets?" Hinata asks, still trying his best to get a conversation going.

"No," Kageyama answers. He is starting to sound annoyed, and Hinata can sense his own cheerfulness slowly crumbling away.

"So," Hinata asks as the first drop of sweat begins to slide down his temple, "What are your hobbies?"

"Archery," Kageyama says, sounding no less annoyed about this than the previous questions. Hinata frowns. Not for the first time today, he wishes he could ask Kenma for advice, but Kageyama is standing way too close; he would look completely delusional if he started talking to his cat.

Mercifully, Kageyama eventually elaborates, although he continues to sound annoyed.

"It's the only thing I don't hate," he says. "I practice every day for at least ten hours. I'm the best in the kingdom. Are you any good?"

Hinata is taken aback; these few short sentences sound like an epic speech after the excruciating awkwardness of Kageyama's previous monosyllabic answers. Hinata has to collect himself before he can answer.

"Uhh, no," he admits, worried that this will put him even further out of favor. "I'm blind," he reminds Kageyama. "I wouldn't be able to see the target."

"Right," Kageyama says, and it's clear that yes, he had forgotten.

"But, I mean," Hinata hurries to say, eager to avoid further awkward silence, "I would like to try!"

"Is your cat going to aim the arrow for you?" Kageyama asks, and it's a mean question, but Hinata senses the faintest whisper of friendly humor buried deep in the mockery.

"Yes, actually," Hinata replies, puffing up defensively. "Well," he adds, hesitating, "No— Not exactly, but, he will help!"

"I'd love to see that," Kageyama says, and he even laughs a little.

"Great!" Hinata shouts, his baseless confidence getting the better of him. "Good! Let's go, you and me! An archery contest! I'll totally beat you!"

"I just told you," Kageyama says, right back to sounding angry, "I'm the best in the kingdom, and you just said you've never even shot a single arrow before. Yet you think you can beat me?" Hinata doesn't need his eyesight to know how Kageyama is looking at him; eyes wide and disbelieving, his mouth pressed into a very thin line. "Are you stupid?"

"Mhmm," Hinata affirms, trying and failing to hide his nervousness. "That is, yes I can beat you! Not— No, I'm not stupid!"

The door opens, starting both Hinata and Kageyama. Somehow, miraculously, between all the awkward silence and pitiable attempts at conversation, the entire hour has gone by. Or, perhaps more likely, Iwaizumi returned early, not quite trusting Kageyama alone with an unsuspecting villager.

"Tobio?" Iwaizumi calls as he pokes his head in. He sounds very, very surprised to see them standing together, talking, neither bruised nor crying. "Do you," he says, shocked and at a loss for words, "Want... more time with him?"

"No," Kageyama immediately shouts in reply.

Iwaizumi sighs deeply. "Okay," he says, sounding both disappointed and exhausted.

Hinata tries not to allow his feelings to sting too badly. He knew it wasn't going great, sure, but he didn't think things were going that badly either... certainly not badly enough to justify Kageyama's irritated tone and the quick dismissal.

He feels something poke him between the eyes, the hard press of a single index finger against his skin. It immediately snaps Hinata out of his thoughts of self-pity.

"Tomorrow," Kageyama says. "We'll see which of us is the better archer."

"Wait," Iwaizumi says, astonished. "You want him to come back?"

"Yah," Kageyama replies, although he is already walking away, back toward whatever part of the castle he originally came from.

"Tomorrow then!" Hinata shouts in reply. Iwaizumi seems downright paralyzed with shock, but eventually snaps out of it and hurries to follow Kageyama, leaving Hinata alone once again.

The silence is broken only by Kenma's voice in Hinata's head. He sounds very pleased with himself.

See? I told you it would be interesting!

Chapter Text

Hinata sits on the damp grass just outside the house; his back is resting against the wood paneling and Kenma is curled in his lap.  It’s still summer, so despite the late hour, neither is uncomfortably chilly.  Hinata knows he shouldn’t be outside in the middle of the night—Suga and Daichi would end him if they knew—but he couldn’t sleep and Tsukishima made it clear that if he didn’t keep still and shut up, or get the hell out, there would be trouble in the morning.  At least out here he can have an open conversation with Kenma.

“Do you think Daichi will let me practice?” Hinata asks.  He runs his fingernails from the base of Kenma’s ears down to his tailbone and then repeats the motion.

Of course not.

“Why not?” he presses, stifling a yawn. 

Bows are expensive.  You’re too young.  And, you know, you wouldn’t be able to see the target.

“Do you think Kageyama will be angry if I’m no good?”

No.

“Why not?”

He expects you to lose.  He’d probably be furious if you won.

“Is his face really that scary?”

Don’t worry about his face.  He seems harmless to me.

******

“Shoyo!?”

Hinata hears Yachi’s voice and jerks awake. When he opens his eyes, he has to blink several times before his eyelashes stop trying to stick together.  He appears to have fallen asleep outside.

“Mmm?” he offers in response.

“Did you sleep outside?” she asks, sounding panicked but keeping her voice low.  “Oh my god, Daichi and Suga will kill you if they find out, or, or they’ll throw you out onto the street!!”

“Did either of them see me?” Hinata asks, though he knows damn well they wouldn't abandon him over something so silly.

“No, I don’t think so,” she replies, suddenly whispering, wanting to keep the secret.

“Okay,” he assures her, “So it’s fine.  Relax!”

They walk in together and take seats at the kitchen table, side by side. 

“What time is it, exactly?” Hinata asks.

“Oh, um, five-something?” she guesses, peering at the sunrise through the window.

“So... what are you doing awake already!?”

“I had a nightmare about that horrible Shadow King,” Yachi explains, trembling.  “Do you really have to go back there today?  I have a real bad feeling he’s just gonna chop you up.”

Before Hinata can reply, Suga enters the kitchen, yawning loudly.  He doesn’t bother to ask either of them why they're up so early. Hinata is consistently the earliest to rise, long before any of the others and sometimes even before the sun itself. Yachi, on the other hand, is famous miles away for her incredibly loud nightmares and night terrors, so he can presume her reasons as well.

“He’s not gonna,” Hinata says simply, whispering now.

Suga has just finished preparing them breakfast when there’s a knock at the door that makes Yachi jump a foot in the air.  She scrambles behind her chair where she remains, cowering.  “Do you think he heard me?” She whispers.  “The Young... you-know-who? Calling him a shadow... you-know-what!?  Oh god, he’s gonna have me executed!!”

“Nobody’s going to execute you, Hitoka,” Suga assures her with equal parts kindness and exasperation.  He goes to open the door and finds a castle guard—the same man who came yesterday, begging for volunteers.

“Shoyo is still finishing his breakfast,” Suga says, eyeing the guard sternly.

“He can eat at the castle,” the guard replies, meeting Suga eyes, but rather than glaring, he’s silently pleading.

“That’s okay!!  We can go,” Hinata says.  He bounds from his seat, picks Kenma off the floor, and jogs over to the guard.  “I’m ready!”

“Do you have to bring your pet?” the guard asks, eyeing Kenma.  Hinata replies only by hugging Kenma tight to his chest and frowning, so the guard sighs and drops it.

***

When Hinata enters the banquet hall, he can sense Kageyama is already there, waiting impatiently.  He wonders if he ought to feel flattered or intimidated by this, and settles on a little of both.

“Finally,” Kageyama hisses.  “Can we go?”

“To breakfast?” Hinata asks, obviously excited to resume eating. He'd been dreaming about it for the entire two-hour, bumpy-horse journey here. He can only imagine how lavish the castle breakfast will be.

Kageyama makes an aggravated sound, something between a snarl and a scoff, and Hinata shrinks back.  This was a bad start, and he really, really wants this to go well, so Hinata allows himself a few moments to grieve his half-eaten breakfast, left behind at home, definitely scavenged by one of his siblings within moments of his departure.  He mourns for three more seconds, then puts on a happy face.

“No, no, kidding!  I’m kidding!!  Let’s go so I can teach you how to shoot!” He walks away with a confident stride, despite having no idea where he's going.

When they arrive at the indoor archery range, Kageyama insists that Hinata go first, which Hinata interprets as a good sign.  “Does he look nervous?” Hinata whispers to Kenma, shrugging his shoulder to hide the movements of his mouth from Kageyama.

No, he looks cocky.

Scoffing, Hinata lifts the bow and positions it like he’s seen—where?  He hasn’t ever seen anyone with a bow, has he?  And yet, he has a clear image of a man, eerily similar to himself except much older, aiming a bow at chalk markings on a tree.  As he worries over this, his grip slackens and the bow dips.

“IDIOT!” Kageyama shouts, sounding truly furious and snapping Hinata out of it.  “You’re not even holding it correctly!”

Hinata jumps, his pulse skyrocketing, and he drops the bow to the floor.  It lands with a clutter that echoes throughout the room.

“What?  No!  Sorry!  Wait, wait, hold on,“ Hinata stutters, reaching down and groping for the discarded weapon.  “I got distracted is all!”

“You got distracted?  We’ve been here for thirty goddamn seconds!  Just how stupid and incompetent are you exactly?”

“I’m not incompetent at all!!  Now, shut up and let me focus!”  Hinata finds the bow, straightens up, and again positions it just like the man in his memory, but pauses.  He hears, simultaneously, Kageyama chuckling cruelly and Kenma’s voice in his head, saying his name, cautious and warning. 

“What is it this time!?” Hinata demands.

“You’re facing the wrong way,” Kageyama answers, sounding smug.

Hinata scowls, twists his torso with Kenma’s whispered guidance, and takes a deep breath, ready to finally let the arrow fly.

“Your posture is terrible,” Kageyama interjects, shaking Hinata’s concentration for a third time.

Hinata ignores him and releases the arrow, vaguely wondering how nice it might feel to find out that the arrow landed right in Kageyama’s stupid forehead.

“Wow,” Kageyama breaths, sounding impressed.

“Yah?” Hinata shouts, smiling, not even waiting for Kenma to confirm what he already knows—he nailed the target!  “I told you I didn’t need practice!  I told you that I’d beat you without eve—“

“—You’re even more incompetent than I thought,” Kageyama finishes, cutting Hinata off.  “Unless... were you aiming for the floor?”

Hinata grits his teeth, cheeks going pink with embarrassment.  He searches his brain for a retort, but can’t think of one, and then he’s shocked away from his thoughts when two arrows go whizzing past his ear without warning.  He yelps and hops back, tripping and landing hard on his ass.

“Come here,” Kageyama is saying, gripping Hinata’s wrist and tugging him up.  He walks him forward a few steps, then guides Hinata’s hand down to feel an arrow that has lodged in the floor.  “That was you.”  He then tugs Hinata forward many more steps, perhaps thirty meters, taking no care to be gentle, and slaps Hinata’s hand against the wall.  “This is the target.  These are mine,” he says, guiding Hinata’s hands over an inch to feel where the two arrows had lodged.  It feels as though one has splintered the other.

As soon as Kageyama releases his wrist, Hinata rubs it, sullen and silent.  Sounding impatient, Kageyama clarifies, “I won.”

“Congratulations,” Hinata grumbles, adding at a much quieter volume, “On being a stupid king.”

Hinata spends the rest of the morning sitting against the wall with Kenma in his lap.  Nearby, Kageyama practices, narrating his own excellence.  Kenma doesn’t contradict any of Kageyama’s claims, which just makes Hinata sulk harder.

The day was fairly terrible overall, and so Hinata is shocked when Kageyama dismisses him with a, “So then.  Tomorrow.”

“What?  You want me to come back?” Hinata asks.  “Why?”

Kageyama considers this for a while.  “I told you,” he says, “I’m the best in the kingdom.  That means everyone is shit compared to me.  So... I might as well practice with someone who at least has a reason to be shit.”

***

As the weeks pass, Kageyama starts to dedicate more and more time to teaching Hinata how to shoot and less time narrating his own impeccable practices.  Hinata isn’t sure why; perhaps Kageyama has hit some kind of personal plateau, or perhaps it’s simply because Hinata isn’t impressed enough by Kageyama’s excellence, given he can’t see any of it.

Despite this, Kageyama remains insulting and impatient.  Hinata credits his slight improvements not to Kageyama’s teaching style, which is vicious at worst and unhelpful at best, but rather to his increasingly accurate understanding of Kageyama’s various noises and what they signify.  He has the angry hiss—Hinata has gotten distracted, or grazed Kageyama’s arm with an arrow; the frustrated growl—Hinata isn’t getting some basic concept after weeks of trying; and the exhausted sigh—Kageyama can’t take any more of Hinata’s incompetence for that day.

If Kageyama has any happy noises, Hinata has yet to hear them.

After a month, when Hinata has finally managed to shoot an arrow straight and further than three meters, Kageyama attempts to teach him the proper posture for holding a bow.  It’s difficult, and three times already Kageyama has shouted in exasperation, “Just look at what I'm doing!” before remembering that Hinata can’t see him.

Kageyama is frustrated to a limit Hinata hasn’t yet witnessed and it’s starting to make him shiver nervously.  When Kageyama demands he put the stupid cat down, Hinata does, leaning over to allow Kenma to dash off to safety.

As soon as Hinata straightens back up, he feels Kageyama’s arms reaching from behind him, making him jump as though Kageyama had just dropped snow down the back of his shirt.

“Like this, you fucking idiot,” Kageyama growls, his lips an inch from Hinata’s ear.  Kageyama takes his arms and positions them, arranges his fingers, and nudges his left leg forward.  “There,” he says, stepping back.

