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Acceptable Risk

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Tobio peered over the rim of his teacup, restless and ready. What he was ready for he wasn’t sure, but he forced himself to sit still in the armchair, foot propped up on the coffee table, taking deep breaths of tea-scented air. Light was streaming in the window of the apartment he shared with Hinata, and the living room was tidy for once, his weights neatly put away.

He forced himself to look, to calm. His gaze slid over the open sliding doors on adjoining walls, showing sections of entryway and kitchen, the blank-screened, thirdhand TV inherited from Hinata’s cousin, the couch where they watched movies or matches when they could, where Hinata fell asleep at least once a week; the single-paned windows showing a supermarket parking lot and part of a street.

It was still weird, living like this. The tea, for instance: tea was something his mother forced on him, talking about antioxidants and Japanese people who lived to be a hundred years old. It tasted like grass to him, and he’d looked forward to scrapping the habit once he lived alone—but here he was, in an apartment his mother had visited exactly once, drinking tea of his own volition like he liked it. Maybe he did like it. It reminded him this was home, even if it burned his tongue and tasted like grass.

He sipped, breathed, sipped, breathed. Restlessness ticked inside him, echoing the clock on the wall. The coach had told him to stay away from practice today, concerned for the ankle he’d only kind of sprained, and Hinata was at practice as usual.

It rankled: him at home, Hinata at practice. He hoped today’s practice wouldn’t go long.

Minutes crawled by as he finished the tea and laid out homework that swam before his eyes, interrupted by flashes of what he could be doing now if it wasn’t for his ankle. Would the team do practice matches against itself with only one competent setter there? Would it be worthwhile to even have practice at all?

No, that was a stupid thought. Of course practice was worthwhile. It was just that—

“I’m home!”

Tobio jumped, the propped foot coming down, steadying. “Welcome home,” he said. He stoically ignored the way his heart kicked up, maintaining a level tone. “How was practice?”

Hinata pulled off his shoes, dropping his bag and walking through the sliding doors to collapse on the couch perpendicular to Tobio’s chair. He lay on his back looking up at the ceiling, a well-muscled arm dangling  “ Boring ,” he said. “Satou barely ever tosses to me outside of drills.”

“He thinks of you as my spiker,” Tobio said. “He thinks you’re going to complain about his tosses because they’re not mine.”

Hinata twisted, meeting Tobio’s gaze upside-down. His head was off the couch, extending his neck. It gleamed with exercise sweat that made Tobio swallow part in envy part in… not-envy. Orange hair hung down, revealing a perfectly smooth forehead Tobio rarely got to see.

Cute.

“Well, they are less good, but I wouldn’t tell him that.”

The statement made Tobio smile in a way that would have normally had Hinata grinning back, or at least telling him to look less sinister when he smiled, but Hinata was distracted, gaze suddenly catching on Tobio’s ankle. His eyes narrowed.

“You should have your foot up. Here—”

He rolled off the couch and sprang up, the exhaustion and disappointment of a moment ago forgotten. In a fit of unnecessary caretaking, he forced Tobio’s foot up and fetched ice to put on the ankle, then stood over the scene like he wanted to call in a doctor or two for good measure.

“You need to be better by tomorrow,” he said, catching Tobio’s exasperated stare. “It’s not the same without you. What d’you want for dinner?”

So he hadn’t eaten at the dining hall after practice; he’d come straight back. Tobio tried to force down the smug feeling that bubbled up.

“Pork curry,” he said. If Hinata was going to baby him, he’d take advantage. “And don’t make it so watery this time.”

Hinata saluted. “I won’t!”

Tobio’s brows rose. The comment about watery curry would have had Hinata sniping back any other day, and here he was saluting and running to follow orders. Tobio decided not to point this out; it seemed Hinata really was missing his tosses.

Flattering to think that could still be true, after years and years.

He leaned back in his chair, watching Hinata move around the small kitchen, occasionally obscured by walls. This wasn’t what he’d expected at all when they were still in high school. He could never have imagined it, even as he and Hinata moved from being just rivals to being friends. They’d lived together for over half a year now, and it was… nice. Most of the time. He hadn’t been prepared for life with Hinata to be nice .

Hinata climbed up to kneel on the counter and reached past the open door of a cupboard. Tobio was caught between amusement and an urgent need to scold, and then Hinata reached higher and his T-shirt rode up, baring smooth skin over the jut of his hip as he kneeled, shorts riding low. It was just skin, skin Tobio saw all the time, but it hit him like bricks. Awareness of Hinata’s body reached through the open sliding doors of the kitchen to choke him, overwhelm him, make his body hot and cold with longing. In a flash the calm of the moment was gone, and Tobio tore his eyes away.

Not for you , he reminded himself, ignoring the heat in his palms, the sudden pressure in his throat. His hands used to heat up like that when he saw gymnasiums, nets, volleyball carts. It meant he wanted to send tosses—but he’d had years to realise the heat in his palms when he looked at Hinata’s exposed skin was not the same thing.

His restlessness from earlier returned tenfold. That brief flash of Hinata’s skin begged Tobio to notice all the physical dimensions he so carefully looked past when they were off the court. Hinata had grown since they started playing together, though most of it hadn’t been vertical. His body had become stronger, compact but lethal. For Tobio the lethal aspect of Hinata’s body was more in how it made him feel to look at.

It started with his hair. Tobio had lived through different hairstyles: the orange cloud, the longer orange cloud, the ponytail, the longer ponytail, the buzzcut—there had been a real sense of loss there—and then there was the current style, which had lasted for over a year now: shorter on the sides, longer on top. There was still enough to grab onto, but Tobio rarely did anymore. Hinata challenged him, but not so much that he had to grab him.

No, that wasn’t quite true: not to a degree where Tobio could overwhelm the voice inside telling him not to grab Hinata, even when Hinata poked every sore spot he had. If he grabbed, he might… do something. Something he shouldn’t. That impulse had to do with the rest of Hinata. Hinata’s face—bolder lines now, no longer quite so impish—was only part of the problem. The rest was… skin. Hard muscle. The tantalising build, so different from his own, seemingly designed to frustrate him even as he appreciated every play the blooming strength in Hinata’s body allowed.

The whole thing was like loving the sun, and Tobio accepted it. It wasn’t enjoyable, but you didn’t get to pick what you longed for. In his case, he couldn’t have what he wanted—so he settled in for the long game. No matter how much he wanted to hold Hinata, touch him, it wasn’t worth everything else. He’d made that decision almost as soon as he became aware of his feelings—feelings like a ball dropping on his side of the court, sick realisation followed by acceptance. The point was gone. It had been scored, and that was that. Tobio would simply feel like this, and life would continue—but some days were harder than others, and this day when he hadn’t practiced and gotten his energy out was turning out worse.

