“Yamaguchi, hurry up,” Tsukishima calls, shuffling down the hall toward Yamaguchi’s room. They’re supposed to be at Karasuno in twenty minutes. “Remember, we told Takeda-sensei we’d come in early to discuss bus… arrangements…”
“Christ, Tsukki!” Yamaguchi shouts, pulling his uniform pants over his underwear and doing them up. “You scared the hell out of me.”
He doesn’t seem upset by Tsukishima walking in on him half-naked, only the surprise part; Tsukishima can’t say that he’s so unaffected. Sure, he’s used to dressing and undressing in groups; that’s just one those annoying things about sports and communal baths and being in high school. But Tsukishima’s always taken a you don’t look at me, I don’t look at you stance, and this is the opposite of that. Yamaguchi’s knees are covered in freckles, and the freckles spread out thin further up his legs, which Tsukishima already knows after seeing him in volleyball shorts approximately a million times. But now he knows Yamaguchi’s thighs only have a few freckles here and there, like a galaxy that’s dispersing at its edges. Tsukishima could probably touch every one individually, and that thought makes his stomach drop.
“One more second,” Yamaguchi says, twisting the elastic around his ponytail one more time. He leans in to inspect his reflection, running his fingers along the shaved sides of his head. “I need a haircut,” he mutters to himself, then straightens up again. “Ready to go, Tsukki?”
Hearing his name momentarily snaps Tsukishima out of this brand new crisis and he nods slowly, still a little dazed. He clears his throat. “I’ve been ready,” he reminds Yamaguchi, and it’s a relief to realize he sounds like himself. “Let’s not keep Takeda-sensei waiting.”
Yamaguchi shudders. “Yeah, I don’t want to see his ‘I’m not mad, I’m just disappointed’ face again.”
“Stop listening to Hinata and you won’t,” Tsukishima says as they rush out Yamaguchi’s front door. Yamaguchi swats his arm as they run toward the school, and Tsukishima’s predicament is momentarily forgotten.
Two days later, Tsukishima’s phone buzzes in his pocket, just as he’s packing for training camp. The team’s leaving for Tokyo the next day and they’ve been so busy with preparations that he hasn’t given any more thought to Yamaguchi’s freckles. Being vice-captain is more work than he expected, which is a pain, but he likes bossing around his kohai and having everyone – mostly literally – look up to him.
He digs his phone out of his pocket, rolling his eyes as he jabs accept call. “You know, studies show that people from our generation don’t like talking on the phone.”
“Our generation? I’m two years older than you,” Kuroo reminds him on the other end.
Tsukishima sighs. “What do you want?” he asks.
“Can’t a college man call his former protégé just to see if he’s living up to his potential?” Kuroo asks.
“Doesn’t a college man know that answering a question with a question is really annoying?” Tsukishima shoots back. “I bet you’re calling because Kozume-san’s busy.”
“No, I’m calling because I hear you’re all off to training camp again, and wanted to make sure you’re living up to our former legacy,” Kuroo says.
“And also because?” Tsukishima prompts.
“Also because Kenma keeps texting Hinata because Hinata’s too excited about his last training camp,” Kuroo mutters all in a rush. “I have friends at Karasuno, too, you know!” he calls, his voice suddenly far away.
Tsukishima can hear Kozume calling “I don’t care!” somewhere in the background and agrees.
“Anyway, I was calling to remind you how well the captains from other teams took care of you when you were a cute little freshman,” Kuroo says, “and to gently suggest you do the same.”
“I’m not Karasuno’s captain,” Tsukishima reminds Kuroo. “You should call Yamaguchi if you want some nostalgic captain conference.”
“Ooh, can I?” Kuroo asks eagerly.
“No,” Tsukishima says, a little too quickly.
Kuroo laughs. “So possessive.”
“I’m not,” Tsukishima replies petulantly. He’s not. Yamaguchi trains with other schools and with adults Tsukishima barely knows, and he’s fine with it. He shares Yamaguchi with the whole team, not that he’s in a position to share Yamaguchi with anyone. Tsukishima reaches under his glasses to rub at his eyes. “Never mind. Go ahead, call him. It’s fine. Tell Bokuto-san to call him, too. Make up a secret captain code word while you’re at it.”
“Defensive and possessive,” Kuroo says. “What attractive qualities in a guy.”
“Shut up,” Tsukishima mutters.
“You know, Tsukki –”
“Stop calling me that.”
“You know, Kei,” Kuroo says, and Tsukishima throws his hands up in defeat, almost flinging the phone across the room, “one of the Ubugawa managers was way into Yamaguchi your first year, you know, the bouncy one with the pigtails?”
“So?” Tsukishima ignores that he hadn’t known that already, and how that fact that annoys him.