Hinata finds himself still shivering, but not necessarily from fear.  Despite his nerves, he releases the arrow, and as always, waits to hear which of Kageyama’s unhappy sounds will alert him to how he did. 

Instead, Hinata hears something brand new.  Kageyama sounds impressed.

***

“We can’t practice today,” Kageyama says the moment Hinata walks through the doors.  “My bow is broken.”

Not stopping to think first, Hinata questions him.  “Broken?  How?  You seriously only have one bow?  Aren’t you a king?  Don’t you have a thousand of everything you want?”

“Yes.  No,” is all Kageyama offers in reply, short and gruff.  “Now follow me,” he instructs, before Hinata can ask any more stupid questions.

Hinata follows him, silent and wondering.  He follows Kageyama through the castle for fifteen minutes before he realizes that Kageyama was probably lying about not being able to practice.  He just doesn’t want to practice today.  But why?

They walk for another five minutes until they reach their destination.

It doesn’t feel much different than the other room they always use; it’s smaller, and on a much higher floor, but not special so far as Hinata can tell.  He wishes he knew for sure, but Kenma had to stay home to get de-wormed, so Hinata is truly flying blind today.

Hinata sits on something plush with a hard back, slightly nervous but mostly excited to see what Kageyama had planned for the day if not target practice.

As is usual with them, silence reigns until Hinata breaks it.

“So,” he asks, “What do you do when you’re not practicing?”

“Sleep… eat… bathe…” Kageyama says, putting careful thought into each listed item. 

Hinata waits for the rest of the list, but Kageyama has fallen silent.  “That’s it!?  Seriously?”  He can sense immediately that he’s put Kageyama on the defensive and feels badly.

“What else is there?”  Kageyama asks sincerely.  “What do you do all day?”

Hinata considers this, rubbing his chin, indicating deep thought.  “I talk with my friends, play games, cook with my parents, go on walks through the forest with Kenma, do chores...” he scratches his chin, knowing he’s missing something.  "Oh!  And I come here to shoot arrows with you, of course!”

“Hm,” is all he gets from Kageyama in response.

After another long stretch of silence, Hinata clears his throat and asks, “Would you, uh, be interested sometime?  In any of that?”

“Like what?” Kageyama asks.  “Why would I do chores?  I’m not a peasant.”

“No,” Hinata says, slowly and trying not to sound annoyed.  “But, you could go for a walk maybe?  In the forest?  You could try to hunt!  Shoot at squirrels or something, or even—“

“No.”

“No?  Why not!?”

Kageyama doesn’t answer.

“Or, you could talk with friends?” Hinata suggests, meek after yet another excruciating silence.

“I don’t have any,” Kageyama states simply.

Hinata is hurt and it shows in his voice.  “So what am I?”

“An idiot.”

Hinata’s frown deepens.  “That’s not very nice.”

“And you’re not very smart.  Or gifted.  Or large.  Why would I want you as a friend anyway?”

“Kay, then, bye,” Hinata says, standing to go.

“Bye,” Kageyama says, suddenly angry.  He then adds, much quieter but just as angrily, “Leave like the others.”

Hinata stops, then drops back into his seat, distracted from his hurt feelings by this new curiosity.  “Why didn’t anyone else stay?”

Kageyama sounds shocked that Hinata heard him.  “They,” he starts, then pauses, obviously uncomfortable admitting this, “They said I have a scary face.  Except that blonde-glasses guy.  He just said I was pathetic and,” Kageyama trails off, not wanting to share Tsukishima’s cruel words.

“Tsukishima is an dickhead, didn’t I tell you that?” Hinata assures him.  “You shouldn’t care what he thinks.”

“So why do you even know him?  Why do you spend time with him, if he’s so awful?”

“Er,” Hinata says, “I can’t avoid him.  We sort of live together.”

“I don’t understand.”

“He’s like my brother or something.  I live with him, and my parents, and a bunch of other other brothers and sisters,” Hinata explains.

“Your castle must be gigantic,” Kageyama mumbles, probably trying to imagine it.

“No, it’s a small cottage.  I share a room with most of my brothers, including Tsukishima,” Hinata mutters bitterly.  Just this morning Tsukishima “accidentally” stepped on his head during a nighttime trip to the toilet.

“That sounds terrible.”

“It—isn’t,” Hinata says after some hesitation.  “My parents are really nice.  They took us all in.  We’re not really related, you see.  Well, some of us are, but not me, and definitely not Tsukishima and me!!” Hinata’s voice pitches at the end of this, wanting to make this last point very, very clear.

Unmoved by his sudden energy, Kageyama just sighs.  “I don’t have any siblings, or a mother.  Just Oikawa, and I hardly see him.”

“That sounds lonely,” Hinata says, sympathetic.

“It’s better than your nightmare,” Kageyama snaps defensively.

They return to sitting in silence, but for once, it isn’t uncomfortable.  Then, just as Hinata’s prepared to breathe life into their conversation once again, Kageyama speaks up first.

“You could stay here,” he offers.  When Hinata doesn’t immediately reply, his voice turns from quiet to annoyed.  “If your tiny body starts to get crushed by all those non-siblings.  Or something.  This place is huge.  But whatever.”

Charmed by the gesture, Hinata beams, his first real smile since meeting this surly boy.  “I’ll remember that, thanks!”

***

They’re back to practicing on a random day when it happens for the first time.  Hinata is aiming his bow, muttering to himself, trying to keep straight everything he needs to remember to escape Kageyama’s critical wrath, when he feels arms around him.  He starts, then waits for his arms to be put in the right position, wondering what was off about his stance, but Kageyama’s arms are around his middle and don’t seem to be going anywhere anytime soon.

“Uh, what?” Hinata asks.

“What, what?” Kageyama replies, annoyed.

“What are you doing?” Hinata asks more clearly.  “Is my posture off?”

“No,” Kageyama says, definitely not answering the question.

Hinata furrows his brow.  He is painfully, dreadfully confused.  “So, why are you—what is this?  Is this a hug?”  He knows what a hug is, of course, favors them tremendously with his parents, Yachi, Kenma, and a handful of his nicer siblings, but getting a hug from Kageyama is worrying, borderline terrifying, almost like he imagines how it would be to get hugged by Tsukishima.

“Whatever.  If it’s bothering you,” Kageyama starts to say, sounding angry and hurt.  He pulls his arms away and takes a few steps back.

“No!” Hinata hurries to reassure him, “It’s fine!  I just.  I was just surprised!  I like hugs a lot, actually!  So, it’s fine!”  He gropes for Kageyama, finds him, and pulls him into a hug.  Due to their height difference, his arms are around Kageyama’s hips, and his angle is off a little, so it’s awkward, but he’s determined.  Kageyama resists and it reminds Hinata of trying to give Kenma a tick bath, but Hinata clings, defiant.  “But this means we’re friends now!”

Kageyama shoves him off, hard.  “No, we’re not.”

“Okay,” Hinata replies calmly.  “Then I’m not coming back tomorrow.”

“Yes, you are.”

“No, I’m not,” Hinata says.  “Not if we’re not friends.”

“I’ll have my guards drag you against your will,” Kageyama threatens.

“No you won’t.”

Annoyed to be called so easily on his bluff, Kageyama scowls and relents.  “Fine.”

“Fine, what?” Hinata says, teasing.

“We’re friends,” Kageyama mutters below his breath, but Hinata hears it.

“I know we are,” Hinata assures him, even as he turns to the door, ready to head back for the day.  “See you tomorrow, friend!”

“Whatever, idiot,” Kageyama mutters, careful to wait until his back is turned to let the smallest of smiles show.

Chapter Text

The more time they spend together, the more natural things feel.  Kageyama still scowls throughout most of the day, and he prefers to call Hinata by “dumbass” rather than his name, but he stops pretending they aren’t friends or that he doesn’t appreciate Hinata’s company.  These small concessions are enough to keep Hinata from losing his patience or wallowing in hurt feelings whenever Kageyama acts like—well, himself.

The hugs become more frequent too, until they're happening several times per visit.  It's never at a set time, like when he arrives or before he leaves, but rather they seem to come at the most random moments.  Kenma insists that he shouldn’t dwell on it, and though Hinata doesn’t mind, it's certainly strange and sometimes makes the hairs at the back of his neck stand up, so he continues to nag Kageyama for an explanation.

When he asks for the twentieth-or-so time, he finally gets an answer as to why this is occurring—sort of.

“Because I want to,” Kageyama had answered, still sounding as though he didn’t understand the question.  “Do you have a problem with it?”

“Nope,” Hinata had replied quickly, his arms trapped at his sides by yet another hug, this one seemingly triggered by his ability to put away legs of roasted chicken.  After all, he hadn’t been doing or saying anything else at the time.

***

“Stop doing that,” Kageyama says, his voice irritated.

Hinata opens his eyes blearily.  He doesn’t remember closing them or dozing off; he just knows his head had started throbbing and it seemed like a good solution.  Even the faint orange glow is too much stimulation for his brain today.

“I’m sorry,” he says.  “I must be getting the flu.  Most of my brothers and sisters already got it.”  He has to stop then, to catch his breath and organize his thoughts after an especially sharp throb of pain behind his left eye.  “I should go,” he mumbles, standing from his place on the sofa in Kageyama’s room.  He sways a little on his feet.  “Before I get you sick,” he clarifies, trying not to think about the two brothers he already lost to this illness.

“No,” Kageyama commands, resting both hands on Hinata’s shoulders and pushing him back down.  “They got you sick.  They’ll only get you sicker.  We have a physician here.  The best physician.”

“It might be nothing,” Hinata says.  He considers if his brothers would have survived if they’d had more than the local medicine woman, herself undereducated and overwhelmed by the outbreak.

“It isn’t.  You’ve been acting stupider than usual today.  It must be a symptom.”

“Why do you even care?” Hinata asks, closing his eyes again.

“If you die, I’ll be pissed off,” Kageyama states simply.

“Why?” Hinata asks.

“You’re... tolerable.”

“Gee, thanks,” Hinata replies with a lopsided smile.

“Fine.  It’s settled.  You’re staying.  I’ll send word to your family,” Kageyama says, but Hinata isn’t really listening, already sliding sideways onto the couch.  Kenma jumps to his knee to avoid getting crushed and Hinata thinks maybe he hears Kenma’s voice in his head, asking if he’s alright.  He also thinks he hears Kageyama barking orders to the servants to fetch the physician, but none of this is certain, as everything has gotten very fuzzy.

***

He wakes up sometime later and immediately reaches for Kenma but feels only silky-soft bedding that feels overly warm and very, very damp.

 Sorry, Shoyo.  I’m in the corner.  They kept shooing me away.

“That’s okay, I’m just glad you’re here.  I don’t know what I’d do without you,” Hinata replies at full volume, smiling through his delirium.

“Oh.” Kageyama says, startling Hinata.  The volume of his voice indicates a very, very close proximity.  How didn’t Hinata sense him there?  “Good.  You might be dead without me.”

Hinata’s pace quickens as he tries to remember what just came out of his mouth.  He still can’t focus his thoughts well, and remembering things from as long ago as ten seconds feels like an impossibility.

Don’t tell him you were actually talking to me.  It would really hurt his feelings.

“I know that!” Hinata shouts, already forgetting about Kageyama being there.  “I’m not stupid!”

“Yes, you are,” Kageyama replies, and again Hinata’s pulse shoots through the roof.  Kageyama seems to notice something, because he lays a hand on Hinata’s forehead and frowns.  “And you still might die, so shut up and go back to sleep.”

Hinata opens his mouth to defend himself, but shuts it, coming up blank.  He tries again, and again nothing brilliant emerges.  He eventually just huffs, waiting to fall back asleep.  He knows he succeeded when he starts to dream about strange, pleasant sensations, like fingers brushing away his damp bangs, or something soft touching his lips.

***

His fever finally breaks at some point.  Hinata knows this only because the sheets are no longer just damp with his sweat, they are positive drenched, and he grimaces at the feeling.  He sighs, relieved, when his roaming hand bumps into something soft and pleasantly warm.

“Kenma?”

Shoyo!  You’re awake!

Hinata lies there, silent and nervous.

Don’t worry; nobody is here but us.

“Oh, good.  My head really hurts.  How long did I sleep for?  Why is this bed so soft?  Where am I?  I—“

Shoyo, relax.  You’re better but still recovering.  You need to rest.  You slept for six days, and the bed is soft because royalty can afford such luxuries.

Hinata considers this, then smacks his head upon remembering where he is, and then immediately regrets it upon a new wave of pain exploding from behind his eyes.

“He made me stay,” Hinata states, to remind himself.

Yes.  By the way... is there anything you want to talk about?

“Like what?” he asks.

Do you remember anything?  From the last few days?

“Not really,” he mumbles, trying to remember.  “Why?”

In lieu of an answer, Kenma hisses.

“Kenma, what—?”

“I see that stupid cat is still here,” Kageyama says, entering the room and speaking over Hinata.  He walks over and shoves Kenma off the bed.  “It’s not sanitary.”

There’s the sound of more hissing, and what sounds like a cat getting physically tossed from the room.

“Hey!” Hinata protests, trying to follow the sound with his head.  “Stop that, Tobio!”

The door shuts, but it can’t keep Kenma’s voice from Hinata’s head.

I think you should know... he kissed you.  While you were too feverish to notice.  More than once.