His earlier restlessness accompanied him through the meal, through homework, through getting ready for bed. It didn’t help that Hinata liked to sit close, always touching him somehow—whether it was his shoulder to get his attention or his thigh as they sat watching TV. There was no way to avoid Hinata, and it wasn’t like he wanted to. He just wanted to be a little less aware of him—but that was beyond him, even after years of practice.

His mood had blackened by the time he stepped out into their shared space to see if the lights were off after his bath. They weren’t, and the TV was playing to an empty room, wasting more electricity—

No, wait. That lump on the couch was Hinata, totally unconscious, his mouth open. Practice had been boring, maybe, but that hadn’t stopped it from being exhausting.

Tobio switched off the TV. Hinata had a habit of falling asleep on the couch, and when he’d asked about it he said the TV relaxed him more than lying in bed with his eyes closed did. Hinata didn’t react to the noise cutting off, though, his breathing unchanged. He never did.

Tobio sighed, moving to kneel next to the couch. He knew from experience that waking Hinata from his couch naps produced mixed results, sometimes leaving Hinata wired for hours. Putting Hinata to bed himself was much more effective—and also a whole lot harder on his resolve to stop storing up useless being-close-to-Hinata moments.

“Okay,” he said, which didn’t even make Hinata twitch. He swallowed. Like this, on these nights when Hinata fell asleep on their couch, it felt like a different world somehow. Hinata’s face was open and honest in sleep, a little silly, his hair a mess. Tobio knew the way Hinata would curl into him when lifted, reflexively moving towards his body heat, making him imagine unwanted things. These nights felt like maybe they were together in a way that went beyond their friendship or their partnership—but of course they weren’t, because they’d never agreed to be together. Living together and being together were two wholly different things; Tobio knew that.

And yet, as he prepared to lift Hinata, he pressed his lips against Hinata’s forehead in the briefest of kisses—barely a brushing of lips. It was the only sign of affection he ever gave, meaningless and therefore innocent, because Hinata would never know and he would never go beyond it. It was a silent I’m here that begged not to be noticed.

Tobio braced himself and stood, gathering Hinata’s warm body close. Hinata’s weight settled against him, strengthening the impression he always had at these times: that he was collecting a part of himself, severed by some weird circumstance. In these moments he couldn’t help feeling that Hinata belonged to him, and as long as he didn’t talk about the impression out loud it harmed no one. As it was Hinata mumbled a little, curling into him the way he’d anticipated.

Without a word he carried Hinata to Hinata’s cluttered bedroom and laid him in bed, wrestling blankets out from under him to cover him with. Hinata woke, then, a little, but only to blink at him sleepily and mumble something that sounded like thanks . He turned away, and Tobio returned to his own bedroom, turning off all the lights on the way. That restlessness from earlier threatened to rise up and strangle him.

Living with Hinata was nice—but only most of the time. Only when he didn’t feel like this.

 


 

For a long time Tobio had lived in happy ignorance. Maybe everything had been there from the start, and maybe he’d always felt like this, deep down, from that first uneven match—but even if the feelings had been there all along, he hadn’t noticed them until his third year of high school. Before that terrible August he never even considered the feelings Hinata inspired might not all be volleyball-related. He’d needed to be kicked into examining himself: his feelings, his wants, his wishes. He had been kicked.

In their third year, Hinata had dated someone.

She was a friend of Yachi’s, a girl Hinata had charmed without trying to. She was cute, and smart like Yachi, and Hinata went totally red when she confessed. It didn’t look like he even considered saying no, though Tobio was out of earshot—hadn’t even known it was a confession until afterwards. Having a flushed Hinata tell him what just happened out in the courtyard felt like a rock dropping in his stomach, and he felt angry —like Hinata dating someone was a personal betrayal, an insult.

“Don’t goof off,” was all he said, and Hinata hit him.

“Like I would!”

And Hinata hadn’t goofed off. He’d been just as dedicated to the team, just as focused during practice, even if he wasn’t available as often outside of it. The anger didn’t go away, and after weeks of it—weeks of begrudgingly realising Hinata was working hard as ever—Tobio knew he wasn’t angry at Hinata or the girl.

He was angry at himself.

In hindsight, it was clear his feelings for Hinata weren’t new. They’d been there beneath the surface for a long time, and he had somehow thought their bond—their perfect teamwork—would allow the feelings to stay there unexamined for—what? Years? The rest of their lives?

What had he imagined happening? That Hinata would always just be there? He didn’t know what walls of denials he’d raised up in his mind; all he knew was that they had been there, and now they were gone.

Despite the lasting effect the relationship had on Tobio, Hinata and the cute girlfriend broke up less than two months after the confession, and Hinata seemed saddened but not heartbroken. He and Tobio were friends now, not just rivals or partners, but if Hinata talked to anyone about his breakup it wasn’t Tobio, and Tobio didn’t ask. He assumed they broke up because Hinata was too busy with volleyball; it seemed the likeliest reason. If anything, the entire episode seemed to have more of an effect on him than it did on Hinata.

It made him unsure of everything, at least for a while.

“We have to live together, of course,” Hinata said one day while they were looking up the university they’d both been invited to, the one Nishinoya had been recruited to last year. They were at Tobio’s house, at the kitchen table. Hinata was scrolling through an info page, not even looking at him as he spoke.

Tobio tried not to choke on the gulp of juice he’d been swallowing. “What?” he wheezed, his air passage only just clear enough to produce sound. It made sense, and if he hadn’t been weird lately he would have thought of it himself, but—

Hinata looked up at him. “Well, we’ll be on the same team, at the same school, and we know each other. Seems stupid not to.”

Tobio coughed his throat clear. “Yeah,” he said. It made sense; he knew it made sense. Would he regret agreeing to this later? Only time would tell. “I guess so.”

“You don’t think so?”

“I don’t—I mean—I hadn’t thought about it at all.”

“It’s cheaper to live with someone,” Hinata said. His brows were up, like he thought Tobio was strange for being blindsided by this. He gazed at Tobio for a little longer, then turned back to scrolling down the page, the matter settled.

Tobio willed his racing heart to slow. He’d known even then the convenience of living with Hinata might not outweigh the difficulties. He knew it might be hard to see Hinata every day, morning noon and night, in every mood he had—every state of undress, and sleepiness, and giddy excitement. Worse, Hinata might fall in love again, and bring the girl to stay over, and expect Tobio not to wither inside at the sight of him with someone else. It could easily be the worst decision of his life, agreeing to this. Agreeing to fall in deeper.

He took the risk anyway. With Hinata, he always did.