“So he turned her down flat,” Kuroo says. “Bokuto told me, after Shirofuku-san told him, and she’d heard it from Suzumeda-san – it was a whole thing.” Tsukishima’s head hurts. “Anyway, apparently their whole team was shocked because of how cute she is.”
“Maybe he just didn’t want to date a girl who lives hours away.”
“Oh, is he dating someone closer to home then?” asks Kuroo.
Tsukishima sighs and sits at his desk. “Look, what do you want me to say?” he says. “Maybe she isn’t his type, I don’t know. I’m not dating anyone, either. It doesn’t mean anything.”
Kuroo laughs. “Whatever you say.”
“Don’t you have, I don’t know, schoolwork to do? Aren’t you in college or something?”
“All work and no play makes me a dull boy,” says Kuroo. “Anyway, have fun at training camp! Don’t do anything I wouldn’t do.”
Tsukishima hangs up. “If I start doing the things he does, kill me,” he mutters to himself before standing up to finish packing.
The next morning, everyone gathers outside the buses. Tsukishima waits with the pile of bags, watching it grow as everyone arrives. Yamaguchi and Yachi walk around with clipboards, checking each team member in. It’s weird that Karasuno’s volleyball team is big enough now that it’s hard to keep track of everyone, but that’s what happens when a team goes to nationals twice consecutively. Tsukishima yawns and stretches, raising his arms high overhead, and tilts his head from one side to the other, cracking it.
“Stop doing that,” Hinata says, appearing from nowhere and poking Tsukishima in the ribs.
“Stop doing what?” asks Tsukishima irritably. He pretends like he didn’t drop his arms in half a second because Hinata got him in a ticklish spot.
Hinata raises his arms over his head and gets up on his tiptoes. “That!” he says. “You’re already tall enough without making yourself a kilometer bigger.”
Tsukishima peers over the top of his glasses, looming as best he can. “A kilometer? Is that how tall I look from way down there?”
Hinata narrows his eyes and pokes Tsukishima’s side again, this time hard enough that Tsukishima needs to run away so he doesn’t start laughing. “I’m going to find Kageyama. Just knock it off,” he warns as he runs away, backwards, somehow not tripping over the team’s collected bags. “You don’t want to piss your ace off!”
“I’m vice-captain,” Tsukishima calls as Hinata jogs away. “Half my job is pissing off the ace.” He feels his face starting to stretch into a smile, and stops himself before it gets out of control.
Yamaguchi comes over then, clipboard still in hand. “What are you so happy about?” he asks, then checks something off on his paper. “Tsukishima Kei. Okay, everyone’s accounted for.”
“You hadn’t checked me off yet?” Tsukishima asks. “We walked over here together.”
“Saved the best for last, Tsukki!” chirps Yamaguchi and, crap, there goes that dumb urge to smile again. “Help me get the bags into the luggage compartment.”
The two of them throw the bags into the bus’s compartments haphazardly, Tsukishima carefully putting Yamaguchi’s and his bags off to the side so they’ll be on top and won’t get crushed. Yamaguchi lobs the bags in at full-strength like he’s getting in training wherever he can, and Tsukishima finds himself staring. It just had to be a hot morning, too; both of them are in short sleeves and Tsukishima notices how Yamaguchi’s freckles taper off at the top of his arms, right where his biceps start to bulge out.
Tsukishima swallows hard, remembering the accidental flash of thigh he got the other day. Then he distinctly hears Kuroo laughing inside his head and he hates everything. He hates everything so much.
“Tsukki,” Yamaguchi calls, as if from far away. “Earth to Tsukki!”
Tsukishima blinks and shakes himself out of it. “Sorry.”
Yamaguchi laughs. “You sure spaced out there! Or maybe you just wanted me to do all the work.” He shoots Tsukishima a wide grin and reaches up to mop sweat from his forehead. A drop that he misses rolls down the side of his face before falling off his chin and leaving a wet spot on the sidewalk. Tsukishima looks down at it; when he looks up again, Yamaguchi is bent over his bag and rummaging around, ass high in the air.
“Ah,” Tsukishima says, out loud, less a word than an unintentional sound.
“Ah-ha!” Yamaguchi finishes, as if they were having a conversation, triumphantly producing two cans of iced coffee. “Caffeine boost and refreshment.” He zips his bag up and walks over, pressing one of the cans into Tsukishima’s hand and smiles up brightly. “Say it, Tsukki: You’re my hero, Yamaguchi.”
“You’re my hero, Yamaguchi,” Tsukishima parrots dutifully. He means for it to come out flat, but it sounds like he’s serious.
Yamaguchi’s eyes widen. “Ah,” he says, so Tsukishima guesses that’s the word of the day. He shakes his head, like it’s his turn to space out, but it is pretty hot out. “Now say, ‘I’ll load up the last two bags, Yamaguchi.’”
“I’ll load up the last two bags, Yamaguchi.”