Kageyama returns to the bed and places his hand on Hinata’s forehead.  It’s a gentle touch, but it sends Hinata frantically scuttling back into the headboard.  He knows this reaction is going to hurt Kageyama’s feelings, so he rushes out the words before a fight can start, though they might end up having one either way.

“Did you kiss me?  When I was sleeping?”

“Yes,” Kageyama replies, immediately.  He answers this like it’s the most basic, mundane question Hinata could ask.

Hinata’s mouth drops open.  He isn’t sure what he expected; Kenma isn’t one to mess with him, but it could have been a joke, maybe.  And if not, why doesn’t Kageyama at least sound guilty?

“You can’t just kiss people without asking them first!” he shouts.

“I couldn’t ask you,” Kageyama reminds him.  “Because you were unconscious.”

“Then you shouldn’t have done it!” Hinata insists.

“Why not?”

“Because!” Hinata says, rubbing at his temple.  He can’t think of a reason why not, actually, so in lieu of an answer, he asks, “Why did you do it, anyway?”

“I wanted to,” Kageyama explains.  When Hinata doesn’t say anything in return, Kageyama starts to get frustrated.  “I wouldn’t have if I’d known you’d be stupid about it.”

“I’m not being stupid!  You’re stupid!  You can’t kiss people without asking them.  Everyone knows that!  It’s the rule!”

“Whose rule?” Kageyama asks.  “Oikawa never said anything about that.”

“It’s just, a rule!  For everyone!”

“Are you sure the rule isn't just for peasants?" Kageyama asks.

“God! Yes I'm sure!”

“Well,” Kageyama says, thinking this over.  “But, you’re saying, if I ask, you won’t be mad?”

“I, er.”  Hinata frets; this conversation has gotten away from him.  He can sense Kageyama getting exasperated with him, so he hurries to add.  “Yah, that's right.”

“Okay.”  There’s a pause.  “Then, I’m asking.”

“Um,” Hinata offers in reply, still bleary from sleeping through an entire week.  He really just wants to go back to sleep, but he forces his brain to function, and it does, slowly, like an elderly horse trying to pull a carriage into motion.  He tries to picture himself kissing Kageyama, but this makes him queasy, so he stops.  Then he recalls the pleasurable shiver he’d felt whenever Kageyama had pressed against his back to help with his shooting stance and how disappointed he’d felt when that stopped being necessary.  It was strange, because usually Hinata felt nothing but pride after mastering a new skill, but he almost regretted it that time.

As the silence drags on, Kageyama’s patience starts to wear thin.

“You’re being unfair!  You have to answer me!”

“I don’t know!” Hinata finally admits.

“You’re such a dumbass, and your rules are stupid.  If you don’t say no, I’m going to do what I want.”  More silence, and then Kageyama repeats himself.  “I’m asking.”  His impatience is clear.

Distracted by his internal dilemma, Hinata doesn’t answer, and so Kageyama takes this as permission to lean forward and press their lips together.  It's a quick, dry kiss, but Hinata stills, every muscle frozen, his mind going blank.  Kageyama leans back and appears to be expecting some kind of response.  He grumbles when he gets none.

“Did the fever leave you with brain damage?” he asks, seemingly sincere.

Doing himself no favors, Hinata remains frozen for another minute before he registers the question and puffs up in indignation.  “No, it did not!”

“Fine,” Kageyama says, not sounding convinced.  “Then at least go back to sleep.”

Grateful for a command he can easily follow, Hinata drops back down into the plush bed and buries fully under the duvet.

“Can you let Kenma back in?” he asks from within his cocoon.

“No.”

“Please?” Hinata pleads.  “I need to ta—“ he starts to say, but then stops himself.  “—I.  I just really want him here.  Please?”

Kageyama doesn’t answer, but Hinata hears a dramatic sigh and the sound of the door opening, followed by that of a cat running toward him and leaping onto the bed.

“Thank you, Tobio!”

His only response is the sound of the door shutting.

He’s gone.

Hinata wants badly to sort out these new developments with Kenma, but exhaustion is burying him fast, making him feel too weak to even speak.  He falls asleep almost immediately, just as Kenma is curling up on his chest.

***

“You’re mad,” Kageyama is observing.  It’s evening; Hinata can sense the room cooling as the sun begins to set.

“I’m not!” Hinata protests.

“Whatever,” he mutters.

“I’m really not!” Hinata insists.  “But,” he says, and he can hear Kageyama growing frustrated, can practically read his mind, knows it’s screaming all sorts of profanity at him and his incessant need to question everything to death. “Why did you want to?”

“I just did!” Kageyama explains.  Again.

“Why me?” Hinata presses.  “Why not someone else?”

“I hate everyone else,” Kageyama reminds him.

“So you just went and kissed the first person ever that you met and didn’t totally hate?”

“No.  Yes,” Kageyama answers, finally showing some hesitation.

“Well, which is it?”

Hinata feels the bed dip and tries to crawl away, but Kageyama grabs him by the collar of his nightgown and tugs him forward.

“What do you want?” Kageyama asks, close enough that Hinata can feel his breath against his nose.  “To ask more stupid questions?”

“No,” Hinata replies, his voice a tiny thing.

“You want me to do it again,” Kageyama observes, and it’s not quite asking for permission, but it’s close enough.  Hinata can’t argue with him, so he doesn’t, and Kageyama leans forward to kiss him again.

It’s gentle, like the first time—the first time that Hinata can clearly remember, anyway—just the soft press of closed lips, chaste and sweet, but the warmth travels through Hinata’s entire body and pools low in his stomach.  Kageyama pulls away slightly, and Hinata lurches forward to close the gap again.  He can feel Kageyama’s smirk at this first sign of enthusiasm and he huffs, gripping a fistful of Kageyama’s hair and nipping at his lower lip.  He wants to suck that smirk right off Kageyama’s face, and he does just that.

Each small burst of confidence from Hinata results in a much larger surge in Kageyama, and pretty soon Hinata is being pressed into the mattress by the whole of Kageyama’s bodyweight, Kageyama’s tongue pressing into Hinata’s mouth, wet and slick and unapologetic.  It feels good and tastes even better, and Hinata’s grip on his hair tightens, his other hand gripping the back of Kageyama’s neck to keep him from pulling away, not that he would.

It’s all so very good.  He feels extraordinarily small pressed beneath this much larger boy, but rather than frustrating him, it sends a shiver through his entire body that makes his legs twitch and his knuckles go white.

It must feel good for Kageyama, too, because Hinata notices something alarmingly sharp digging into the flesh of his thigh.  Everything freezes for a second, and then Hinata squirms, his hands moving to Kageyama’s chest, trying to push him off.  Kageyama grips both his wrists with a single hand and traps them between their chests, pulling away from the kiss and frowning even as he is clearly enjoying the feeling of Hinata wriggling against his hard dick.

“Stop that!” Hinata insists, trying to jerk his body away from Kageyama’s.

“Why?” Kageyama asks, harsh and breathless.  “I can tell you like it too,” he observes, and to prove it, he reaches down to press a hand against the tented fabric of Hinata’s gown.  Hinata whines in embarrassment, still squirming, partly because he can’t sit still with so much anxious energy, and partly because the struggle feels really, really good.

“Why are you acting weird this time?” Kageyama asks, again exasperated.

“Because,” he groans, hating his traitorous hips for involuntarily moving against Kageyama’s.  “It’s.  We’re.”

“Hard?” Kageyama supplies, frowning.  “It happens to all guys.  It’s normal, Iwaizumi said so, so why are you upset?  Have you never done it?”

Hinata recalls having had a conversation with his own parental figure on this topic but can’t remember much of what Daichi had to say; Hinata had been too hyperaware of Tsukishima’s presence beside him to pay attention.  With so many kids, Daichi liked to give the talk in batches, and the association with Tsukishima had stuck, essentially quashing any budding curiosity of sex in Hinata and countering his need for information on the subject.

“Done what?” Hinata asks, his voice croaking.

“Jerked off,” Kageyama says, very casually, as if describing the weather.

“What?” Hinata squeaks, his hands escaping Kageyama’s grip and flying up to cover his face.  He can’t deal with Kageyama’s complete lack of shame and self-doubt right now, not while he’s trapped under him, hard against his hip bone, and in full panic mode.

“When you make it feel good instead of bad,” Kageyama explains, a little impatient but not entirely unkind.  “It hurts now, doesn’t it?  Why would you suffer when it can feel good?  Stop being stupid.”

“I’m not stupid!  I just!  I told you, I sleep in a room with ten brothers!  When exactly am I supposed to do... that?”

“Right now?” Kageyama offers, carefully tracing the outline of Hinata’s erection through the thin fabric of his gown.  “Or, I can,” he says, and then very pointedly adds, “I’m asking.”

“Fine.  Yes,” Hinata blurts out before he can overthink it and chicken out.  He has touched himself before, though only twice, because even when he can get away from his siblings Kenma is usually there. It felt good, though, those times, and he has been suffering recently, plagued by semi-scandalous dreams that leave him in a very uncomfortable state most mornings. Dreams like that were never a problem before he started spending time with Kageyama, so, he reasons, Kageyama does owe him a little relief.

Despite all this, Hinata is certain his face is glowing red under his hands.

“Good,” Kageyama says, his hand already dipping below the gown and sliding over Hinata’s knee, tickling his thighs and resting just below his balls. His hand is very relaxed, fingers slightly curled.  Hinata’s entire body tenses, his breath coming out in terrified little pants.  He hears Kageyama chuckling softly under his breath.  “Now why are you being stupid?”

“Because your hand is on my dick!” Hinata shouts way, way too loudly.

“No, it isn’t,” Kageyama says, but he moves his hand then, slides an open palm over Hinata’s erection and curls his fingers around the shaft, gripping tight.  Hinata’s breath hitches and his entire body tenses, his toes curling.  He can’t see Kageyama, couldn’t even if he wasn’t hiding behind his hands, but somehow he just knows what he’d see if he could.  A cocky grin that clearly says, but now it is, and rather than annoying him, the thought makes him groan.

Encouraged by this, Kageyama tightens his grip and moves his hand in tiny, teasing little tugs.  Hinata moans again and he can hear Kageyama’s victorious little laugh in response to this and it makes him want to kick his face, but then Kageyama is digging his thumb into the slit of his dick, rubbing pre-come around the head and reducing the smaller boy to pleading whimpers.

“See?  Isn’t this better than being stupid?” Kageyama gloats, moving his hand in masterful strokes, rolling his palm over the shaft with such confidence that Hinata has to wonder how often he does this. 

“I’m—“ Hinata says, tossing his head back to let out a shaky gasp, “—not—” he continues, his right foot twisting up in the sheets, “—stupid!”

Kageyama leans down to lick Hinata’s neck and Hinata responds by bucking wildly beneath him.  Encouraged, Kageyama opens his mouth to take in the flesh around Hinata’s throbbing pulse, sucking and nipping at it until Hinata is shouting and arching, coming hard in Kageyama’s fist and making an even bigger mess on his already-sticky stomach.  His mind goes white for a second and when he comes to again, panting and twitching, Kageyama is grunting his own release into Hinata’s neck, his hips moving frantically against Hinata’s.

They lay there together, the room silent except for their heavy breathing.  Hinata’s mind starts to fill with nervous thoughts about what all this means, but when Kageyama pulls himself up and hops off the bed, Hinata suddenly relaxes, realizing Kageyama won’t ask, or care.

“You look tired,” he says.  “Go to sleep.  You can go home tomorrow.”  Kageyama walks toward the door but stops to add, “And don’t forget to take that stupid cat with you.”

“Kenma?” Hinata asks, still feeling fuzzy-brained.  “I would never forget him,” he assures Kageyama, and then freezes, a tiny shard of anxiety piercing his gut.  “Where... where is he?  Now?”

“In here,” Kageyama replies.  “Did you not beg me not to kick him out anymore?”

“Right,” Hinata whispers, flushing red and scrambling under the blankets, wanting very much to disappear entirely.  Kageyama leaves, muttering about dumbasses, and Kenma says nothing.

Chapter Text

The silence that drags on after Kageyama’s departure is perhaps the most excruciating of Hinata’s life, and that’s saying something, because Hinata has always hated silence.  He’s been met with it nearly every day of his life, people going silent when they find out he’s an orphan, or blind, or tragically stupid, or all three.  He knows why they go silent and their pity makes him anxious, and anxiety makes him talk; it makes him go on and on about topics he doesn’t understand to people he doesn’t know who probably would rather not listen.

He’s anxious now but too petrified to speak.  He knows he should just sleep, that he probably can’t make the trek back tomorrow without enough of it, but as the hours tick by, it’s all he can do not to thrash in his bed or hit himself or scream as his mind replays, over and over, what Kenma just witnessed.

He has no idea how late it’s gotten when finally, mercifully, Kenma breaks the tension.

Shoyo.  Relax.  You’re acting like you just killed a man.

Hinata releases the groan he’s been holding in for hours, smashes his head into his pillow face-down, and then continues his pathetic keening, now muffled by the plush fabric, because what can he possibly say to make this okay?

When I realized what was happening, I went to the corner and took a nap.  This room is really big, you know.  I didn’t actually see much.

The keen becomes a little quieter and a little softer, but Hinata keeps his head safely buried in the bed, feeling as though it’s protecting him from this conversation.

You didn’t do anything wrong.  Honestly, I’m really happy to see how well you two are—bonding.

Hinata’s distressed sounds continue.  Kenma jumps onto the bed and sits close enough to Hinata’s head for his fur to tickle his cheek.

You don’t have to worry.  I’ve gotten locked in Daichi and Suga’s room before, you know, and they do a lot worse.