 


 

Though in gloomier moments the daily temptation Tobio lived with seemed torturous, the confusion of Hinata asleep in his arms and kneeling on counters and existing by his side didn’t always reign. On the court, everything made sense. All doubts fell away; all strange moments of longing and uncertainty were just mist at dawn, swiftly cleared in the hours following sunrise. His heart settled to the sound of soles squeaking against gymnasium floors, the hard whap of spikes, the grunts of exertion swallowed in the rush to make the next play, the next save.

Shining moments happened all the time on the court, but some burst with the fury of a supernova. The first official match he and Hinata ever played start to finish in university was like that. It ended with a perfect spike from Hinata at the conclusion of a long, exhausting rally.

The end wasn’t the end, though. It never was.

The whistle blew, and then Hinata was running at him, launching himself and wrapping his legs around his waist to stay up. Hinata’s thighs were crushingly strong, clenched tight as Hinata yelled and yelled; their teammates around them were yelling too, smacking Tobio’s back. Tobio was going to be split in two under the pressure of Hinata’s thighs, but what did he care? He bunched the back of Hinata’s shirt in his fists and let out a roar of triumph. Hinata started to laugh, and then his hot, sweaty hands were holding Tobio’s face steady while he rained kisses on Tobio’s head, unceasing, until it seemed like Tobio was surrounded on all sides by a damp, laughing Hinata and a damp, laughing Hinata mouth.

“What the hell, Hinata!” he yelled, but there was no fire in it; it only made Hinata laugh more. “Get off!”

Their teammates laughed, used to Hinata at his most excitable.

“Brace yourself!” came a voice—Nishinoya, never someone to let others celebrate on his behalf—and Tobio did as he was told, knowing well that he was about to—

Hnn! ” He rocked, suddenly holding up two guys instead of one. Stadium lights whirled overhead, indistinct, then steadied. The muscles in his core and thighs strained to keep him upright. He shot his arms out for balance, and it only just worked. Now it wasn’t just Hinata wrapped around him; Nishinoya was there too, his hands whipping out to pet their heads once his seat was solid.

“Great job, you two!” Nishinoya said. “Makes me proud!”

Tobio’s heart swelled, and he bore the tousling with grace. It’d be easier to remain standing if Hinata wasn’t rocking slightly under Nishinoya’s praise, chortling like a pleased toddler, but he didn’t scold him.

“They’re going to kill him,” a teammate said. Privately Tobio thought the teammate was right, but it didn’t matter. His heart was full. Later, he would think back to Hinata’s legs wrapped around him and it would be different, it would be difficult—but not just now. Here he was invincible.

“We need to line up,” he said, over Hinata’s blow-by-blow account of every cool thing Nishinoya had done during the match. He tried to shake them off, and after a moment of well-intentioned ribbing Nishinoya slid down obligingly. Tobio shook more to dislodge Hinata—but it didn’t bear fruit.

“Fine, fine!” Hinata said, clamping tighter. “I’m going, I’m going! Don’t shake me so much, my legs are stiff, I’ll fall—”

“Don’t climb people if you can’t get back down!”

“It was spur of the moment!”

Tobio’s insides shook with laughter. Stupid Hinata. Stupid, stupid, stupid Hinata. He bunched a hand in Hinata’s shirt possessively, then loosened it once more.

“Just do it slowly,” he said, to Hinata’s reluctant agreement.

They were at a stalemate for a long moment as Hinata looked down, obviously considering his dismount. Then a gracious Nishinoya grabbed him under the armpits, and finally Hinata’s strong legs unclamped. Hinata thunked down, leaving a chill of cold around Tobio’s middle. He met Hinata’s eyes—Hinata was pretend-glaring at him for not letting him cling like a tick forever—and after a moment he couldn’t help reaching out to tousle Hinata’s hair, glare or no glare.

“Well done,” he said, and watched that flush of pride sweep back over Hinata’s face.

“Well, obviously!” Hinata said, and looked quickly away.

 


 

Legs clamped around his waist, red-hot hands gripping his shoulders, tearing at his shirt, clutching at his face . Tobio panted, biting back a groan. He could still feel it all. He’d known it was trouble the moment Hinata jumped on him after the match. He’d known that lying in bed at night the memory would shift to something else. Part of him wished he could warn Hinata never to do those things, to tell him he fueled something he wouldn’t want to be part of, but it was impossible.

Hinata doesn’t know . Hinata couldn’t know, because Hinata liked girls, was always looking at them, was always trying to get Tobio to talk about them. They weren’t the same. Tobio never wanted to watch Hinata find out about this—that their partnership meant something different to him, that their friendship fed into a world of longing that could only ever come out in a darkened bedroom when he was alone. He didn’t want Hinata to know a fantasy version of him lived in his head, a version that straddled him in dreams and ran hands over him and called out and told him not to worry, that he liked it, that he wanted it…

Tobio bit his lip, choking on an exhale. Sweat broke out on his skin. Hinata’s thighs had been so tight around him after the match, more crushing than sensual. Hinata wouldn’t ever be sensual, not on purpose; he would be wild, and loud, and terrible at holding back. He would take whatever he wanted. Tobio longed to give it to him—to this fantasy version of him, the only version that wanted him back.

His hand tightened on himself. In his mind Hinata told him to keep going, riding him with relentless purpose, the pace too frenzied to be satisfying. They drove together and apart, breaths frantic, and Tobio pulled Hinata’s face down to his, hand in his hair, foreheads grinding together.

Slow down , he imagined saying, but neither of them would because neither of them could. His wrist ached with the tension in his hand. His lungs ached too, with held breath.

Don’t stop , Hinata told him in his fantasy. The request was as frantic as their pace. This Hinata showed no consideration, as demanding as he was in all other avenues of life. His mouth bruised; his teeth scraped. Tobio would smell him everywhere the next morning, would know what they’d done.

Kageyama , Hinata whispered in his mind. Tobio’s hand spasmed. He held a breath.

Yes?

Again, after this. Let’s do it again, and again, and again

Shut up. We will. We will— Tobio’s thoughts went hazy. His eyes squeezed shut. He was so close. There was phantom pressure on him. Hinata’s voice could be conjured at will, loud in his ears. He remembered the way Hinata had smelled this afternoon after the match, sweat rising off his hot skin, the scent of it sticking to the back of his throat. He remembered Hinata’s hands on his face and the proprietary way he touched him. He imagined it having a different root cause; he imagined Hinata possessive of him not as a player but as a person, Hinata telling him he was his.

You’re mine, he imagined Hinata saying, lost as they rocked together towards orgasm, insatiable until he drew everything from Tobio, until Tobio gave up every part of himself willingly. Say it .