“‘Atta boy,” Yamaguchi says and runs off to start roll call, clipboard shoved under his arm again.
Tsukishima makes sure both of their bags get good, comfy spots, and slowly closes the compartment door again. He watches, following with his eyes as Yamaguchi laughs and gets the team to line up. From this far away, Tsukishima can’t make out the freckles on his face clearly, but he realizes he still knows where all of them are.
And that’s when he finally accepts that he’s royally screwed.
Tsukishima is deep in conversation with Shinzen’s vice-captain – well, okay, he looks like he’s deep in conversation to everyone including Shinzen’s vice-captain, but really he’s just trying to remember the guy’s name. Not even counting all the training sessions with the Fukurodani Group, Kageyama’s been to national training camp with him twice and Hinata and Tsukishima have been with him once, so they’ve all played him often. And all three of them still call him Broccoli Head Two.
Which is why, for the first time in his life, Tsukishima is grateful when Lev urgently pulls him away.
“Haiba, what the hell is that guy’s name?” asks Tsukishima, once they’re out of earshot.
Lev glances back over. “You mean his name isn’t Broccoli Head?”
Tsukishima shakes his head. “Never mind,” he says. “What did you need?”
“Just wanted to make sure Karasuno was saving its first match for Nekoma,” Lev says, slinging his arm around Tsukishima’s shoulders the way he hates. He grins and leans in too close. “You never forget your first, you know.”
Tsukishima sighs. “I’d probably try to forget, if it were you,” he says, and shoves him off. “What’s with that line, anyway? Is Kuroo-san bothering you with late night calls, too?”
Lev looks confused, then hurt, in that order. “Kuroo-san never calls me.”
“Let’s trade phones,” says Tsukishima. “Anyway, if you want to figure out line-ups, you have to talk to Yamaguchi, not me. Did Inuoka put you in charge of scheduling?”
“No!” Lev says, and all the hurt he showed a second ago has already been replaced with more bright-eyed enthusiasm. It’s exhausting. “But that’s what I really came to talk to you about anyway – how much ass is Yamaguchi pulling nowadays? Because that boy has grown up. I was watching him be all authoritative with your first-years and, hoo, I’m not like super into dudes or anything, but I’m flexible, you know?” Lev waggles his eyebrows. “You two must be fighting them off with a stick.”
Tsukishima doesn’t answer. Tsukishima isn’t sure that he could answer, even if he wanted to. Because if berserker rage is a real thing, Tsukishima is experiencing it right now. He clenches his jaw and tries to calm the hell down because he has no right to haul off and slug Lev, even though that’s all he wants to do. And it must show on his face, as much as he hates the idea of that, because all of a sudden Lev’s eyes widen considerably.
“Oh! I get it now.” Lev slaps Tsukishima on the back, making him stumble forward. “You’re, like, a hot power couple. That’s cool, that’s cool, it makes so much sense, I should have known. I won’t tell anyone if you’re keeping it on the DL.” Then he fucking winks, like a goddamn asshole. “I can keep a secret.”
That’s when a tiny Nekoma first-year bounces up. He looks like he’s in elementary school, not like he plays on a national-level high school volleyball team. “Lev-san, Nekomata-sensei wants you.”
Lev glances over, uninterestedly, and puts his arm around Tsukishima’s shoulders again. “Mitsue, can’t you see I’m talking to my friend here?”
“I DIDN’T ASK, LEV-SAN,” Mitsue says, and kicks Lev in the ass. “My brother said I can do that whenever I want, just so you know.” That’s when Tsukishima realizes the first-year looks a lot like Yaku, who graduated back when he was a first-year, and smirks.
Tsukishima sidesteps out of Lev’s grip again. “Go ahead,” he insists. “I think we’re done here.”
Mitsue shoves Lev away, ignoring Lev’s protests.
The glee over seeing Lev dominated by the second coming of Yaku fades away quickly as Tsukishima fully absorbs what Lev said to him. Power couple. Power couple? He and Yamaguchi aren’t any kind of couple, so what kind of vibes is Tsukishima putting out there? It’s going to get him in trouble if he isn’t more careful.
Tsukishima heads outside and untangles his earbuds, picking a playlist at random and lapping around Fukurodani’s track a few times. He’s looking for any kind of head-clearing distraction and sort of missing the brutal hill they had to run back when the camp was hosted by Shinzen. No one could think after enough penalty runs up that thing and right now Tsukishima hates thinking more than anything.
Yeah, he’s definitely broken.
He also nearly jumps out of his skin when someone jogs up alongside him. It’s Yamaguchi, of course, and he easily keeps pace, even though Tsukishima is running to the tempo of his playlist. There’s no way Yamaguchi knows what song is playing before it plays, but there he is in his dumb tank top and stupid short running shorts, beaming and matching Tsukishima footfall for footfall. He’s also showing off so much skin that Tsukishima wants to throw a blanket over his head. Maybe that’ll stop him from thinking about pressing his open mouth against every last freckle, slowing down and speeding up with the music and the rise and fall of Yamaguchi’s chest.