Hinata lifts his head and turns, wanting Kenma to see the look of abject horror on his face.

See?  So it’s fine.  Now go to sleep.

***

The trek back to the orphanage isn’t as rough as Hinata worried it might be.  He and Kenma travel alone now, knowing the path sufficiently well and having earned Kageyama’s trust enough to borrow one of the Young King’s finest horses unsupervised.  He and Kenma are free to talk openly, and talk they do, about almost every topic under the sun except for... well, that.

Hinata is in a good mood when his house comes into view.  He feels healthier and is excited to see his family again.  He’d never been away for even a night before, let alone an entire week, and he finds himself missing them terribly.  If he’s being honest, he’s also a little excited at the prospect of, having overcome his fear of Kenma leaving him for being a reprehensible pervert, seeing Kageyama again and learning more about—stuff.

When Suga opens the door and speaks Hinata’s name, however, Hinata can sense something is very wrong and his heart drops like a stone.  “What—“ he starts to ask, but Suga silences him with the gentle press of a hand on his shoulder and guides him through the threshold.

“We think everyone is over the flu now,” Suga says, trying to sound upbeat, “But Hitoka,” he continues, and at the sound of her name, Hinata freezes mid-step.  Suga stops with him.  “She’s gotten sick again,” he admits softly.  “It happens, you know, in some people.  A secondary infection.”  Suga tries to coax Hinata into moving, or at least relaxing, but Hinata won’t budge.  “She’ll be fine, Shoyo,” Suga assures him.

Hinata stands there, frozen, unable to speak or move, and not sure he can even breathe right.

“Don’t you want to see her?” Suga asks, coaxing, and finally he gets Hinata to move.  They walk together into a bedroom and Suga guides Hinata to the edge of the bed—a real bed, with a mattress and headboard and everything.  This is where Suga and Daichi usually sleep unless one of their kids is very, very ill.  Hinata doesn’t find this comforting at all.

“She’s asleep right now,” Suga is saying, “But she’s going to be so happy when she wakes up and sees that you’re home.”  He stays with Hinata for several minutes, silent and stroking Hinata’s hair, but then Yachi stirs and Suga stands to leave, quietly shutting the door behind him.

“Hitoka?” Hinata asks, leaning over her.  “Are you awake?  Are you okay?  How do you feel?  How long have you been sick?  I’m really sorry I was gone!  I was sick too, I promise, that’s why I was gone, stupid Tobio wouldn’t let me leave while I had a fever, and I didn’t even know you’d gotten sick again!  You were totally fine when I left!!”

Shoyo.  Deep breaths.

He goes quiet, chewing on his lip and twisting his hands together, unable to control his spiking anxiety.

“Sho?” she croaks, and his back straightens like a plank.

“Yes?”

She doesn’t reply; she seems to have fallen back asleep, and Hinata lets out a long, shaky breath.  Still exhausted from his own rough night, he topples forward to rest his forehead on the bed, and within minutes is asleep himself.

***

“I thought he kidnapped you,” Yachi mutters, poking at Hinata with a warm, sweaty finger.  It’s a few days later; her fever is going down, little by little, her breaths are no longer painful wheezes, and she can finally hold a conversation again.

“Hmm?” Hinata answers, lifting his head and yawning.  He meant to move to the floor, to his makeshift bed, but must have ended up sleeping bent over her for the entire night.

“The Shadow King,” she whispers.  “I thought he had you locked away in a tower.  I thought I’d never see you again.”

“No, nonono, he would never do that!” Hinata insists, pulling himself back into a proper sitting position.  “I got sick when I was there and he knew I couldn’t make it home until I got better!  He was being nice.”

Yachi doesn’t sound the least bit convinced.  “Or that was just an excuse.  I swear, Sho, I just know if you go back, he’s never going to let you leave!”

Hinata knows better than to argue against her paranoid conspiracy theories, and she’s getting worked up enough that he can feel her breathing becoming labored, so he doesn’t push.  “Well, I’m not going back until you get better anyway, so.”

“I’m really glad you’re here,” she whispers after a long pause.  “I was so worried.”

He pats her head clumsily, trying to mimic Suga’s gentle strokes and instead borderline smacking her.  “Well, I’m not goin’ anywhere, so quit worrying!”

He spends the next four days beside her, just as he did the previous four.  He leaves only to relieve himself and to fetch food and water for the both of them.  He is very glad when Yachi is finally well enough to return to her own cot in the girl’s room, not only because he was getting restless, but also because they’d displaced Daichi and Suga to the kitchen floor, and Hinata kept struggling not to think of them missing the privacy of their own room after what Kenma had said.

***

“You’re really going?” Yachi asks, her eyes wide and entire body trembling.  She’s still a little pale, but otherwise back to normal—normal being very twitchy.

“Yes, but, I’ll be back tonight!” Hinata assures her.  “I promise!  He’s actually really nice, honest!”

He leaves earlier than usual, eager to see Kageyama.  Kenma is on his shoulder, despite an awkward moment when Hinata wondered if he wouldn’t want to go at all.  It was impossible, though, for Hinata to journey two hours on horseback by himself, and they both knew that.  Regardless, Kenma was very insistent that he had no reason at all to want to leave Hinata’s side—but that said, perhaps he would explore the gardens once they got to the castle?

When they arrive, they aren’t met by anyone other than the castle guards, but that’s not surprising.  They arrived earlier than usual, hadn’t visited at all in over a week, and hadn’t sent a message explaining Hinata’s absence.

The guards let them by without so much as a glance, and with Kenma’s help, Hinata begins searching the castle.  He is only familiar with three places, really, but the banquet hall is deserted, the archery range is desolate, and Kageyama’s personal chambers have been vacated.  Stumped, he starts wandering aimlessly, asking any servants he passes if they know where the Young King might be.  They all say they don’t know, some more convincingly than others, and Hinata starts to get frustrated just as he nearly bumps into a tall man, dodging him at the last second thanks to a quick warning from Kenma.

“Sorry!” he yelps, and then before the man can get away, hurries to ask, “Do you know where I might find To—the Young King?”

“Oh, it’s you,” the man says.

“It’s me?” Hinata repeats, startled, but then when he thinks about it... he vaguely remembers this voice.  Who was he again?

It’s that man who was arguing with Tobio that first day.  Remember?  We thought he was his father.

“Yes,” the man—Iwaizumi, that’s his name!—says.  “We thought you weren’t visiting anymore.  I assumed Tobio had done something to upset you.”

“What?” Hinata shouts a little too loudly.  “No!  No he didn’t!  My, my frie—uh, my sister.  She was sick.  I just wanted to, you know, stay and help.”

“Oh.”  He sounds... disappointed?  Concerned?  No, but Hinata can’t place it.  “Well, you should probably go home.”

“Why!?” Hinata shouts, louder still.  “I just came all the way here!  Wait—wait!  Is Tobio sick now?  Did I actually get him sick?”

“No,” Iwaizumi says, and then he sighs.  “No, but I don’t know if Tobio is up for having visitors today.”

“Why not?”

“Tobio was right about you, you know?” Iwaizumi observes.  “You do ask a lot of questions.”

“Well!”  Hinata huffs.  He hadn’t considered that Kageyama might discuss him with his—parental figure?  He still doesn’t understand exactly what this man is to Kageyama.  “If you’re gonna send me all the way home, I think I deserve to know why!”

“I suppose that’s fair.  Fine,” Iwaizumi says, and then calls to a servant who must be nearby.  “Take Hinata to the library, or wherever Tobio’s gone this time.”

Hinata and Kenma follow the young woman through a series of corridors and up several flights of stairs, none of them speaking.  The woman makes tiny noises of surprise every time Hinata makes a right turn without smacking into the wall, but he’s used to that by now.

They’ve been following her for some time when Kenma interrupts Hinata’s thoughts.

He’s there.  Straight ahead.

The servant gasps her surprise when Hinata suddenly takes off toward Kageyama.  He hadn’t realized how much he missed him, and despite knowing how his excitement can aggravate Kageyama, Hinata feels a week without seeing each other—especially after the thing—is justification for a little enthusiasm.  “Tobio!”

“What are you doing here?” Kageyama asks, quiet but furious in a way that makes Hinata stop dead in his tracks and drop his outstretched arms to his sides.

“I always come here?” Hinata offers, trying to keep his voice steady.

“You weren’t here yesterday,” Kageyama counters.

“No, but—“

“Or the day before, or the day before—so why now?”

“I don’t,” Hinata starts, but his voice is already failing him.  Kageyama is scaring him; he doesn’t sound like his usual half-bored, half-grumpy self, but rather his voice is like a poison seeping into Hinata’s very bones.  “My sister was sick and I was watching over her!”  He gets out, then lets out a huge sigh a relief; now that he’s explained himself, Kageyama will calm down.

“I thought you had no real siblings?”

“Well no, she’s not—we don’t have the same parents or anything but—she’s like, my most important person!  And she was really sick.  But she’s better now, okay?  So,” Hinata explains, fumbling over each word.  “I can visit you again!”

Kageyama is silent for a long time, but Hinata can feel that his anger hasn’t evaporated at all.  On the contrary, it feels like he just poured gasoline all over whatever was making the king so furious in the first place, and Hinata can’t understand what he did wrong.

Shoyo, you should probably go home.

Hinata doesn’t ask why, but he trusts Kenma’s judgement, knows that he must be seeing something truly frightening in Kageyama’s eyes.

“I’m sorry.  Look, I’ll go?  But I’ll see you tomorrow?  Ok?”  Hinata asks, as friendly and calming as he can.

“Yes,” Kageyama says.

“Okay then!  Bye!”  Hinata says a little too quickly, eager to run away from whatever this is.

“No,” Kageyama corrects him.  “Yes, I’ll see you tomorrow.  But that’s because you’re not going anywhere.”

“Excuse me?” Hinata barks, indigence overtaking fear.  “Who do you think you are anyway!?  You can’t stop me from going home!  You’re not like, a king or something!“

“Idiot,” Kageyama spits, and there’s no friendly teasing, no joviality in the word; it’s all venomous bite.  It might as well have been a fuck off and die.

Hinata stands there, gaping, trapped between fury and grief.  He thinks about all the horrible rumors that surround Kageyama, not just from Yachi but nearly everyone in his village, and how untrue and insane they all seemed.  But then, if they are untrue, who is this monstrous person, and should Hinata have seen him coming?

The guards come while he’s still standing motionless.  They grab him by the arms and guide him away, and Hinata notes that their grip is surprisingly gentle, but that’s of little comfort, especially after Kenma gets lost in the shuffle.

***

Hinata slumps against the tiny window in his room.  It’s dusty and isolated, up countless stairs that wound around and around, but it’s still furnished nicer than any room he’s ever seen outside the castle.  He isn’t technically locked in, but there’s a guard at the door twice his size and his escape attempts have so far all ended with him being stopped, lifted effortlessly with just one massive arm, and dropped back inside his tiny prison-room.  After enough of this, Hinata thought he and his guard-buddy had bonded enough to exchange names.  Apparently his name is Wakatoshi.  He seems nice enough, even though he’s following orders to keep Hinata prisoner.

Having given up on escaping, for now at least, Hinata hangs out into the cool evening breeze and listens as various castle servants go about their chores.  Except for a delivery of some kind, nobody seems to visit, and Hinata can’t blame them. 

That is, until much later in the evening, when a man approaches the front gate.  Something about his voice is very familiar, and Hinata can hear the man arguing with the guards, though he is too high up to make out their exact words. After an hour of this, the man is forcefully sent away, and Hinata flops onto his back on the hard floor.

Somehow, the worst part of all this is that Yachi will know she was right, and Hinata really hates to lose.

Chapter Text

Kageyama is already in the room by the time Hinata wakes up; Hinata can sense his presence even before he registers the sound of his anxious pacing.  Hinata pretends to keep on sleeping, but he knows he thrashes in his sleep and isn’t surprised when Kageyama doesn’t seem fooled by his sudden stillness.

“Finally,” Kageyama says, already sounding annoyed.  Hinata scowls into his pillow, refusing to respond.  “I’m sorry,” Kageyama adds, but the tone is still annoyed, as though Hinata is the problem here, for not being forgiving enough.  “You were going to leave again, and I knew you were lying when you said you’d be back.  I really didn’t have a choice.”

So, you’re not sorry at all, Hinata thinks, chewing hard on his bottom lip to keep himself from voicing this.

“Look,” Kageyama continues, stepping toward the bed.  “I get you’re mad, but you shouldn’t be this mad.  I didn’t hurt you, and you can go as soon as you talk to me!”

In response, Hinata yawns theatrically, makes a huge gesture of stretching, and then rolls over and re-tucks the blankets around himself.

“Fine,” Kageyama concedes, still pissed, but he doesn’t leave; Hinata can hear him sit down somewhere on the far end of the room.  “If you won’t tell me what I did, then you can sit there and wait until I figure it out.”

Hinata has no problem napping away the entire afternoon, but Kageyama only lasts a little while before Hinata hears the shuffling of his feet as he pulls himself up off the floor.  When Kageyama speaks again, his voice is different; there’s still anger, but it’s mixed with something else.  “Forget it.  Just go home.”

Hinata doesn’t move right away, too worried that he heard incorrectly, but then he disentangles himself from the blankets and swings his legs over the side of the bed.  When he isn’t stopped, Hinata stands and hurries to the door with his arm outstretched in case he misses his mark.  His palm has already touched the wood before he even starts to consider this new development, but once he does, he pauses.  “So,” Hinata ventures, “Does this mean you figured out what you did wrong?”