Tobio wouldn’t put up with it. He’d roll them, push between Hinata’s legs. He wouldn’t say he was his. He wouldn’t, but it would be true. Both of them would know it. Tobio imagined claiming Hinata’s mouth, sticking his tongue in as their bodies moved together, Hinata’s soft noises swallowed up. There would be no smart comments. Hinata’s head would drop back; Tobio’s face would drop to Hinata’s collar, where the scent was thick, and they would both lose the ability to speak. No teasing, not then, though Hinata might try.

Hinata . Again Tobio conjured up Hinata’s thighs around him. A noise escaped him, unwilling. He turned himself, crushed his face into the pillow. Don’t say his name , he commanded himself, locking down his throat. His fingers clenched tight. Don’t say it.

When he came, he didn’t say it. He thought it, though, over and over: a mixture of Hinata and Shouyou and cuss words Hinata would scold him for. He didn’t care. He spent, and spent, and spent, and then he was empty.

Languid warmth outweighed guilt, for now. Later the mess in his underwear would dry and he’d look down at himself in embarrassment bordering on shame. Pathetic. He tried not to imagine Hinata saying that. In his head, Hinata sometimes took on Tsukishima’s expressions when he found out about this all. In some ways it was better to imagine that than the more realistic confusion Hinata would probably show. The disgust he would try to swallow in an attempt to salvage their friendship.

Tobio sighed shakily. He wasn’t sure why he ever allowed himself to think of Hinata when he relieved these urges, except that it seemed impossible not to think of him; he’d tried many times. Somehow images of Hinata always crept in: flashes of thigh, the way his shorts looked as he stretched, the restless way he shifted during long classes, hips twisting in his seat, the way his eyes would slide to meet Tobio’s in moments of quiet communication, almost sly in the security that he’d understand.

Hinata never wondered if Tobio could keep up. He had no reason to; Tobio would never give him one. This secret in the dark of Tobio’s bedroom was the only important point on which they differed, and on nights when match highs and Hinata’s remembered warmth drove him crazy, Tobio had no choice but to let the feeling run its course. None of this ever let up. It never went away—but it could be managed. It could be brought out on nights like this one and tolerated the rest of the time, the sharp edges dulled.

Hinata didn’t know. He couldn’t know. And what he didn’t know couldn’t hurt him.

 


 

“You said you wanted to eat at home,” Tobio complained. His ears were cold; his hair had gotten wet when he rinsed after practice, and the night air was chilly. They stood at the side of a crosswalk, slouched against the wind and short-tempered with hunger. The frown scrunching Hinata’s face was rendered dramatic by yellow streetlights.

“I wanted to pick something up to eat at home, not cook . I thought the restaurant would be open!”

“I told you it’s closed on Mondays.”

“And I told you I thought it wasn’t! I didn’t know for sure!”

They glared at each other, even though Tobio was in the right. He had told Hinata all this. The fact that he’d been hopeful he was wrong didn’t figure into it.

“Well, what now?” he asked.

Hinata sighed. His eyelids lowered, lashes obscuring his eyes, and something inside of Tobio seized, bypassing the hunger. In a moment of clarity he saw Hinata in front of him, smaller than he was—of course, always, always had been—with a mess of orange hair peaking out the front of his beanie, his lashes long and dark, face small and perfect and for the moment looking inward. Suddenly Tobio didn’t want to shake him until hunger pounded in time with his heartbeat in his brain the way it did for him just now; he wanted to gather up those curled, cold hands partially covered by sleeves and cradle them between his. He wanted to pull him into his chest and tell him not to worry, they still had enough in the fridge.

It was unfair, feeling like this. He was weak. Even when Hinata was stupid, or wrong, or caused them both a huge deal of inconvenience, all Hinata had to do was stop arguing for a moment, look away, and Tobio might be caught by a wave of these feelings. Even though Hinata always made mistakes like this and he’d never learn if Tobio let him get away with it all the time.

“What do you want to do?” Hinata asked, looking up. His fingers were hooked together, shoulders slumped. He looked like a lost kid, and it had to be on purpose even if he didn’t totally realise the effect.

Tobio wanted to punch him or kiss him, but he let out a breath and settled his thoughts. “We can just do instant noodles with egg. To fill up a little.” Coach Ukai’s voice thundered in his mind, telling him to eat a proper meal. “Then… we’ll think of something more.”

His stomach wrapped around his spine as he waited for a response. If Hinata didn’t accept his solution he’d just walk home alone—but Hinata’s face brightened almost painfully. Tobio began walking again, and Hinata skipped to catch up. To add insult to injury, he nudged him with a shoulder as he walked. Tobio let out a grand sigh, though it didn’t help the pain in his stomach.

“Why did you want to eat at home anyway?” he complained. The dining hall was easier, and all their teammates ate there most nights. It was a good way for Tobio to keep up with how all his teammates were doing, what they were thinking and worrying about, without having to spend time outside of practice talking to them.

Hinata made a face. “We got out late. If we ate at the dining hall all we’d do when we got home is take baths and go to bed. I wanted to spend time together.”

Tobio glanced at him. “We spend all our time together.” The only times they didn’t was when Hinata hung out with other people, which was Hinata’s own choice.

“You’ve been working with Taka-chan all day today; I barely saw you.”

Tobio swallowed familiar exasperation at Hinata’s insistence on calling a two meter tall guy Taka-chan. Back when he’d told him it was ridiculous, Hinata had said there was a cuteness to Takato that warranted the suffix—and Takato seemed to love it. Tobio would never understand how Hinata anticipated these things about people. To him Takato was still just Yamazaki , despite the time they spent together.

“We’d be together at the dining hall too,” Tobio said instead.

Hinata glared. “I wanted to ask you how he was doing, and stuff, and if he’s there you can’t be totally honest.”

“Only if he’s not doing well.” Tobio thought about it, then reconsidered. “Even if he’s not doing well, I’d just tell him.”

“Well, fine. I just wanted to talk to you alone about stuff! I’m allowed to want that!”

Hinata’s voice was rising in pitch, increasingly frustrated, and his face was flushed. The hunger pain in Tobio’s stomach—pain Hinata had inflicted on him—was already easing, despite the fact that he hadn’t eaten yet. Hinata was so cute like this, in winter, that strong, responsive body wrapped in layers of soft clothes. It fed a guilty need inside of Tobio. He looked his fill shamelessly; he could hardly be accused of ogling when Hinata was all bundled up.

“Stop judging me,” Hinata said, glancing up. “I got jealous, okay? It’s normal.”

Jealous, jealous, jealous . Not in that way, he reminded himself. Jealous because he was possessive of Tobio’s time in practice. Because he worried—with reason—about Tobio pulling ahead of him. Volleyball would always be an uphill battle for Hinata, would always ask everything from him—perhaps more than it asked from Tobio. They gave the same level of effort, but Hinata had started countless steps behind. Yamazaki—Taka-chan, with his two meters—had started out on a whole other platform.