“Shit,” Tsukishima says, and runs to the side abruptly, tugging the earbuds out and collapsing on the grass, his forehead against his knees. Yamaguchi follows, concerned, and presses his hand against Tsukishima’s back, kneeling at his side. When Tsukishima finally lifts his head, he’s at eye level with the place where Yamaguchi’s shirt and shorts meet. It would be so easy to reach out and push that shirt up, to really look where he’s had so many opportunities to look before and not waste another chance.
Instead, Tsukishima looks up. That isn’t better because he’s staring right into Yamaguchi’s eyes and they look so worried. Does he ever look this worried about anyone else? Selfishly, Tsukishima hopes not.
“Are you okay?” asks Yamaguchi.
Tsukishima nods, and Yamaguchi’s face melts into relief; this is a good look for him, too, but his ponytail has come loose and a lock of hair is hanging in his face. Without thinking about it, Tsukishima reaches up and tucks it behind Yamaguchi’s ear. Yamaguchi freezes and Tsukishima quickly yanks his hand back.
“I didn’t change into my sports glasses,” Tsukishima says, trying to excuse his behavior. “And I didn’t drink enough water before coming out here.”
Yamaguchi shakes his head. “It’s too hot to go running without preparing for it,” he scolds, climbing to his feet and tugging Tsukishima up after. They’ve done this hundreds of times before, but this is the first time Tsukishima realizes they hold hands to do it. Yamaguchi’s hands are warm, with rough palms that match Tsukishima’s. They let go. “Come on, let’s fix you up,” Yamaguchi says.
“You don’t have to do that, Yamaguchi. Finish your run; I can get water by myself,” Tsukishima protests.
“Not from what I can see,” Yamaguchi says importantly, and even though it’s great when he speaks his mind, it sometimes backfires in Tsukishima’s face. “Enough being contrary for the sake of your aesthetic.”
“My aesthetic?” Tsukishima echoes.
“Every day is Opposite Day for you, Tsukki,” says Yamaguchi.
“No, it isn’t.”
Yamaguchi laughs. “See?”
Tsukishima walked right into that one. He sees no choice but to allow it when Yamaguchi pushes him in the direction of Fukurodani’s canteen.
Later that evening, Yamaguchi and Tsukishima are just wrapping up a meeting with Coach Ukai when Takeda-sensei ducks his head in.
“Coaches and teachers meeting in twenty minutes, Ukai-kun,” Takeda reminds him. “Naoi-kun said to remind you that Nekomata-san is coming, and also to remember what happened the last time Nekomata-san was there and you were late.”
Ukai’s mouth stretches into a grimace, and Tsukishima kind of wants the grisly details, but he also doesn’t. Blackmail material on his teammates is one thing; most of the time he thinks he’s better off pretending adults never have embarrassing moments, even though Akiteru insists on proving him wrong nearly every day.
“We’re almost done, sensei,” Ukai says. He hands Yamaguchi a stack of papers and nods at them both. “You two are in charge while we’re out. Don’t wait up.”
Yamaguchi leans in and says in a loud whisper, “They’re gonna get drunk.”
Tsukishima leans in, too. “I know,” he replies, just as loudly.
Ukai grimaces again and fiddles with his fingers, like he’s dying for a cigarette. “Okay, smartasses,” he says. “Don’t make me regret letting you guys be captain and vice-captain this year instead of the idiots.”
“At least they wouldn’t know what we were up to,” Takeda-sensei says, grinning brightly as he leads Ukai out by the elbow.
Tsukishima and Yamaguchi pause and look at each other before they both burst into laughter, Yamaguchi resting his head on Tsukishima’s shoulder. It takes every bit of willpower to stop Tsukishima from putting his hand on the back of Yamaguchi’s head and keeping him there. After a moment, Yamaguchi raises his head again.
“Come on,” he says. “Let’s abuse our power and get into the baths first, and then we can lord it over everyone else. Captain’s privilege.”
“Are you drunk, too, but with power?” Tsukishima asks.
Yamaguchi nods solemnly, wide-eyed and serious.
Tsukishima’s lips twitch. “I like it,” he says.
Yamaguchi’s fingers wrap around Tsukishima’s wrist and he tugs him out of the meeting room, not letting go as he pulls Tsukishima down the hallway. “Then get a move on.”
The Nekoma third years are coming out of the baths as Yamaguchi and Tsukishima are heading in. Teshiro and Shibayama nod at them and walk away, but Inuoka pauses to ask, “Aren’t there more of you in your year than this? No, wait, don’t tell me – you couldn’t drag the other two away from practice.”
“We probably couldn’t,” Tsukishima says.