“No,” Kageyama admits, sounding impossibly bitter.

“So... then why are you letting me go?” Hinata asks, turning, his hand still on the door.

“Because you hate me now, and there are already enough people in this castle like that.”

“You don’t mean that,” Hinata insists, a little too quickly and a bit too loud, because that can’t be true.  Kageyama doesn’t respond, and when Hinata considers what that means, it feels like taking a knife to the gut.  “And anyway,” Hinata continues, trying to not to sound too distressed, “I don’t hate you.”

Kageyama’s silence continues, and Hinata deflates further.  “You really don’t know why I was angry?” he presses.  Silence.  “Do you want me to tell you?”

“Yes,” Kageyama admits, very quietly, and only after a very long pause.

“Because you locked me in a tower,” Hinata explains.

“But it’s a nice tower,” Kageyama immediately says, defensive, but then seems to catch himself.  He sighs loudly and Hinata can hear his head knocking into the wall.

“No!” Hinata corrects sharply.  “You don’t lock people in towers!  I’m your friend, not your possession!  And, also, you were very mean to me!” Hinata is re-inflating, puffing up with righteous anger.  He turns around, finally dropping his hand from the door, but only to make it into a fist.  “After I came to see you!  And I really missed you, you know, and I was really excited to see you again!  But then you got super scary and I didn’t do anything to deserve it!  I don’t hate you, honest, but if you’re gonna be scary like that then I can’t be your friend!”

“Sorry,” Kageyama says, mumbling so quietly Hinata can barely hear it.

“Why did you get so mad, anyway?” Hinata continues, unable to stop his momentum.  “I told you, I was just looking after my sick friend!”  He has to focus hard on controlling his breathing and keeping his mouth shut, because really, he could go on for hours.

“I didn’t know what I’d done wrong,” Kageyama explains, slowly, after waiting to see if Hinata had more to say.  “They told me I must’ve done something to make you hate me.”

“Yah!  You locked me in a tower,” Hinata interjects, teeth grit.

“No, before that,” Kageyama continues, unfazed by Hinata’s outburst.  “When you stopped coming.”  Something about the way his voice breaks on these last words gets past Hinata’s resentment.  Kageyama still sounds pissed off but, Hinata realizes, it’s barely concealing the truth—that he’s not angry at all, just scared, and sad.

“Who told you that?” Hinata asks.

“Oikawa... and Iwaizumi.  They made a bet with each other to see how long before you’d start hating me.  I guess Oikawa won.  He was really happy.”

“That’s horrible!” Hinata shouts, utterly disgusted.  “Why would they be happy that you’re sad?  And aren’t they the people who raised you?  That makes it their fault you have trouble making friends!  God, no wonder you’re this way, if you spend all your time with guys like that!”

“I’m sorry,” Kageyama mutters.

“For what?”

“For being this way,” he clarifies.

“No!  Nonono,” Hinata says, waving his hands around like a frantic bird.  “I’m sorry, I didn’t mean it like that!  Look, if you just promise to try and control your temper, I’ll help you with the other stuff!”  Met with silence again, Hinata huffs and starts walking around the room, groping blindly for Kageyama.  “I won’t take no for an answer, so you might and well give up now!”

“I don’t want your pity,” Kageyama says, and Hinata can feel him barely evade his grasp.

“I know you’re proud and stubborn, but is it really worth being so lonely?” Hinata insists, still swiping at him.  “I like you, stupid, and I wanna be your friend!  I don’t even care that you’re—uh, unique!”

“You literally just told me how terrible I am,” Kageyama points out.

“I said, I didn’t mean it like that!”

“Besides, you already have enough people to worry about without me,” Kageyama mumbles, starting to sound angry again, but now that Hinata knows to look for it, he can spot the fear underneath—fear of being replaced, of going back to being completely alone, of Hinata only being capable of loving one person at a time.

Now that Hinata understands this, he can empathize better with Kageyama’s earlier rage; he can imagine how Kageyama felt when he stopped showing up.  Without Hinata, Kageyama is totally alone, left with just two mean guys who bet gleefully on him staying that way. 

“I can never have too many people to care about, stupid!”

“You called that girl your most important person,” Kageyama says, his voice fading with each word until Hinata can barely hear him.

“She is,” Hinata says, because it’s true, even if he knows this might make Kageyama feel badly.  Hinata suspects that he himself is Kageyama’s most important person, even after just a few months, and rather than feeling flattered, the thought makes his heart ache.

“But,” Hinata adds, “I have other important people, too.  Do you wanna know who one of them is?”

Kageyama is dead quiet.  Hinata rarely grieves his eyesight; he’s never known what it’s like to be able to see, and he knows he has a very good life regardless, but now he feels cheated by his blindness.  He hates that he can’t see Kageyama’s face, and with him quiet and acting so guarded, Hinata feels truly blind in a way he never has before.  Frustrated by this, he stomps forward until he’s knocking directly into Kageyama.

“You, dummy,” Hinata says, jabbing him with a finger.

“I locked you in a tower,” Kageyama reminds him.

“You sure did,” Hinata agrees, pulling him into a hug.  “But then I forgave you, and now you’re gonna forgive yourself, and can we go get breakfast?  I’m really hungry.”

“Fine,” Kageyama says, and Hinata can tell Kageyama won’t forgive himself easily.  He realizes he shouldn’t have even said he was hungry; as innocuously as he meant it, Kageyama happens to be the reason Hinata never got any dinner last night and is starving now.  Still, Hinata vows to undo as much of Kageyama’s damage as he can, in any way he can, because there’s obviously a good person buried under all that stubbornness, pride, and defensive anger.

Hinata pushes Kageyama out the door with as much positive energy as he can exhibit—which is a lot—and after a few steps, Kageyama grabs hold of Hinata’s hand.  Hinata can’t stop smiling, completely charmed by the gesture, and so when Kageyama suddenly lets go and knocks Hinata’s hand away, he stops in his tracks and pouts.  They were doing just fine, so what the hell?

“Oh, you’re back?” Iwaizumi says, interrupting Hinata’s thoughts and answering his question.  Iwaizumi sounds bored and slightly disappointed by the sight of Hinata.

“Tobio will have to work harder if he wants to get rid of me,” Hinata replies, trying not to scowl too hard.

“His sister was sick,” Kageyama adds, sounding just as displeased to be having this conversation as Iwaizumi and Hinata.  “But she’s better now, so he’ll be visiting more often.”

“Wonderful,” Iwaizumi says, but his tone implies anything but, and then he walks away.

“I really don’t like that guy,” Hinata mutters as soon as they are out of earshot.

“And he’s the nice one,” Kageyama says, and Hinata swears can almost see him smiling.

They’re halfway through breakfast when Kenma reappears.  They’d been in the middle of such honest, unguarded conversation that Hinata is suddenly overcome with the urge to tell Kageyama about his and Kenma’s secret communications.  He stops himself mid-sentence only because he feels Kenma’s claws digging into his shoulder. 

Not yet.

Hinata sighs, feeling newly guilty about keeping secrets, but he drops it.

***

Kageyama is helping Hinata aim his bow when he asks, completely out of the blue, and directly into Hinata’s ear, startling him enough that he nearly sends an arrow flying into his own eye, “Why isn’t it okay to lock up someone you love?  What if you do it to keep them safe?”

Hinata doesn’t dare ask if that was some kind of freakish love confession; instead, he takes a breath, knowing the question is sincere and coming from a poor fool who really doesn’t know any better.  “If you love someone, you should want them to be happy, and most people wouldn’t be happy to be locked up,” Hinata explains, pretty sure the only ‘people’ in question is himself.  “Usually people lock up other people because they’re selfish and just want to control the other person.  That isn’t love at all.”

After Kageyama realizes he can ask anything he wants, without judgement, the floodgates open, and Hinata spends the rest of the day explaining things that, somewhat worryingly, all amount to understanding basic human decency.  What, exactly, did this Oikawa guy teach Kageyama, if not the importance of being a kind and empathetic person?

Hinata is just beginning to detail the issues with stalking when Kenma interrupts his thoughts, noting that it’s getting late.

You never came home last night.  Daichi and Suga will want to know you’re alright.

Before Hinata leaves, he makes sure to give Kageyama a strong, lingering hug and several assurances that he’ll be back tomorrow.  He doesn’t want Kageyama tormented by the thought of having to go back to being completely alone.

“If something happens, you know, you can always just come to my house,” Hinata says.  “You don’t have all those horses and guards for nothing!  And my parents are super nice and will definitely like you a lot!”

There’s something uncomfortable about the silence that follows, but Hinata can’t begin to guess what it might be.  Kageyama gives a grunt that might as well be an okay so Hinata dashes out the front gate with a wave and a smile and doesn’t worry about it further.

***

When Hinata gets home, his dreams of Daichi, Suga and Kageyama getting chummy over tea and cakes pretty much keels over dead at the doorstop.  The ominous whisperings of his siblings barely prepare him for the sound of Daichi calling his name from inside the house.  He freezes like prey; Daichi doesn’t sound happy.  Suga’s hands come to rest on his shoulders and gently pull him into the house, but Hinata’s forgotten how to use his legs and he topples forward.  Suga sighs, lifts and carries Hinata into his and Daichi’s bedroom, and then drops him onto the edge of the bed.  The door closes behind them and Hinata gulps and awaits his execution.

“We need to talk to you,” Suga says, his hands again going to rest on Hinata’s shoulders.  Suga’s touch is gentle, but it also feels eerily like Hinata is being held down.

“Shoyo, we don’t want you going back there again,” Daichi says.  He’s not yelling or even angry, but the strength of this command sends a chill down Hinata’s spine that leaves him feeling mildly nauseas.

“But—“ Hinata starts to say.

“Is it true he took you prisoner?” Suga asks, interrupting.

“Well yah,” Hinata says, trying to keep his voice steady, “But only for one night, and—“

“The Grand King himself believes your safety is at risk if you continue visiting,” Daichi says, again cutting Hinata off.

“That’s stupid!” Hinata shouts, already starting to hyperventilate.  He starts to rise from the bed but Suga gently presses him back down.  “What does that guy know about me and Tobio?  I’ve never even met him!”

“Shoyo,” Daichi says, and he’s still not yelling, but his voice is even louder, stronger, and Hinata feels his pulse racing.  “We spoke personally after I came to retrieve you yesterday.  The Grand King knows what goes on in his castle, and I trust his judgement.  That’s why I’m forbidding you from going back there.”

“You don’t understand!” Hinata cries, pleading.  “Tobio will freak out I don’t go back tomorrow!”

“That temper is exactly what concerns us,” Suga says, his voice soothing.  Despite that they’re ganging up on him, Hinata appreciates Suga’s presence.  Somehow, Hinata always feels like he’s less likely to piss himself in front of Daichi when Suga is nearby.

“No, but—“

“—Shoyo, I forbid it.”

There’s a lot of pleading and a few tears, but Daichi’s word is final.  Hinata knows he won’t disobey, even as he sulks off to bed long before sunset with a plan to refuse dinner.  He’ll make his displeasure known with a hunger strike and sleep-in, he decides, and eventually Daichi will change his mind.

You should really eat.

“No,” Hinata huffs, petulant.  “They’re being stupid.  You know they’re wrong!”

Tobio does have a temper.  I can see why they’re worried... but yes, I do think they’re wrong.

“Where did you go anyway?  You were gone all last night!”

I... got lost, and couldn’t find where they’d taken you.  Sorry.  That castle is enormous.

Hinata gets the feeling, for the very first time in the ten years that they’ve known each other, that Kenma isn’t being honest, but he’s too hungry and frustrated to pick another fight.

***

Two guards arrive the following evening, but Daichi sends them away with assurances that Shoyo is fine, just grounded.  Having never gone a full day without food in his life, Hinata stays in bed and pretends to be asleep when Daichi comes to tell him about their visit.

When the guards arrive the following day, they bring a message.

“The Young King requests that Hinata keep his promise,” the guard says, reciting this monotonously.

“A promise he probably made under duress!” Daichi barks back, already shutting the door in their faces.

Hinata, who hears this from under his blankets in the next room, shouts, “I wasn’t under duress!!”  They’re the first words he’s spoken to Daichi since their fight, but Daichi ignores him.

The third day, Hinata intercepts the guards before Daichi can, but only to beg them to tell Kageyama to visit himself.  “Why doesn’t he just come?  Then my stupid parents will see he’s not just some maniac!”

The fourth day, no guards come, and Hinata’s bed starts smelling ripe enough that even his nicer brothers are complaining to Suga.  Hinata gave up his hunger strike the morning of the second day, technically, but only eats what Yachi brings him in secret.  He’s also refused to leave his bed except for visits to the latrine, and as a result, the combination of sweat, body odor, and crumbs are amassing quite the pungent aroma as well as a growing family of insects.  Daichi remains unmoved, but not Suga.  He comes to Hinata shortly after Daichi leaves for work and offers a deal: take a shower and eat a real breakfast, and you can go.  Hinata agrees.

***

Corner up ahead; turn right in five steps... and slow down, Shoyo!

Hinata doesn’t listen; he’s too eager to see Kageyama, his stomach knotted up by a combination of excitement and dread.  He isn’t entirely convinced Kageyama can keep his promise not to go psycho again, but Hinata does have enough faith to be excited at the prospect of seeing Kageyama prove himself once and for all.