“I wanted you to tell me you still like working with me best,” Hinata said, deflated. His cheeks were pink above his scarf; the admission cost him, but he was still electing to share.

Because he wanted Tobio to tell him that, still? Something low in Tobio’s stomach squirmed with pleasure. “Of course I do.”

The smile Hinata sent him was bright. “Yeah?”

He had to look away. “Isn’t it obvious? Of course practicing with you is the best. But neither of us would learn anything if that was all we did.”

They walked up the outdoor stairs to their apartment, Hinata going first, and Tobio caught a glimpse of his grin. Warm sunlight poured into Tobio’s chest. He was glad he’d confirmed what ought to have been obvious. At the door of their apartment he looked down at Hinata digging out a key, seeing movie scenes in his mind. In movies he might have pushed Hinata back against the door; they might have fallen through the doorway together after long moments of kissing. All those thick winter clothes would litter the path to one of their rooms. It was an odd idea, the swelling music of a romance scene when all he heard was the rip of Hinata finally inserting the key into the lock, the clunk of the bolts and the swing of the door opening into a dark apartment.

Hinata stepped through, holding the door open for him.

“Home!” Hinata called. He banged a hand against the lightswitch and hastily removed his shoes and outerwear. Tobio closed the door behind them more slowly, thinking of those clothes littering the floor. It wouldn’t happen. That wasn’t them. Their apartment was quiet, familiar, ordinary.

Quiet, at least until Hinata started singing something about the kettle and ramen and Kageyama-kun as he skipped to the kitchen. Tobio smiled down at his shoes, exhaling. This was them, he supposed. Hinata’s stupid decisions, his little songs, Tobio being dragged into his pace. Not clothes on the floor; that was just movies. And his imagination.

He hung up his coat, stepped into his slippers, and followed Hinata in.

 


 

Sometimes Tobio was jealous too.

It was stupid to be jealous; he realised that much. He took up the largest chunk of Hinata’s time overall—in class, on the court, in their apartment—but he saw Hinata texting with friends from middle and high school, with former competitors, with people they met in class he took a shine to, and he wondered if his own place in Hinata’s life was due to anything other than volleyball positions and shared passion. It seemed like everyone else had more to offer Hinata than he did, off-court, like their friendship hinged on Hinata’s fixation on volleyball and therefore him.

Volleyball was Hinata’s life, so it wasn’t a problem, but it felt a little hopeless—like the spoke of a wheel being in love with the hub. Tobio’s ability to make friends still hinged on others inserting themselves into his life; Hinata could sneeze and acquire a posse.

In short, he had so many people to choose from, and sometimes that knowledge produced an itch under Tobio’s skin.

“Aone-san hurt his ankle,” Hinata said one day at practice. Tobio stopped gulping down water, wiped his mouth.

“Oh,” he said.

Hinata rolled his hips to loosen them, then dropped sideways to stretch the muscles of his inner thigh, first one side then the other. Tobio watched the strip of skin between shorts and kneepad stretch taut over muscle, aware of the fabric of exercise shorts above and how its lines changed as Hinata moved, moulding to his body. It made his mouth go dry with want, stupid and directionless. Hinata’s thighs often featured in his fantasies. In his dreams he touched his mouth to the skin he could see, and then, slowly, to the skin he couldn’t.

Stop it.

“Just a sprain,” Hinata said, “but he’s bummed out.”

Tobio couldn’t imagine what Date Tech’s former giant might have texted Hinata. “I hurt my ankle, let’s discuss it”? Did he use emojis? Was he better at texting than Tobio?

“It’ll get better faster if he rests,” Tobio said.

“That’s what I told him.”

Tobio nodded.

“I’ll tell him you said so too,” Hinata said, tilting his head. He seemed to be waiting for him to disagree, to tell him not to. What? Was common sense advice a secret now?

“That’s fine.”

Hinata grinned. It didn’t make sense, him wanting to involve Tobio in these things, these friendships, but he did it anyway.

“How is Kozume-san?” Tobio asked after a moment, sensing Hinata wanted to keep talking about his friends. It was odd, trying to interact with him like others did. Usually their conversations were easy, seamless, but they weren’t like the conversations Hinata had with other people, and sometimes that felt like a flaw. Occasionally, like today, Tobio tried to correct it.

Because I’m jealous , Tobio thought, exasperated with himself. Trying to dim the exasperation, he added: and it’s useful to practice things like this. Not all of him believed that thin justification.

At any rate, Hinata’s look of pleasure increased. “Trying to fly under the radar and failing. That professor is hounding him to do an optional thesis. Kenma doesn’t want to.”

“He still isn’t playing?”

“Sometimes he looks in on matches and helps the coach. Everyone wants him to do more, but he put his foot down on actually joining in matches.” Hinata looked skyward and smiled. “I wonder if I could convince him.”

Tobio was jealous, jealous, jealous—but Hinata wasn’t his. Not just that; he liked that Hinata was good with people. It was useful. “Probably,” he said.

Hinata’s gaze dropped from the ceiling, and he let out a dismissive puff of breath. “Don’t be stupid, Kageyama-kun! I was just kidding. He’s not like us.”

“You’re the stupid one,” Tobio muttered. “So stupid you make others stupid. You could convince anyone of anything.”

There was a long look, then a click of the tongue. “Don’t believe that,” Hinata said. He seemed to speak to himself; his hand came to his chin as he looked down. “Not true. Don’t believe that at all.”

But he glanced back at Tobio as the coach called them back to the court, and Tobio thought Hinata wanted to believe him when he said he could convince anyone of anything.

Perhaps it was better for the world if Hinata continued to think he couldn’t.

 


 

Between classes and volleyball and exercise, time passed swiftly. The years that had yawned out ahead of Tobio once were eaten into, and before he knew it his second summer of university was turning to fall, the march of days less noticeable to him than the incremental changes in the team. He was playing in all official matches as the team’s regular setter now, replacing Satou more thoroughly than he had in his first year.

Satou didn’t have Sugawara’s disposition. His misery was plain in his face, and he barely ever spoke to Tobio. While Tobio was aware of the distress he caused, and tried to minimise it with awkward but earnest attempts at placating his upperclassman, he couldn’t bring himself to feel guilty. Part of it was being acknowledged as an integral member of the team—but another part was that when he got to play in matches, Hinata did too. It wasn’t like their first few months together in high school, when Hinata had needed him there to be useful, but they were better together. Their coach was too smart not to see that. The combination they made was electric, surpassing what either of them could do on their own.