“But we didn’t try,” Yamaguchi adds.
Lev comes up behind Inuoka and drapes himself bodily over his captain. He shoots Tsukishima a huge grin and winks. It’s all so casual that it makes Tsukishima sick. “I get it,” Lev says. “Privacy’s important!”
Tsukishima feels his face get hot and he turns away from Lev, but Yamaguchi just looks confused. “Yeah, I guess,” he says, grabbing Tsukishima by the arm and pulling him toward the baths. “Anyway, see you in the morning.”
“Don’t do anything I wouldn’t do,” Lev calls as he walks away backwards, making Tsukishima wonder if that’s some annoying Nekoma motto. “But I’d do nearly anything!”
“He’s weird,” Yamaguchi says as the doors shut behind them. Tsukishima nods fervently. He’s still nodding when Yamaguchi adds, “And he’s always looking at you. What’s with you and the Nekoma guys anyway?”
Now it’s Tsukishima’s turn for confused looks. “What do you mean by that?”
Yamaguchi shrugs. He purses his lips and stares after the closed door. “Nothing,” he says after a moment. “It’s none of my – nothing.”
“Haiba’s an idiot. I have enough idiots at home without adopting a long-distance one.” Tsukishima shakes his head. “Don’t waste any energy on him.”
“Okay,” Yamaguchi says glumly. He pauses. “Wait, did you just call me an idiot?”
Tsukishima smirks. “You said it, not me.”
“I’m gonna drown you!”
“You’ll have to catch me first.”
A few minutes later, Tsukishima regrets teasing Yamaguchi because it comes back to bite him in the ass. Or rather, he’s trying to shove down thoughts of biting Yamaguchi’s ass because he’s practically swimming around the communal bath they’re sharing, and Tsukishima has seen it eight times. Not that he’s counting.
It’s a really great ass, too, and even though the freckles fade on Yamaguchi’s thighs and higher up, they’re still there. Tsukishima wants to take a pen and play connect-the-dots with them so badly, which only makes restraining himself harder – makes it more difficult, difficult! Tsukishima sits up straight and shakes his head to clear it, sending droplets of water spraying everywhere. He also lets out a frustrated grunt and hauls himself out of the bath, hastily grabbing a cloth to cover himself as he heads over to the row of rinsing stools.
He’s bending over to reach for a bucket when he notices Yamaguchi watching him, only his eyes and hair bobbing above the surface of the big bath. Out of its ponytail, his long hair pools around him like magnetic seaweed. It’s cute. It shouldn’t be, but it is. Of course it fucking is. Yamaguchi swims to the edge and resurfaces, standing straight up so the water races from his shoulders and rolls down his belly, getting to trace every spot on Yamaguchi’s skin from his neck down. And yeah, now Tsukishima is jealous of water. This is pretty much the worst, stupidest thing to ever happen to him. He exhales and looks away.
“Tsukki, is everything all right?”
Tsukishima dumps a bucket of water over his head. “Everything’s fine,” he lies. “Why wouldn’t it be?” He grabs a bottle of shampoo from the shelf.
There’s a splash and then Yamaguchi’s voice is coming from much closer; he’s suddenly standing next to Tsukishima, a towel loosely wrapped around his hips. “Because you’re acting weird.” Tsukishima freezes in his panic and doesn’t even struggle when Yamaguchi tugs the bottle out of his hands. “Is training camp getting to you? I know it’s a lot – third year and volleyball. You know I wouldn’t be mad if you’d decided to focus on your studies instead.”
That’s so far off from the truth that Tsukishima has to laugh, a sound that dies abruptly in his throat when Yamaguchi’s fingers find their way to his hair, rubbing the shampoo into his scalp.
“I— I don’t want to quit volleyball,” says Tsukishima. He sounds breathless to his own ears, but maybe Yamaguchi won’t pick up on it. “What kind of vice-captain would that make me?” He wants to tense up as Yamaguchi’s nails scratch against his scalp, working up a lather, but the touch is gentle and so relaxing that all Tsukishima can do is melt into it. He closes his eyes and pushes away the thought of those fingers anywhere else.
“Good,” Yamaguchi says. He sounds very relieved, and that makes Tsukishima smile. “I wouldn’t be mad, but I’d be lonely. And Hinata might punch you.”
“Maybe if he could reach me.”
Yamaguchi snickers and picks up the hand-held sprayer. “Tilt your head back,” he says. “I don’t want to accidentally get soap in your eyes.”
“Bossy, aren’t you?” Tsukishima says.
“That’s no way to speak to your captain.”
Tsukishima smiles again and complies, tilting his head back with his eyes still closed. “Bossy, aren’t you, Captain?”
“Better,” Yamaguchi says. Murmurs, more like, and one of his hands closes around Tsukishima’s shoulder while water rains down on him. The whole thing is comforting and exhilarating all at once, and Tsukishima doesn’t quite know how to process everything. “So if it’s not volleyball,” Yamaguchi says in that same low voice, “what is it?”