Kenma’s warning turns out to have been appropriate; as soon as Hinata turns the corner, he smashes right into someone—and it hurts.  Hinata is no stranger to running into things, but this person must be a knight of some kind, because they’re wearing heavy armor that sends Hinata slamming into the ground and leaves his head spinning.  Kenma is beside him, his feline reflexes having saved him from the impact.

“Sorry,” Hinata manages to say, meaning it to both to Kenma and this stranger.

“Oh, it’s you,” the person says—a man, Hinata thinks, but he has a very effeminate voice, and it’s sing-songy, almost taunting.  “Aren’t you sick of my little Tobio yet?”

“Huh?” Hinata asks, hurting and confused.

“Don’t let Iwa see you,” the man says.  “I still want my reward for winning the bet.” The man then walks away without another word and without offering Hinata a hand.

“Huh?” Hinata repeats, long after the man has walked away.

Shoyo...

“Huh?”

You just head-butted the king.  The real one, that is.  The Grand King.

Chapter Text

You just head-butted the king.  The real one, that is.  The Grand King.

“Wait, what!?” Hinata shouts, jumping to his feet in one swift motion.

He’s gone now though... don’t worry, he didn’t really seem angry.

“Which way did he go!?” Hinata hisses, wanting badly to pick a fight with this asshole.  Who cares if the Grand King is mad?  Hinata is mad, furious at this faceless stranger for getting him banned from visiting Kageyama.  He must be friends with Iwaizumi and Oikawa; they probably plot out Kageyama’s misery together.

Shoyo... don’t.  Do you really want to worry Tobio?  You’ve been away four days, remember?  Let’s go find him.  Forget about the Grand King.

“Right,” Hinata mutters, still fuming at the mental image of Kageyama’s trio of tormenters all sitting around together in some evil villains’ lair and laughing at Kageyama’s pain.  Hinata stomps the entire way to the archery range where they find Kageyama practicing.  He doesn’t look angry, Kenma explains, but he does seem... down, even after he spots Hinata.

“I just met the Grand King,” Hinata blurts out immediately, making no effort to hide his bitterness and emphasizing Grand King with a nasty sneer.

“You met Oikawa?” Kageyama asks, and yes, his voice is a little sad.  Probably the Grand King’s stupid fault.

“Oikawa?  No, I met the Grand King,” Hinata corrects.

“They’re the same person, idiot,” Kageyama explains.  “He’s your king and you don’t even know his name?”

“Maybe if he wasn’t such a shitty king I’d learn a thing or two about him,” Hinata huffs, plopping down on the floor.  The truth is, nobody in Hinata’s life knows much about their king; the king rarely makes public appearances and besides collecting taxes and, presumably, keeping enemy armies away, his presence doesn’t affect the lives of the average people in Hinata’s village.

“What did he do to you, exactly?” Kageyama asks.

“Besides betting on your loneliness?” Hinata asks a little too loudly.  Since he can’t give Kageyama a pointed look for emphasis, he just waits for the obviousness of this to sink in.  “He’s the reason I had to stay home!  He convinced my parents you were a danger to me!”

“Are you sure?” Kageyama asks, sounding disbelieving and, maybe even a little bit angry?

“Yes!” Hinata answers, practically screaming at this point.  He flops onto his back and sprawls out in a very dramatic fashion, draping an arm over his forehead.  “What’s that guy got against your happiness anyway?”

Kageyama is quiet for a long time, but then he walks over and sits down next to Hinata.  He tries to hug him, but it’s awkward with Hinata pressed against the floor, so he really just ends up half-lying on him.  “I don’t know,” Kageyama finally mumbles.  “But I’m glad you came back.”

“It wasn’t easy, trust me,” Hinata says, smiling a little at the memory of his brothers’ disgusted faces.  “And to be fair, Daichi doesn’t know I’m here, so I still might get murdered when I go home.”

“So don’t go home,” Kageyama offers.

“Maybe I won’t,” Hinata replies, grinning.

***

Later, when Hinata casually asks Kageyama if the castle garden is nice this time of year, Kenma takes the hint and disappears.  Hinata and Kageyama end up in Kageyama’s room, in his bed, and they’re half-naked before Kageyama finally admits, reluctantly and mumbling into Hinata’s neck, “I thought you didn’t like it, and that’s why you didn’t come back.”

“You really think I didn’t like it?” Hinata asks, laughing.  “Now who’s the stupid one?”

Placated, Kageyama regains his usual self-confidence and pins Hinata’s wrist with one hand while deftly removing his pants with the other.  “Then I want to try something new,” he says.

“What?” Hinata asks, red-faced and hating how breathless and squeaky he already sounds.

“I want to use my mouth.”

“Oh,” Hinata replies, his brain not quite working.  Kageyama is using his mouth—it’s all over his left nipple right now... but then he realizes what Kageyama means.  “Wait, what?  People do that?  But,“ Hinata pauses, feeling completely scandalized, “But I pee from there,” he whispers, as if this is some tightly-protected secret.

“You really don’t know anything about anything, do you?” Kageyama asks.  Although he’s mocking Hinata, he sounds very charmed by his abject innocence.

“And why do you know so much?” Hinata asks, his stomach churning a little.  He’s been thinking, lately, worrying really, that maybe the Grand King has been isolating Kageyama for—devious purposes.  It would certainly explain a lot, including Kageyama’s expansive knowledge.

“Books?” Kageyama offers, as if this should’ve been obvious.  Hinata lets out a sigh of relief.  “I read them sometimes,” Kageyama continues, looking up, “And Oikawa keeps a lot of really dirty ones around.  Can you read?”  It’s not a mean question; most people are illiterate, and Hinata is, in fact, essentially among those people.  Suga tries his best to teach all his kids, but Hinata was never a good student, always too easily distracted.

“Yes,” Hinata answers, pouting, because while it’s not a lie—he can read a little—it’s not entirely true either, and Kageyama will totally know.  “Anyway, whatever, just.  Yes, okay?  You can do—it,” Hinata says.  He mostly wants to change the topic, and better yet if Kageyama’s mouth is too occupied to ask any embarrassing questions at all.

Kageyama doesn’t reply, just bows his head down and resumes licking and nipping every inch of Hinata’s chest.  Hinata starts to worry that Kageyama didn’t hear him, or perhaps that he didn’t understand, but Hinata doesn’t want to seem eager or anything by asking, and he’s already embarrassed enough, whimpering and jerking uncontrollably under Kageyama’s inexplicitly gifted hands.  Then Kageyama is trailing further down his body and oh, he did mean it, and he’s not shy at all, taking Hinata’s entire length into his mouth like he’s been starving for days.  Kageyama bobs his head once, twice, three times, and Hinata has to think about Daichi’s angry face to keep from coming immediately.

He manages to last another two minutes, but then Kageyama sucks hard at the tip and he shoots all over the poor king’s chin.

“Sorry,” Hinata gasps, still panting, but Kageyama doesn’t sound the least bit upset when he waves off the apology.  As soon as Hinata catches his breath, he sits up and reaches for Kageyama.  “Okay, my turn!”

“That’s really not necessary,” Kageyama says, and Hinata frowns.  Last time Kageyama didn’t let him do anything either, just stroked himself off before Hinata could even offer.  Hinata might know next to nothing about sex, but he is pretty sure it’s supposed to go both ways.

“What?” Hinata asks, assuming he heard wrong.  “Wait, really?  Why the hell not?  Oh my god, Kenma told me once he thought you only kept me around to make yourself look better, is that what this is?  Maybe I’ll be really good at it, huh, ever think of that?” Hinata jabs Kageyama’s chest with a finger and makes his face as intimidating as possible.

“Why do you care so much?  Who are you trying to impress?” Kageyama asks, and he sounds legitimately upset, jealous even.

You, dipshit,” Hinata says, laughing hard.  “You know, the one I’m naked with right now?”

“Oh,” Kageyama mutters.  “Okay.  Fine, I guess, just.  Don’t bite it.”

“I!” Hinata gasps, appalled.  “I wouldn’t!  God!  Just shut up,” he huffs, roughly shoving Kageyama flat on his back and crawling down toward his crotch.  “I’ll show you,” he mutters, ignoring the knot of anxiety growing in his stomach.  “Idiot.”

The first thing he manages to do is bump Kageyama’s erection with his nose, and that doesn’t elicit any response, so that can’t be right.  Then he huffs, readies himself mentally, and tries to find the damn thing again, this time with his mouth, and manages to get a small bit of the tip into his mouth.  He sucks gently, experimenting; it’s squishy and salty, but not bad, and Kageyama twitches and fails to swallow down a moan in time.  Ha! Hinata thinks, smirking triumphantly as he takes more of it into his mouth.  He presses his tongue against the shaft as he pulls off and is rewarded with a stuttering gasp from Kageyama.  When he dives back again, though, he takes in just a little too much, and it triggers something in the back of his throat that makes his stomach churn and throat constrict.

“Idiot,” Kageyama hisses, sitting up and rubbing Hinata’s back while he dry heaves and struggles to keep himself from actually throwing up.

“You made it look so easy,” Hinata whimpers, clutching his stomach.

“I’m naturally talented at most things,” Kageyama explains, completely sincere.  The truth of this statement sticks in Hinata’s crawl and makes him want—no, need to accept the challenge, even if one wasn’t technically issued.

“So am I,” Hinata counters, and it’s definitely not true at all, but he shoves Kageyama away and clumsily feels his way back down Kageyama’s body.  “Just shut up.”

He can hear Kageyama wanting to say something, but he sighs instead and drops heavily back onto the bed instead.  First, Hinata tries just mouthing at it, licking and sucking without actually putting the thing fully in his mouth, doubtful he’s doing it right, but then he’s rewarded with a series of pleasured sounds from Kageyama and his confidence returns.  He starts really getting into it, but then Kageyama starts to lose control of his hips and nearly chokes Hinata with his cock, though Hinata dodges at the last moment.  After that, he uses a slick fist to grip the shaft and protect his delicate throat.  This, combined with sucking on the head, is enough to bring Kageyama over the edge.  He sounds like a man getting shoved off a horse, and Hinata finds it terribly endearing, even as he finds the substance left in his mouth rather unpleasant.  He swallows it all, though, and somehow feels like that makes them even.

***

Later, Kageyama innocently asks when he thinks they’ll next be able to get together, and Hinata remembers that he’s on borrowed time.  “As soon as I get home, I’m dead, so, I guess right after that, except I’ll be a ghost.”

Kageyama sighs and pulls Hinata closer, mumbling, “Idiot.”

“Why don’t you come with me?” Hinata asks.

“I can’t,” Kageyama says, then hesitates.  “I have... things.”

“You literally don’t do anything all day,” Hinata points out.  “Seriously, and when I was grounded?  Why didn’t you just come visit me?”

“I wanted to,” Kageyama admits, muttering very quietly.

“So then why didn’t you?”

Kageyama takes a very deep breath and lets it out slowly; even then, he waits several awkward moments before conceding, “I can’t.”

“Why the hell not?” Hinata shrieks.  “What’s that even mean?”

“What’s it mean?” Kageyama repeats, growing frustrated.  “Don’t be an idiot.  It means I can’t.  It’s Oikawa’s rule.  It’s his only rule: I stay inside.”

Hinata decides, here and now, that he seriously needs to have it out with this Oikawa guy.  “That’s ridiculous.  How does he even justify that?”

“He doesn’t have to,” Kageyama explains, now very much irritated.  “He’s the king, remember?”

Hinata bites his tongue, not wanting Kageyama to get any angrier, but nowhere near letting this go.

***

After Hinata makes the mistake of admitting that he considers them equals when it comes to oral pleasuring abilities, Kageyama challenges him to a rematch and he, of course, accepts.  The resulting hour, though pleasant, decides nothing, and they bicker about it their entire way to the garden, stopping only when Hinata runs ahead to find Kenma.

Did you enjoy your afternoon?

Hinata hopes Kenma can’t see his blush as he leans down to help him climb up his shoulder.  “You could say that,” he answers.

What’s Tobio doing over there?

“Huh?”

He’s standing at the entrance watching us.  Why doesn’t he just come over?  You didn’t have a fight, did you?

“No,” Hinata says, and it’s mostly true, but he feels himself getting angry as he jogs back over to Kageyama.  “Don’t tell me, when you said you have to ‘stay inside’—“

Kageyama doesn’t say anything, just sighs loudly, and Hinata goes off; he starts yelling right in Kageyama’s face.

“The garden is part of the castle!  It’s—it’s inside the castle!  What could possibly happen to you out there?  Do you even know what grass feels like?  You’re so cocky and sure you know everything, so why have you never questioned Oikawa!?  He’s such a massive asshole to you!  He laughs at your pain and forbids you from, what, smelling flowers?  Kageyama, seriously!  What the hell!!  Why do you put up with it?”

“He’s king,” Kageyama mumbles, but it’s clear that he’s starting to feel doubt.

“He’s king to like, thousands of people, including me, but none of us ever have to see his stupid face!  Kageyama, why do you stay?”

Kageyama is quiet, and Hinata starts to feel just a little bit badly.  It’s not exactly Kageyama’s fault, and Oikawa certainly made sure he wouldn’t have any friends to go to should he ever want to leave.  Hinata tugs Kageyama into a hug, wanting to kiss him but unable to reach with them both standing upright.  “Sorry, but, just.  If you ever want to leave, you can come with me, okay?  Daichi and Suga have so many kids already, they wouldn’t even notice you!”