The electricity generated on the court didn’t just disappear because a match was over. It lingered for days after, in everything: looks, words, touches. The rightness of the court made everything harder and easier at the same time, Tobio’s feelings becoming less fraught but more intense. Hinata was always the type to touch and sit too close, but after matches it reached new heights—and on Tobio’s part, his usual reserve was shattered. He let Hinata put his feet or his head in his lap; he let Hinata push and pull at him as they figured out how to sit for movies, always closer than they needed to be. It didn’t matter that they were friends, that he wasn’t meant to be feeling this; all that mattered was that they belonged together.

Hinata felt it too, even if he didn’t feel it the same way. It had been there in Hinata’s assumption that they’d live together in university, and again when he’d been confused at the end of last year when Tobio asked if they’d extend the lease they had for another year.

“You don’t like it here?” Hinata had asked then. His brow had furrowed. “I know it’s a bit far from campus, but it’s cheaper than—”

“No, I like it. I just wondered if you did.”

In reality, Tobio had wondered if Hinata’s outlook would have changed by now. Hinata had lots of friends at their university, and Tobio had thought Hinata might decide to live with someone else, someone easier: one of the people he went out with on the rare nights he could, for instance—the people Tobio still hadn’t met, because he didn’t go out, because he was different, because he didn’t care about the same things Hinata did off-court.

He knew he didn’t have the same needs others did. He wanted to get along with people. He wanted them to be happy—but he didn’t have to be there to see it all the time. Hinata was the only person whose life felt relevant to his at all times, the only person he needed to keep tabs on daily to feel whole. But lots of people were relevant to Hinata, and he enjoyed things Tobio didn’t, and some part of Tobio kept expecting that to change things between them. That dormant, apprehensive part kept waiting for Hinata’s priorities to shift.

They still hadn’t. Hinata thought Tobio was asking about the apartment , not their living together. Them living together was a given. It could only mean Hinata was just as sure of their partnership as he was, feelings or no feelings. Regardless of nights out, and off-court interests, and the world of difference between their personalities, they belonged.

Tobio didn’t try again.

Now, shared match highs made them better friends than ever. Outside of endless practices they watched movies, played games, traveled with teammates to watch other teams play. Tobio didn’t have many friends, didn’t care to have many friends, but Hinata was his best one, and on a rainy Thursday night with Hinata on the couch next to him howling with laughter at something on the TV, he realised this was the happiest he’d ever been.

He wasn’t sure if that should make him terrified or glad.

“What’s with you?” Hinata asked. He was done laughing at whatever had set him off, though he was still wiping tears from his eyes.

“Me?”

“You look constipated.”

Tobio flicked Hinata’s exposed shin. “I’m not. I eat lots of vegetables. More than you.”

“What is it then?”

“Thinking about our next match,” he lied. Hinata brightened, sitting up from his couch-sprawl. His toes dug into Tobio’s thigh.

“I can’t wait,” he said, grinning. “Tanaka-san said he might be able to come out and see us in action.”

Tobio nodded. Tanaka would be cheering for Nishinoya too, if he came. Tobio could almost hear his upperclassman roaring in his ear, the whip of his shirt as he pulled it off and swung it around his head. He missed tossing to Tanaka.

“Anyway,” Hinata said, “thinking about the match is no reason to look constipated.”

“Yeah, yeah.”

They went back to watching TV, and Tobio didn’t even suggest Hinata go to bed when Hinata’s eyes started drooping. He used to. He used to feel guilty about the moments he got to see Hinata with his guard down, and at the time he’d tried to prevent them from happening. These days, with Hinata so keen on letting the TV lull him to sleep, he didn’t object. It wasn’t like Hinata didn’t know he carried him to bed on those nights. It wasn’t a secret.

Tonight when he kneeled beside the couch he looked for longer than usual, though. His eyes searched, and searched, and searched. When Hinata slept, all the energy in his body sunk below the surface, still there but deeper down, leaving a layer of heavy quiet. Shaking him awake would bring it all back: all the twitching energy, the quick reactions, the bright eyes. As if waking Hinata was the same as summoning a force of nature. He could do it now, see the transformation happen.

He didn’t. Instead he let himself look, noting Hinata’s curled-up hands, his strong shoulders, his normally brash mouth. Every bit of him called to Tobio, but it was a call that couldn’t be answered. Hinata didn’t look exactly the way he did on purpose; he hadn’t shaped himself to appeal to Tobio’s every preference. It was more likely Tobio’s every preference had shaped itself to Hinata, moulded so the two were one and the same. It was his own fault, this aimless crush.

You couldn’t get everything you wanted. You couldn’t even choose what you wanted.

It was fine this way, normal. Tobio’s breath gusted in and out. It was the usual way of things: a ball falling on his side of the court, a point gone, a point to the other team. That was the sacrifice you made to play.

He shook himself. The happiest I’ve ever been . The surprise of that thought—of his own happiness—left him winded and unsteady. He looked at the source of that happiness sprawled on the couch, face blank with sleep. Perhaps those closed eyes would bring him pain in the future. Perhaps everything would come crashing down—but there was no point worrying. It wasn’t in him to worry for long. Life was just life, and Hinata would be a part of his for as long as they played together. Maybe even longer.

There was nothing for it. He twitched a lock of hair back from Hinata’s face, then brushed the usual, say-nothing good-night kiss against his forehead, right above his eyebrow. Hinata didn’t stir, but his hands did clutch at Tobio’s shirt when he scooped him up. Tobio was used to that reflex. It didn’t mean anything, but it did block his throat with longing. Every time.

He didn’t want it to stop.

Hinata mumbled as he was lowered onto the bed, and seemed to pat his arm in casual thanks. It took the sting out of Tobio’s feelings, that pat, made him smile with exasperated affection.

Hinata was an idiot, even in half-sleep. It was a comforting thought.

 


 

The second winter of university brought trouble on its cutting winds. Their first winter together had been mild; the second made up for it. The cold forced them to limit outside exercise, and neither of them was at their best when fresh air was in short supply. Still, there was something so warm about being forced to stay in together more that Tobio couldn’t resent the weather, even as it kept him from his ideal routine. Though they usually ate in the dining halls there were experimental homemade soups—mostly awful, but almost fun to eat as a challenge—and nights spent studying for finals, and an old kotatsu borrowed from Hinata’s uncle, who grinned as widely and as often as Hinata did.

It felt like nothing could touch them in their apartment, and mostly nothing could—but a storm that took out a powerline nearby came close, and then the rest was… well.

Darkness descended with a faint buzz, all their lights winking out. There were shouts in the rest of the building as people checked on each other, but neither Hinata nor Tobio said anything. They’d been eating a tired, post-practice dinner in silence at the small kitchen table, and it was obvious to both of them what had happened. It wasn’t hard to put the storm warnings and sudden darkness together and guess at the cause.