Tsukishima presses his lips into a straight line.
“I don’t think you’re having trouble in school. You would have told me that.” Yamaguchi rinses Tsukishima’s hair again. “So that leaves family or –” He pauses. “Or relationships. You know, you can tell me if you like someone, Tsukki.”
The urge to laugh inappropriately is overwhelming. Instead, Tsukishima shakes his head.
“No, it’s not that, or no, you can’t tell me?” Yamaguchi asks. He doesn’t wait for an answer before adding, “You’re done; you can open your eyes.”
Tsukishima does. Yamaguchi is looking down at him, an open, expectant expression on his face. It makes Tsukishima’s heart clench; this is so much more than just hormone-soaked want, and that’s awful. He thinks maybe he could survive it if this were all physical, but it so clearly isn’t. But he knew that already; where he and Yamaguchi are concerned, things have always been easy and difficult all at once. He likes that.
He loves that. And that’s the problem.
“Do you like someone, Tsukki?”
“Yeah,” Tsukishima says, without even meaning to, but it’s better than the you that wants to come spilling out. He can feel a blush starting up, so he dips his head again. He waits for Yamaguchi to ask who it is, to get excited that Tsukishima has a crush and they’re going to share secrets because Yamaguchi always gets worked up over stuff like that.
But all Yamaguchi says is, “Oh.”
Then the door to the baths slams open and they both jump, startled, as Kageyama and Hinata kick their way in. They’re shoving each other’s heads and shouting about some missed toss, and well, that’s that moment over. Tsukishima has never in his life been so happy to see the idiot duo.
Hinata pauses when he spots Yamaguchi and Tsukishima. “You!” he shouts accusingly, pointing at them. “You’re abusing your power, coming into the baths without us! All third years together – did you expect us to share with the gross second-years?”
“Uh, sorry, Hinata,” says Yamaguchi, not sounding very sorry, which is kind of his specialty. It’s one reason he makes such a good captain. “We didn’t want to interrupt your practice.”
“It’s fine,” Kageyama says. “This jerk needed it.”
“Your whole face is a jerk, jerk!”
“What does that even mean?” Kageyama growls.
Hinata answers with a scream and launches himself at Kageyama. Tsukishima and Yamaguchi take that as a cue and make their exit without finishing their conversation.
He’ll never admit it out loud, but Tsukishima can’t pretend like he’s not relieved.
Later, Tsukishima gets roped into a round of daifugou by some of the first-years. Kicking their butts is almost too easy; they haven’t managed to even make him fugou yet, let alone anything actually bad, but he’s enjoying himself. It also means he has something to take his mind off his feelings, or he would if he could stop glancing over at Yamaguchi, who’s sitting on his futon as he scrolls through his phone. His hair is pulled back again, and every once in a while, he absently reaches up to run his fingers along the buzzed part of his hair. Maybe that’s sensitive. Maybe Tsukishima could find out for sure if he washed Yamaguchi’s hair for him next time.
Tsukishima shakes his head, hard.
Yamaguchi is wearing a stretched-out purple t-shirt that might have been Tsukishima’s first, and shorts that are higher up on his thighs than when he first bought them. Tsukishima forgets most of the time how tall Yamaguchi is, since he’s always been taller, but it’s easy to remember right now. His legs are stretched out way, way in front of him, his feet bare. There’s a lot of leg on display here, and if he squints he can make out every freckle from Yamaguchi’s ankle up. Tsukishima winces when he feels his teeth sink too hard into his bottom lip.
One of the second-years walks over to Yamaguchi’s futon, momentarily blocking Tsukishima’s view, but Yamaguchi stands up right away and follows the second-year to the door. There’s a girl waiting outside, one of the Ubugawa managers, her hands clasped behind her back; Tsukishima’s heart sinks like a stone as Yamaguchi walks out into the hallway and closes the door behind him. He remembers Kuroo’s words, how Bokuto told him that Yamaguchi turned down an Ubugawa manager two years ago; maybe this is her second attempt. After all, no one succeeds at the attempts they never take. Maybe this time Yamaguchi will take her up on it.
Tsukishima realizes he hasn’t made even one attempt. He frowns.
The first-year on his left shakes his shoulder. “Tsukishima-senpai, it’s your turn,” he says, and Tsukishima glances down at his cards before immediately emptying his hand and winning the round. His daifugou order is that they each get to take flying falls in his place tomorrow. The first-years all groan.
“You don’t like that?” Tsukishima says, raising his chin and staring hard. “Then make sure we don’t lose any matches against the other schools tomorrow.”
One of the first-years squeaks, and two more clutch each other. It’s still so satisfying, getting that reaction. Then, as if on cue, his phone rings, so he climbs to his feet and walks away from his trembling teammates to answer it, even though it’s only Kuroo.