In lieu of an answer, Kageyama takes Hinata’s hand and pulls him forward.  Hinata can feel the sunlight on his skin, can tell he’s no longer standing on stone, and knows that Kageyama has pulled him outside into the garden.

***

“I guess I can see why people like this,” Kageyama says.  They’re both lying on their backs on a patch of especially soft grass and Kenma is off somewhere, likely mauling baby birds.

“If I kick the crap out of Oikawa next time I see him, do you think he’ll have me beheaded?”

Kageyama neither corrects that Hinata ought to refer to Oikawa as ‘His Majesty’, nor points out that Hinata will never see Oikawa, and therefore his especially good mood is demonstrated.  “He doesn’t really do that kind of thing,” Kageyama assures Hinata.  “But you shouldn’t pick fights you can’t win.”

“Hey!” Hinata cries, sitting up.  “I can totally take that guy, just you wait and see!”

“That wasn’t a challe—“

Tobio,” a voice shouts, and this time it’s Kageyama who sits up suddenly.  “What are you doing?”  The voice is Iwaizumi’s, and he sounds downright furious.

“He’s not doing anything wrong!” Hinata cries, but Kageyama shushes him. 

“What am I doing, exactly?” Kageyama challenges.  “And why is it a problem for you?”

“Tobio, get inside,” Iwaizumi commands, hurrying toward them.

“No,” Kageyama answers, firmly but not unkindly.  “Not unless you give me a good reason.”

“Because if Toru finds out your little friend put you up to this, he’ll have him hanged?  Is that a good enough reason for you?”

“Put me up?” Kageyama repeats disbelievingly.  “To going into the garden?  And Oikawa can’t even watch a chicken get slaughtered—“

“Tobio,” Iwaizumi interrupts.  He sounds deadly serious, and both Hinata and Kageyama fall silent.  “I know him better than you.  This isn’t a game.  Don’t be ungrateful.”

“Grateful for what?” Hinata shouts, jumping to his feet.  He can’t seem to control himself.  “You guys are horrible to him!”

“He has a point,” Kageyama adds softly.  “And he can’t hang Hinata if he isn’t here, so I think we’ll just go.”

“Go?” Iwaizumi repeats.  He’s suddenly no longer angry; rather, he sounds terrified.  “Tobio, you can’t.”

“Watch us!” Hinata challenges, sticking out his tongue—possibly in the wrong direction—and taking Kageyama’s hand.  When Iwaizumi grabs Kageyama’s arm to stop him, Hinata headbutts him in the chest, hard, and he falls to the ground, winded and struggling to get back up.

“You—“ Kageyama starts to say, then chuckles and seems to think better of it.  “Nevermind.  Let’s go.”

Together they walk back inside, through the corridors, and out the front gate.  Everyone they pass sounds shocked to see them leaving, but nobody else tries to stop them—Kageyama is, after all, a king, and they therefore have no authority over him.  Together, Kageyama and Hinata select a horse, and together they ride away from the castle.

***

They ride for several hours with Hinata directing Kageyama toward his village.  As they come nearer to it, however, Kageyama decides they’d better not visit Daichi and Suga after all.  Should anyone actually come looking for them, it’d be too obvious a place to look, so they veer off into the forest.

“There’s a cottage up ahead,” Kageyama says.  It’s been about three hours since they left the castle and both their stomachs are growling; neither thought to bring along any food.  Neither of them knows a thing about hunting either, and their one hope had been left behind in the castle garden—Kenma.  Hinata had a fairly severe panic about this when he realized it, about an hour into their journey, but Kageyama reminded him that Kenma was plenty capable of looking after himself, and more importantly, fugitives can’t go waltzing back to the place they literally just escaped from.

“Is it made of food?” Hinata asks about the cottage, remembering a fairytale Suga had told him once, about a house made of candy.  He could cry he’s so hungry.

“What?” Kageyama asks, ever immune to humor.  “No, of course not, idiot.”

“Too bad,” Hinata sings back, laughing.

Though not made of candy, the house is emitting a rather pleasant aroma, and upon closer inspection, the smell seems to be freshly-baked meat pies.  Hinata is drooling when he stumbles over to the door and knocks.  Kageyama gently tugs at Hinata and tries to pull him behind his back.  He probably just wants to be able to protect Hinata should the need arise, but Hinata shoves back; he doesn’t want anything standing between him and those meat pies.

There’s a crashing sound from inside the house, then footsteps and the sound of the door getting smacked open.  Kageyama just barely pulls Hinata back in time to avoid his face getting slammed by the swinging door.

“Akaaaaaaaaaashi!” the voice yells joyously.  There’s a long, silent pause, and then, “Oh.”  It’s a man’s voice, and he sounds incredibly disappointed.  “I thought you were...” He sighs.  “Who are you?”

“Hinata and this is Tobio,” Hinata rushes out before Kageyame can.  “He’s really rich and wants to buy your pies, please.”  Hinata gestures to Kageyama.  “All of them please,” he clarifies.

“Hey hey hey, have we met before?” the man says.  Hinata can feel Kageyama tense and the man’s breathe on his face, so he must be very close.  “You look so familiar!”

“I,” Hinata says, hesitating.  There is something familiar about this man, but he can’t place it.  “Maybe?  I don’t really remember, sorry.”

“Nevermind, nevermind!  Don’t worry and come in!!  He’s rich, you say?  Wants to buy my pies, huh?  I was making them for Akaashi, but if he’s not going to come home, well then, I guess he doesn’t deserve them!”

They follow the man inside.  Kageyama elbows Hinata hard in the ribs; Hinata assumes it’s punishment for the ‘rich’ comment, but, well!  He is!

“Meat pies,” Hinata whispers in his defense, elbowing Kageyama right back.

They sit down on a sofa as the man busies himself in the kitchen, both their stomachs making a ruckus now that they’re in such close proximity to food.  The man comes in and sets two plates in front of them and introduces himself as Bokuto.  Kageyama digs into his meat pie and has already put away most of it before realizing that Hinata isn’t eating. 

“Hinata?” Kageyama asks, poking him gently.  “Are you okay?”

Hinata isn’t okay; he’s completely frozen, swamped by visions from more than ten years ago.

He remembers.

Chapter Text

When Hinata finally unfreezes, he’s way too worked up to control himself.  He springs to his feet and points an accusing finger in the direction of Bokuto’s voice.

“I remember you!  You kidnapped me!”

“Hey, hey, what?” Bokuto asks, sounding wounded.  “I don’t kidnap!  I’d never kidnap!  I do rescue orphans sometimes,” he concedes.  “And you do look like one of the kids I saved, but he had orange hair and wasn’t blind or nothin’.”

“I do have orange hair,” Hinata says softly, reaching up to touch it.  Nobody’s actually mentioned his hair in a very long time, but somehow he knows, he’s always known, that it’s definitely orange.

“Does that look orange to you?” Bokuto asks, presumably addressing Kageyama.

“No, it’s definitely brown,” Kageyama agrees.  “Well, not all of it—the other hair is orange, I guess,” he adds, sounding thoughtful.

Hinata has no idea what he’s talking about, or why Bokuto is suddenly laughing so hard.

“Hohoho!”  Bokuto drops a hand on Hinata’s shoulder.  “Other hair?  Get it, shorty!”

Hinata understands, then, and his face flushes red.  He turns to shove Kageyama and whines in embarrassment.

“Wait!”  Bokuto says, gripping Hinata’s shoulder and spinning him back around.  “Shorty!!  You are my little Shorty!!  You’ve come back to me!”  Bokuto pulls Hinata into a very tight hug and Hinata can feel tears against his cheeks.  “I missed you so much!”

“Um,” Hinata offers, wanting badly to be saved by Kageyama, but he doesn’t seem to know what to do either.  Bokuto, though eccentric, does seem harmless; he’s now crying for real and crushing Hinata under his shaking arms.

Once Bokuto is no longer overwhelmed by the sudden reappearance of his long lost kidnap victim, he starts complaining at length about Akaashi.  Hinata doesn’t remember who that is but figures out pretty quickly that he’s Bokuto’s husband.  Akaashi, Bokuto tearfully explains, is the reason they’re still childless after all these years.  He’d promised a long time ago that they’d adopt, formerly and through the proper channels, and Bokuto had delightedly prepared for the child’s arrival in record time, but then the excuses started coming.

Hinata frowns, not liking this Akaashi guy very much at all.  Bokuto sounds so sad; it’s obvious he wants a son more than anything in the world.

“Why don’t you just leave him?” Kageyama asks tactlessly.

“I can’t!  I wouldn’t!  No, no, he’ll come around.  Once he stops having to travel so much,” Bokuto says, and to Hinata’s surprise, some of his cheer seems to return.  “Hey, Shorty, what happened to your eyes, though?”

“I don’t remember,” Hinata mumbles around a mouthful of pie. 

“Why don’t you just get it fixed?”  Bokuto asks merrily, as if suggesting Hinata buy a new pair of boots.

“That’s not something anyone can fix,” Kageyama interjects.  Hinata can’t help but smile a little; Kageyama, the king of tactlessness himself, seems genuinely annoyed by Bokuto’s own lack of tact.  “I have the best physician in the kingdom and I asked him,” Kageyama explains, surprisingly Hinata a little.  He hadn’t considered that Kageyama would care enough to do that.  “He assured me there’s nothing that can be done.”

“Physicians!  Ha!!”  Bokuto laughs.  He always seems to be laughing.  “I mean see a witch!  I’m practically neighbors with one!  She’s—well, not nice exactly, but she’s more or less a good witch and very capable and she might help you if you ask nicely!”

“A witch?” Hinata repeats, gulping.  He remembers again that story about the candy house.  There was a witch there, too, and it didn’t end well for the brother and sister who visited her.

“Witches aren’t real,” Kageyama explains, still sounding annoyed.  “You shouldn’t fill Hinata with false hope.  It’s cruel.”

Hinata frowns; Kageyama is right, and he shouldn’t let himself feel hopeful.  He was then, for just a moment, and now feels as though someone is filling his stomach with worms. 

“Hey now, guy!” Bokuto huffs.  “I know this witch and she is very much real!  She’s helped me out a bunch of times with all kinds of stuff!  Once my kid broke his arm and I knew I’d be in real big trouble if Akaashi found out and I went to her and she made some potion and he drank it up and bam his arm healed right away!  I’d like to see your physician do that!”

There’s that hope again, threatening to fill Hinata with unrealistic expectations.  He leans into Kageyama’s side and tries not to look too upset.  He really wants to believe all this is true even as he knows he shouldn’t fall for it.  Kageyama, for his part, is silent; perhaps because he doesn’t want to further offend their host, or perhaps because he’s too distressed by Hinata’s vacant expression.

“Maybe we’ll visit her tomorrow,” Kageyama finally concedes.  He finds Hinata’s hand and squeezes it.  The message is clear; please don’t let this devastate you when it all turns out to be nothing more than the ravings of a lunatic.

Bokuto gives them both a few hard pats on the shoulder.  “Good!”

***

They leave early the next morning.  It turns out that by ‘neighbor’, Bokuto actually meant she lives an additional two-hour walk into the woods.  Their horse won’t save much time, given the denseness of the trees, so they decide to leave it behind altogether.  Bokuto, for all his eccentricities, was a lovely host; they slept well and ate even better, and he’s sending them off with packs full of supplies to last them the journey and then some, just in case they get lost.

Getting lost becomes a real possibility when, twenty minutes into walking, Kageyama wonders aloud if the blue things on the map are supposed to be water.  Considering he has never read a map before in his life or even stepped foot in any forest ever, this isn’t altogether surprising.  It’s at this point that Hinata insists they start leaving markers to help themselves at least get back.  “Not breadcrumbs, though!”

Mercifully, Kageyama had once read a book about navigation, so he knows, at least in theory, how to keep them going west.  Bokuto had emphasized this, over and over again.  If you get lost, just go west!  Much as it chaffs Hinata’s ass, Kageyama is naturally gifted at most things, so that much he’s probably getting right.

When morning bleeds into afternoon, they stop to take a rest under an especially thick, shady tree.  They eat their bread and cheese lunch and resist the urge to do any more than make out a little, reminding each other that they should have made it there already, still have to get back by dark, and neither are in any way prepared to spend a night out in the woods.

The fear of getting lost has so consumed Hinata that he long ago stopped worrying about whether or not this lady is really a witch, can really cure him, or would even want to, but when Kageyama puts an arm out to stop him and announces that they’ve arrived, those worries all come flooding back with such force that Hinata’s knees buckle.

Kageyama catches him with that same outstretched arm.  “We don’t have to go in,” he gently reminds Hinata.

“No, no,” Hinata protests, struggling to get back to his feet.  “We came all this way and... I need to know.”

Kageyama sighs but doesn’t push.  They walk together, holding hands now, to the door and knock.  When it opens, Kageyama lets out a stunned breath but Hinata can’t know why.

“Are you—“ Kageyama begins to ask.

“Yes, come in,” the supposed witch says.  “I knew you’d find me eventually.”

Hinata wants to know how she knew that, and if she’s talking to him, or Kageyama, or both of them, but he can hardly remember to breath or move his legs or focus on anything more than squeezing Kageyama’s hand so tight it very well might break; speaking is out of the question.

“We can pay,” Kageyama says, guiding a struggling Hinata into the house.

“I know, you’re King,” she says.  “I don’t care about that.  I don’t accept payment anyway.”

“Oh, then, how—?”

“You can thank me if you feel like it.  I only help when I want to, but I do want to help you,” she says, and now Hinata is sure she’s talking directly to him.  “Would you like me to remove the spell from your hair as well?”