“Do we have any candles?” Hinata asked. It was a good question. Tobio had a vague memory of one or both of them being given candles by respective parents sometime around when they moved in, but where had they put them? And had they been given matches too?

“I’ll look,” Tobio said, swallowing his bite of stew and standing. He navigated to his room by touch, taking a moment to find the stuff pile in his bottom desk drawer. He settled next to it and picked things up until he found two thick candles. Another ten minutes of searching by the light of his phone turned up a box of matches, and he returned to the kitchen in triumph. When he lit the candles, though, the golden glow revealed anxiety on Hinata’s face, seemingly unrelated to Tobio succeeding where he’d failed. Tobio’s victorious grin slipped.

“What is it?” he asked.

“Our heating… it’s electric, isn’t it?”

Tobio shrugged. That sounded right, but he knew nothing about heating—or how electricity worked. It just did.

“That means it’s off,” Hinata said. Oh. “We’re gonna freeze.”

“It won’t be off that long,” he reasoned. He’d never heard of mass die-offs because of power going out. “And it’s not that cold.”

“It’s cold enough!” Hinata complained. He walked over to the kotatsu and felt under it, but it hadn’t been on that day— because , Tobio thought, it isn’t that cold .

It wasn’t quite below freezing, though perhaps it would dip past that point tonight.

“We’ll be fine,” he said. “Put on more clothes.”

Hinata did as Tobio said, but within a few hours even Tobio was feeling the chill. He was tired, both from practice and the continuing dark; his body was a bad judge of temperature when tired. According to his body, it was that cold after all. The tip of his nose was freezing.

“I’m going to bed,” he said, tired of letting his hands be exposed for the sake of the card game Hinata had insisted they play. He retracted them into the blanket he wore, wondering how long it would take him to get warm in bed. Would it help if he lifted weights before getting in, or would he sweat if he did and end up colder?

Hinata’s hand snaked out, catching his wrist. “We have to sleep together,” he said. He was wearing a blanket around his shoulders too, face wan with tiredness and cold. Somewhere between the blanket, the pose, and the demanding tone of voice, he looked like a weathered general.

“No we don’t,” Tobio said. It was that simple. He told the jumping thing in his chest it was that simple too. Hinata’s hand curled around his wrist became a band of heat, though Hinata’s hand hadn’t been warm when it first grabbed him.

“No, but we’ll be warmer if we do, and I’m freezing. Can you really say you’d rather sleep alone?”

That wasn’t a fair question. There were a lot of reasons Tobio would prefer not to sleep alone, but few of them were relevant to this situation. He answered honestly nonetheless—after a long, reluctant beat. “No.”

“Good! My bed or yours?”

Hinata was grinning, apparently pleased to have won the non-argument, and Tobio had to look away, face flaming. My bed or yours . That was so… so something. Was he really going to agree to this?

He was.

“Yours,” he managed. That way the scent of Hinata wouldn’t linger on his sheets for weeks. It’d be a one-off thing, in unfamiliar territory, and afterwards he could convince himself he’d dreamt it.

Hinata’s head tilted to the side, but if he wanted to ask anything he stopped himself. After a moment he nodded.

“Go change then,” he said. “And be fast.”

They parted, and the jumping thing moved from Tobio’s chest to zoom through his entire body, mostly wreaking havoc in his stomach. Be fast? That was impossible, with cold fingers and frayed nerves. Rushing to Hinata’s bed was the last thing he ought to be doing. Even if he accepted everything as inevitable and normal and fate, he knew this fell outside of those things. He ought to have said no, but changing his mind now would look more suspicious, not less.

And he wanted…

His hands shook. He wanted to be close just once, like that. It wasn’t like he caused the storm; he hadn’t set this up out of lecherous intent, or anything. He and Hinata were just reacting to circumstance, and in the meantime he would get to feel Hinata close in the dark. He’d be the one in Hinata’s bed, not some stranger who’d appeared out of nowhere to take Hinata from him. The temptation was too strong to resist.

He took his time, hoping to calm down—but eventually he knew he was stalling. He crossed to Hinata’s room in a state of half-panic that just wouldn’t budge. It seemed like a romantic assignation, one of them creeping into the other’s bed at the assigned hour, the house dark, and it embarrassed him. The fact that he was holding a stub of candle as he opened the door made everything so much worse—like they were pretending to be from another age.

“Hey,” Hinata said through chattering teeth when Tobio entered. His candle had already been extinguished, and Tobio did the same to his quickly, not wanting to see or be seen. Now that he was here he wanted to shrink back against the wall, but it would only make the night stranger than it was. He crept under Hinata’s blankets quickly, his body stiff.

It was the right thing to do. Hinata surged towards him, laying his head on his shoulder, all curled up on one side. Hinata’s hands were frigid.

Ah ,” Hinata sighed against Tobio’s body, the kind of sigh he made about still-hot meat buns when he was starving after practice. Like it was the best thing in the world. Tobio didn’t know whether to push him away and tell him off or gather him close. Hinata’s body was the only warm spot in the bed; the blankets hadn’t warmed a bit despite his shivering.

There was a beat of silence as Tobio lay frozen, breath shocky, arms useless.

“Here,” Hinata said, shifting suddenly away. “Spoon me.”

“Am I your servant?” Tobio sniped, more out of nervousness than annoyance. It felt like his throat had tightened to the width of a needle’s tip, like he’d squeak if he tried to say more.

“Aren’t you?” Hinata asked, and laughed when Tobio kicked him. “Please?”

Tobio hoped his heart wouldn’t betray him by thumping loud enough for Hinata to feel through his chest. He turned to curl around him, laying his lower arm beneath the pillow and his top arm over Hinata’s waist. It wasn’t comfortable, because he didn’t know what to do with the arm over Hinata—the most logical thing seemed to be to hold on, which he couldn’t do—but it wasn’t bad.

All his senses filled with Hinata’s nearness, drowning out everything else. Hinata’s shampoo, the scent of his skin, the familiar shape of him now pressed close. That strong, compact body that could fly all over the court, the muscular legs that pushed him into higher and higher jumps, now right up against him—

Tobio swallowed. He knew his heart was beating too fast, and his body warmed accordingly. Hinata shifted back into him to absorb his warmth more firmly, letting out a sigh. For a moment Tobio was all panic—and then it morphed to an odd, undeserved kind of triumph.

Hinata was shifting back into him —not some stranger. Into the person he’d known for years, had fought more times than either of them could count. The person he’d sworn to defeat. It made pride zing through Tobio to have gotten here, even though he knew it was all just meaningless happenstance. The situation was so unlikely, so stupid, but somehow they were here. On his next exhale, Hinata tried to back up even more.