“What do you mean it’s ‘oh, it’s only you, Kuroo’?” Kuroo asks after Tsukishima answers.
“I called you ‘Kuroo-san,’” Tsukishima points out. He navigates the mess of a room filled with teenaged boys and settles down on the futon next to Yamaguchi’s. “What do you want?”
Kuroo clucks his tongue. “Is it always all business with you? You know what they say, all work and no play makes Tsukki a terrible conversationalist.”
“What do you want?” Tsukishima repeats. “Hinata’s been fighting with Kageyama and practicing nonstop since we got here, so I know he’s not eating up Kozume-san’s time.”
“Oh, fine,” says Kuroo. He sighs. “You know, you’re exactly zero fun, and I have no idea why Yamaguchi puts up with you.”
Tsukishima rolls his eyes. “Yeah, well, join the fucking club.”
“Language! Okay, I have two messages from you: one, Lev texted me for some weird reason and told me that Fukurodani’s managers are plotting with all the other managers, including your cute blonde one, to have all the third-years sneak out tonight. So be on the lookout for that invite and just know that I’m very jealous of you.” Kuroo lets out an ugly laugh that he probably thinks is charming. “Two, I happen to know through my reliable sources that tomorrow you’re getting a very special visitor to help demonstrate some awesome moves. And I know what you’re thinking, but sorry to say it’s not me.”
“Is it Bokuto-san?”
“I said it’s a very special visitor, I didn’t say I’d tell you who it was!”
“So it is Bokuto-san.”
Yamaguchi comes back into the room then, and Tsukishima naturally looks in his direction. He swears Yamaguchi’s eyes light up the second he spots Tsukishima sitting on his futon; it’s probably just him seeing things he wants to see, but Yamaguchi heads toward Tsukishima with a huge grin on his face.
“Seriously, no fun at all,” Kuroo says into Tsukishima’s ear, pulling him away from his pathetic fantasies. “Which means you should take up the Fukurodani girls’ offer because we did almost the same thing my third year and that was a memorable party. Sawamura took off his –”
“Please stop talking,” Tsukishima interrupts. Yamaguchi is standing at his side, his bare ankles right in Tsukishima’s sight line. He wonders if he wrapped his hand around Yamaguchi’s ankle, would his fingers meet? Tsukishima’s got pretty big hands and he could make it so his fingers touched right at the biggest freckle on Yamaguchi’s ankle bone. “I’ve got to go, Kuroo-san. And stop calling me; I’m busy.”
He pulls the phone away from his ear, jabbing at the red end call button and cutting off Kuroo, who’s still talking.
Yamaguchi sits down, drawing his knees up close to his chest and resting his chin on them. It makes his shorts ride up even more, and now that Tsukishima is sitting so close, he can see so much. He feels a blush starting up on his face and has to stare at the ceiling.
“Kuroo, huh?” says Yamaguchi.
“Unfortunately.” Tsukishima groans and flops onto his back. He doesn’t expect it when Yamaguchi flops right down next to him. “Don’t you have your own futon?” he asks, like he minds.
“I do,” Yamaguchi says. “Yours is warmer.”
“Ah, yes, the thing everyone worries about at summer training camp filled with sweaty guys: how to stay warm.”
Yamaguchi hums. “Penguins huddle for warmth,” he says, as if that’s a reply to anything, but it’s not like Tsukishima really minds. “Hey, Tsukki?”
“What do you and Kuroo talk about when he calls you?” asks Yamaguchi. He doesn’t wait for Tsukishima’s answer before adding, “It seems like he calls a lot.”
Tsukishima glances over at Yamaguchi. He isn’t meeting Tsukishima’s eyes, and his cheeks are dusted pink. “What’s this about?”
Yamaguchi shrugs. “Like I said, the Nekoma guys all seem to talk to you a lot.”
“He just likes bothering me, that’s all,” Tsukishima says. “You and I talk a lot more.”
“I know that!”
“Well, then please stop worrying about it.” He means for it to come out as a brush-off of Yamaguchi’s worries, and it is, but his tone isn’t business-like at all. It sucks that it’s Yamaguchi hearing it; he’s probably the only one in the world who will interpret it as soft. Unfortunately, he’s right. Tsukishima clears his throat. “What was going on in the hall?” he asks, changing the subject.
“Ah!” Yamaguchi sits up straight. “I almost forgot.”
“Almost forgot?” asks Tsukishima. “It was five minutes ago.”
Yamaguchi smiles down, guileless. “You’re distracting, Tsukki.”
Tsukishima swallows and his eyes widen. Yamaguchi’s widen back and he looks away again. There’s been a lot of that today.
“Sorry,” Yamaguchi mumbles. “Anyway, do you know Miyanoshita-san from Ubugawa?”