Hinata’s hands fly to his hair, finally releasing Kageyama’s hand.  He’s shaking and fairly certain he’s going to vomit soon, but he manages to croak out, “There’s a spell on my hair?”

“Yes,” she confirms.  “And I’ll take that as a yes.  Wait here, please.  I got it started when I saw you coming, but I still need to finish a few things.”  She vanishes off into another room, then, leaving Hinata still shivering and clutching his hair.

“Are you okay?” Kageyama asks, very gently prying Hinata’s hands away from his head.

“No,” Hinata admits, swallowing back bile.

“We can go if you want,” Kageyama offers.

“No, no, this is fine,” Hinata says, unconvincingly, and now clutching at his stomach.

She returns, then, and presses a glass of liquid to the back of Hinata’s hands.  He doesn’t know why, but he was expecting something more like a bubbling cauldron.  This feels like a perfectly normal drinking glass.

“Thank you,” he mumbles, taking it from her and struggling not to drop it.

“Don’t thank me until after it’s worked,” she instructs.  “I know neither of you believes me yet.  Don’t apologize; I’m not offended.”  The latter part must have been for Kageyama, because Hinata could hear him open and close his mouth without saying anything.  “And no, it’s not just water.  I know it looks like that.”  Kageyama, again, wordlessly opens and closes his mouth.

“Okay then,” Hinata whispers, wanting to do this before this lady makes him believe any harder.  “Here goes,” he adds, half expecting Kageyama to knock it from his hand, as if it were some kind of—

“It’s not poison,” she says, and Hinata squeaks and chugs the entire thing without another thought.  It tastes exactly like water. He breathes in stuttering little gasps while waiting for something, anything to happen.

Then he doubles over and vomits all over the floor.

***

Kageyama cradles Hinata and is very likely directing his very scary face in the direction of the ‘witch’, but she’s busying herself with mopping up the floor.  Hinata is shaking and crying quietly, but it’s more from sickness than sadness.  He doesn’t tell Kageyama this, though, afraid he’ll vomit again if he opens his mouth.

“I think I’m gonna throw up again,” Hinata mumbles into Kageyama’s chest.

“No, you’re not,” the not-witch says as she pours more water on the floor.  “I’m sorry it’s so unpleasant, but it’ll pass.”

“We’re going,” Kageyama tells her, sounding very angry indeed as he guides Hinata toward the door.  Hinata sniffles and wipes at his eyes, pulling back just enough to look up at Kageyama’s face.  He looks devastated.  After everything, ironic that Kageyama should be the one who got more hurt by this misadventure.

Kageyama looks devastated.

Hinata can see how devastated he looks.

Hinata can see.

“Tobio,” Hinata says, grabbing his face and directing it toward himself.  “Tobio,” he repeats, not sure what else to say.

“Your eyes,” Kageyama whispers.  “They’re orange.  Your hair, too,” he says, reaching up to touch it.  “You can see?  Really?”

Yes,” Hinata confirms, spinning around to face the witch.  He wants to thank her, but his voice catches in his throat once he gets a good look.  She’s breathtakingly beautiful, with long, silky black hair and dark eyes, nothing at all like the warty hag in the story.

“You’re welcome,” she answers anyway, not even looking at him.  She’s busy drying the floor with a rag.

Hinata turns back to Kageyama and his voice further escapes him.  Kageyama is unreasonably attractive too, he realizes, and Hinata suddenly feels out of place; small, flaming orange, awkward, and with no right to stand near these two beautiful people.

“What?” Kageyama asks, starting to look worried.  “Is it my face?”  Hinata nods, and to his surprise, Kageyama is crushed.  “Oh, I’m sorry— I hadn’t even considered—“

“What?” Hinata asks, not at all understanding why Kageyama is suddenly so sad.

“That you wouldn’t like—“ Kageyama explains, then falters.  Hinata gets it, then; Kageyama is self-conscious.  He can’t help it; he starts laughing.  He can finally see for one thing, and now there’s a gorgeous king standing in front of him freaking out because, what?  He thinks he’s not up to Hinata’s standards?  How can someone so confident not even realize how crazy hot they are?

“You’re beautiful,” Hinata finally gets out, reaching up to cup his cheeks.  “Holy shit.  And you have blue eyes!”  Kageyama blushes, embarrassed, and Hinata gets a sudden, strong urge to jump on him.

“If you’re going to do something—sticky,” the witch says, interrupting softly, “I’ll have to ask that you leave.  My daughter will be home at any moment.”

“We weren’t!” Hinata protests.  “And we can’t just go!  We have to— pay you or— do something to thank you—“

“I told you, I wanted to help. I disagree with that mage’s tactics so I’m more than happy to undo his work. Now, you have a long walk back to Kotaro’s and I have to prepare dinner for my daughter.”

Understanding themselves to be dismissed, they go, giving nothing in return but a few blubbered thank yous.

***

“Shorty!” Bokuto greets at the doorway, crushing Hinata against his body in an overly-enthusiastic hug.  “That’s the Shorty I remember!  I told you she’d fix you up for me!”

“You’re going to break his spine,” Kageyama says, scowling.

Bokuto, deflated, releases Hinata and guides them inside.  “I’ll make you some tea I guess,” he says, sighing and shuffling off to the kitchen with a pout.

“Stop being so nasty to him!” Hinata scolds, elbowing Kageyama hard in the ribs.  “We owe him a lot!  Go over there and compliment him until he’s happy again!”

“He kidnapped you,” Kageyama reminds Hinata, looking entirely unconvinced. 

“That was a long time ago, and you heard him, he was just lonely!  Now go, stupid!” Hinata says, trying to shove Kageyama toward the kitchen.  It’s completely ineffectual; Kageyama doesn’t budge at all, and Hinata’s feet slide backward until he nearly falls flat on his face.

“Fine,” Kageyama agrees, sighing.  He runs a hand through Hinata’s hair.  “I like it much better this color,” he says, and then walks off after Bokuto, leaving Hinata feeling uncomfortably warm.

That night, having spent the evening buttering Bokuto up, Hinata shyly asks if it’d be alright if he and Kageyama have some privacy.  Bokuto gives them a knowing smirk in return.  “Oh-hoho, don’t worry, I understand!  Go, go, I won’t bother you!  You can use your old room!”  Before they can get away entirely, Bokuto catches up to them and slips something into Kageyama’s hand.  “If you need it,” he says, winking.

It’s strange, going back to that owl-themed child’s bedroom, now that Hinata can see; every little detail triggers a new memory, but he does his best to shake them off for now.  He and Kageyama barely fit together on the tiny purple bed but neither seems to mind, both taking full advantage of the excuse to tangle up together.  Hinata can’t stop touching Kageyama, his face and his hair and every other part of him, wanting to associate the old familiar feelings with these new and exciting visuals.

They’ve already tossed away their clothes before Hinata remembers Bokuto’s parting gift.  “Wait,” he says, and Kageyama looks up from licking Hinata’s naval.  “What did he give you?”

Kageyama pauses and grunts, lifting himself up and reaching over the side of the bed to grab the thing; it turns out to be a small bottle.

“What’s that for?” Hinata asks, taking it and putting it right up to his eyes, forgetting that makes things harder to see, not easier.  His eyes cross and head starts to ache so he blinks and hands it back.

“I’m not sure, but,” Kageyama mumbles, pulling off the cork and pouring some of the contents onto his hand.  It looks like cooking oil.  “Ah, yes.” he says, sounding serious, but when he looks up, Hinata sees a small, amused smile.  “You might die if I tell you, but I could show you?”

“You’re not doing anything to me unless you tell me what it is first!” Hinata shrieks.

“Fine,” Kageyama says, gently pushing Hinata down on his back.  “I’ll tell you before I do it.”

“What’s ‘it’?” Hinata asks, panicked, but Kageyama rubs a calming hand down his chest and stomach.  Hinata takes a deep breath and tries to relax, but tenses back up as soon as Kageyama’s mouth finds his cock.  Then he does relax, for real, letting his mouth drop open as Kageyama works his magic.

Hinata hardly notices when Kageyama nudges his knees up, but he does when Kageyama stops everything he was doing.

“I’m going to touch your ass,” Kageyama explains in a low voice, his fingers already trailing a path there.  Hinata wants to ask what he means, but he’s frozen between wanting to panic and needing to prove Kageyama wrong about his inability to handle sex things.  Kageyama smooths a hand over his left ass cheek and squeezes gently, then with his other hand, rubs one slick finger against Hinata’s hole.  He never wiped off the oil.

Hinata tenses but Kageyama doesn’t stop, just continues kneading and rubbing while pressing kisses to the insides of Hinata’s thighs.  “You can say no,” he reminds Hinata gently.

“It’s fine.  It’s—kinda nice,” Hinata admits, thinking more about the kisses and the hand caressing his ass.  The finger and the oil worry him; he’s starting to guess what’s supposed to happen next and is full to bursting with questions and concerns.

“I want to put it in,” Kageyama says, confirming Hinata’s suspicions.  “I read something in a book that I want to try.”

“Okay,” Hinata says, doing his best to conceal his panic.  “Fine.”

Kageyama sighs deeply and suddenly stops everything for the second time.  He crawls back up Hinata’s body and runs his clean hand through Hinata’s hair.  “I can tell you’re lying.  Why don’t you just say no?”

Looking right into those beautiful blue eyes, Hinata momentarily forgets how to speak.  “I don’t want to,” he finally says, mumbling and looking away.  “Say no,” he adds quickly, clarifying.  “But I don’t like not knowing what— what you’re doing, or why.”

“The why is easy, I want to make you feel good,” Kageyama explains, stroking Hinata’s hair and kissing the corner of his lips.  “The what—well.  If you’re careful, you can put things in there.  It’s just another way to have sex, but we don’t have to do it that way.”

“When you say ‘things’—” Hinata questions, burning with embarrassment and wishing he could sink into the bed and disappear completely.

“Yes,” Kageyama says, laughing a little under his breath.  “That too, but I just want to try a finger.”

“Okay,” Hinata finally says, “But can I lay on my stomach?”  He’s still fighting the urge to run away.  Hiding just his face seems like a better option than fleeing entirely.

“No,” Kageyama replies firmly.  “I want to see your face.”

“Why?” Hinata asks, genuinely stunned.  He imagines how he must look right now and is consumed by a new wave of anxiety.

“You always make the cutest faces,” Kageyama explains.  “Why do you think I want to try this?”

Hinata doesn’t reply to that, just covers his face with his hands and whines.  Kageyama seems placated; after grabbing the tiny bottle off the floor, he crawls back between Hinata’s legs and resumes his work.  Hinata realizes he wants to see Kageyama’s face and mourns the darkness before he remembers—he need only to remove his hands, now.

Kageyama is clearly focused, but there’s enthusiasm there too, hidden just behind his eyes.  His face is exactly like his voice, Hinata thinks; Kageyama hides behind stoicism as best he can, but there are cracks and Hinata is pleased to know he can see through them.

“I’m putting it in,” Kageyama says, looking up and meeting Hinata’s eyes.  Hinata drops back to the pillow and takes a deep breath, nodding.  It feels—fine.  It’s not bad or good, just a slight pressure.  He starts doubting anything special will happen, but then Kageyama crooks his fingers a certain way and stars burst behind Hinata’s eyes.  His back arches a foot off bed with a shout that Bokuto can definitely hear.

“Gaaa-aaaah!”  He tries to catch his breath and wonders if that’s what it feels like to be electrocuted.  It was good but it was also just— so much.  It didn’t feel anything like having Kageyama’s mouth or hands on him.  “What— what did you—?”

“Too much?” Kageyama asks, but when Hinata dares a glance, he sees him smirking. 

“Can you— Can you do it again, but less maybe?” Hinata asks, voice shaking.

“I can try,” Kageyama replies, and then he does try, pushing his finger back in but when he curls it, he’s slower and more gentle.  Hinata still spasms with each twerk of his finger, his feet flailing wildly behind Kageyama, but it’s no longer too much and quickly it becomes not enough.  “Are you okay?” Kageyama asks, and Hinata nods and nods, unable to speak.  Kageyama, still using his finger, takes Hinata’s entire cock into his mouth and Hinata lets out a long, high-pitched whimper, wanting to warn Kageyama to stop but his voice isn’t working and he doesn’t really want him to stop anyway.

He comes, hard, his orgasm hitting him in waves.  Kageyama doesn’t remove the finger until after the very last jolt of pleasure has faded away.

“I want to try that with your dick,” Hinata says immediately upon regaining his voice.  Kageyama drops heavily on top of Hinata and kisses him deeply.

“We’ll get there eventually,” he says, and there it is again; he’s trying so hard to look cool, but behind that tiny smile is unrestrained joy.

***

They stay with Bokuto for weeks.  It’s cozy and he’s very good company, so neither feel especially motivated to move on.  Then, one morning, there’s a knock at the door.  Bokuto goes to answer it, and even from their room, Hinata can hear the small, squeaky, overly nervous voice.

“Hello sir... I was just wondering, um, if you— I’m looking for work.  Do you have any?”

“Hitoka!!” Hinata shouts.  He’d recognize her voice anywhere.  He gracelessly tumbles out of the too-small bed, knocking Kageyama to the floor in the process, and dashes out to the doorway.  He ducks under Bokuto’s arm to hug her.  “I haven’t seen you in weeks!  How are you?”

Yachi trembles and clings to him, then bursts into tears.