It was too much contact: from his chest to down past his crotch, all of Tobio’s front was up against Hinata’s body. It could become a problem fast, especially with every inhale smelling like Hinata. This is the person , Tobio’s body insisted, this is the one .

As long as it kept its insistence private, Tobio didn’t mind—but Hinata shifted more. Tobio’s breath caught in his throat.

Don’t do that , he almost told Hinata. The words were swallowed at the last minute. If he said them Hinata’s next question would be why? , and he didn’t know how to answer. He clenched his jaw and tried to relax.

Relaxing with a clenched jaw while trying not to breathe was difficult.

Gradually, at the speed of a crawl, his limbs got heavier. He still felt like his blood was racing through his veins at a thousand kilometers an hour, but it did so within a still body, warm and tired. The post-practice fatigue helped. To Hinata, he would seem relaxed.

Hopefully.

“Kageyama?”

The heaviness receded, switching to a lance of fight-or-flight adrenaline, but—no, his body hadn’t betrayed him yet, no matter how it wanted to. “What?”

“Are you happy?”

What ?”

“Just—are you happy?”

This fresh new wave of inanity provided a distraction, if nothing else. He breathed out slowly through his nose before asking: “Why?”

“My mother asked me if I was happy at university. It made me think. Are you happy?”

“Do I seem unhappy?”

“You just seem like yourself,” Hinata said. “I’m not sure I’d be able to tell if you were happy or unhappy. In a life way, I mean, not day to day. I can tell day to day.”

“I’m happy,” Tobio said. It was automatic. He was happy—the happiest he’d ever been, he’d thought a few months ago—but it occurred to him that he’d been avoiding thinking about the future for a while now. His view ahead ended at the stop of university, as if graduation was a drop off a cliff instead of an exciting new stage of life. The next big stepping stones were shrouded in fog, guaranteed to include volleyball but no longer the tantalising beacon of strong opponents and amazing matches they had once been.

Hinata echoed him in volleyball, but not in everything else. Hinata was better at being a normal person, connecting with normal people, having the same priorities as normal people. His life past university would be different from Tobio’s, and Tobio still didn’t know how to deal with it. The only thing he prepared for the future was his body: eating right, exercising right, not overdoing things.

He recognised the behaviour. He’d done the same thing near the end of high school, before he’d known he and Hinata would be staying together. It was as if he had no grip on the ground, as if Hinata’s absence could send him spinning wildly. It probably could. Without Hinata a hole would open up around him. He wouldn’t be totally isolated—he did have some friends, and could reach out when he needed specific things—but he wasn’t sure he’d ever find someone he connected with in the same way. A part of him would go unused, and his life would get smaller.

Depressing.

“Are you?” he asked suddenly, desperate for Hinata to say he was.

“Me? Yeah, of course.”

The words were strangely clipped; Tobio couldn’t tell why. Because the question was absurd? That was probably it; Hinata didn’t have it in him to be unhappy ‘in a life way’.

Hinata shifted slightly, sighing and getting more comfortable. Tobio kept himself still.

“Night, Kageyama.”

“Night,” Tobio echoed. He waited for Hinata’s breathing to change, thinking about that nebulous future, the one that might be smaller and emptier than his life now. It didn’t scare him, exactly, but it made him… uncomfortable. He thought Hinata would stay by his side, but there were no guarantees. Hinata’s goals could shift. Tobio had seen it happen plenty in people he thought he understood until that point, people who excelled but who chose not to continue. He’d have to think about what he wanted for himself sooner or later—consider professional teams, cities, fallback plans...

After what felt like a long time Hinata twitched in a sure sign of sleep, bringing him dreamily back to the present. Hinata’s warmth was sinking into his front, no longer quite as threatening, and Tobio became aware once more of the solid weight of him in the bed. Here, with him. Not going anywhere for the moment. Tobio’s face was close to the back of Hinata’s neck like this; he could smell his skin. All of Hinata was so close, and warm, and for the moment they still belonged together.

He was grateful. He would never tell Hinata, because it would be cheesy and Hinata would tease him, but he was beyond grateful. No matter how often Hinata inconvenienced him, or made them late, or drove him crazy through no fault of his own. It was all worth it to have someone who could anticipate him, who understood. That he wanted to enfold that person and keep him close was a side-effect, but even that was barely unwelcome. It was just a part of Tobio, a natural response to the situation. Natural as breathing.

Good night , he thought, gripped by that stupid swell of gratefulness, and brushed an almost-kiss against the bare length of skin between Hinata’s collar and nape.

And felt Hinata stiffen, clearly awake.

All tiredness disappeared in a rush of fear as implications sank in. Hinata’s awake, Hinata’s awake, he felt me kiss him, he knows now— the words repeated themselves endlessly, chasing each other through his head. He knows he knows he knows . His mind was so loud he almost didn’t notice the quiet as moments ticked by.

Hinata had stiffened, but he hadn’t said anything; no bright, confused voice going Kageyama ?

Tobio’s throat ached with apologies, excuses—but his tongue lay thick and still. Hinata was breathing very regularly, and it occurred to Tobio he was pretending to be asleep. He hadn’t asked why did you kiss me? He hadn’t kicked him away.

He’d noticed the kiss, stiffened, then pretended nothing happened.

Tobio’s insides went sharp with fear and guilt and shame—but those feelings were outweighed by a growing, numbing sense of betrayal, one he tried not to lend credence to but that grew nonetheless.

He’d always thought Hinata was unaware of his feelings. He’d assumed that if Hinata knew about the way he felt, he’d confront him. But what if that wasn’t true? What if Hinata had known all along?

Minutes passed. Hinata didn’t say anything, and the timeframe to do so went by, then was swallowed up by more time passing. It was clear Hinata meant to stick with his pretense.

If this was a theme in their life together, how many other things had Hinata pretended not to notice? How many looks, touches, glances? How obvious had Tobio been?

Hinata can read people. He’s good at reading people.

It was a terrible realisation, that this reading might apply to him. Hinata understood him—but he wasn’t meant to know about this one part. It was meant to be so surprising even Hinata couldn’t guess, couldn’t see it in him.

But why would this one emotion be any different? Why would Hinata be able to read everything else, and overlook this? Why had Tobio ever thought he would be unaware, save his own assurance that Hinata was bright, and honest, and didn’t do secrets?

If it was something he really cared about, wouldn’t even Hinata learn to pretend?

He felt sick and overwarm. He wanted to run back to his own bed and hide under the covers. He wanted to have it out now, to simply confront Hinata and ask him what he knew, what he thought—but fear kept him in check.

He lay still, as stiff as Hinata had been, and waited for the night to be over.