“Kind of,” Tsukishima says. “Is that the one who asked you out when we were first-years?”
Yamaguchi laughs, short and awkward. “I didn’t know you knew about that,” he says.
“I know all sorts of things.” Tsukishima doesn’t mention that he’s known for less than a week.
“Oh. Well. Then yeah. But it wasn’t about that. She wanted to invite us to a party, third-years only. It’s tonight, we’d have to sneak out and leave one of the second-years in charge.”
Tsukishima tilts his head. “Do you want to go?”
“Well, we’re third years and this is the last chance we have to do that kind of thing.”
“Yamaguchi, that’s not an answer. Do. You. Want. To. Go?”
“Yes!” Yamaguchi exclaims. “But only if you do.”
Tsukishima sighs and struggles to his elbows. “Let’s go collect the two dumbasses and find Yachi-san so we know where we’re going. I guess we’re sneaking out.”
“Tsukki!” A delighted smile stretches across Yamaguchi’s face. Tsukishima, to his dismay, can’t help smiling back.
Yachi keeps looking at her phone, trying to figure out which block they’re going to.
“Suzumeda-san’s parents are out of town,” Yachi says, clutching her phone a little tighter. Tsukishima’s sure that if her phone weren’t in the way, she’d be wringing her hands together. “Do you think we’ll get in trouble for this?”
Tsukishima shrugs. “What are they going to do? Kick us off the volleyball team?”
Hinata and Kageyama gasp. “That won’t happen, will it?” asks Hinata.
“I’m going back,” Kageyama says, turning, but Tsukishima grabs him by the collar and holds him in place.
“Yamaguchi and I will take the heat with Ukai-san and Takeda-sensei, if there is any. Which there won’t be.”
But Yamaguchi’s looking behind him and he is wringing his hands together.
“I left Takahashi in charge; that probably wasn’t a good idea. The second-years aren’t even sure if he’ll be their captain next year! What if all the first-years revolt and stage a training camp coup? We should probably go back.” He turns, and Tsukishima has to grab him by the collar, too. If Hinata runs, too, it’s lucky he’s short enough that Tsukishima can just step on him.
Yachi looks up at them with wide, fearful eyes. “Should we go back?” she asks them.
Tsukishima sighs. He doesn’t want to step on her.
“No,” Tsukishima says. “Listen, nothing is going to happen. And as little as socializing with a bunch of other schools appeals to me, I can tell from your reactions that we haven’t had nearly enough teenage rebellion.” He lets go of Kageyama and Yamaguchi to take Yachi’s phone from her, so he can look at her map. “Okay, we’re almost there. If we all hate it, we leave, easy as that.”
Suzumeda, one of the Fukurodani managers, greets them at the door, breathless and beaming. “Karasuno!” she exclaims. “You’re the last ones here.”
They all take their shoes off and crowd into the already-crowded living room. Someone shouts, “Look it’s the reigning national champions,” to sarcastic whoops from the other teams. Hinata gives an exaggerated bow, while Lev tries launching himself at Tsukishima. When he sidesteps him, Lev, unfazed, tackles Hinata instead, who cracks up while Kageyama scowls down at their limb tangle. Tsukishima almost laughs at the look on his face, but a sudden mental image of someone tackling Yamaguchi to the floor makes him reconsider.
The party is pretty low-key, even though a couple of the Shinzen guys snuck in beer. But there’s really not enough to go around and, with the only girls being their managers, it just winds up like a volleyball practice without volleyball. Broccoli Head Two corners Kageyama to talk about their chances of making All-Japan once they finish school, Inouka joins Hinata and Lev’s gleeful pile, and Yachi and Miyanoshita pass a box of candy back and forth, their heads tilted together.
Tsukishima snags a spot on the couch when someone gets up. Yamaguchi perches on its arm and tugs the elastic out of his hair; Tsukishima watches as he pulls it back again, noticing the deft way his fingers move as he twists the elastic around and around, until the pulled-back part sits in a loose bun on top of his head. His whole neck is exposed this way and Tsukishima finds himself yanking his hand back into his lap because he was so close to reaching out and running his fingertips down Yamaguchi’s nape. He takes a deep breath and lets it out in a huff.
“What’s wrong, Tsukki?” Yamaguchi asks, turning his head and looking down at him.
“I’m fine,” Tsukishima says and clears his throat. “I told you that before.”
They lapse into silence, more uncomfortable than their usual kind. Tsukishima’s eyes drift to Miyanoshita and Yachi. He wonders how Yamaguchi let her down two years ago. Was he awkward about it? Gentle? Probably both. Why’d he even do it? Tsukishima pretended like he didn’t care when Kuroo wondered, but it’s annoying how much he cares. He cares so much about Yamaguchi, in every possible way. Just then, the girls look in Yamaguchi’s direction and giggle.
“You know, I think she probably still likes you,” Tsukishima says. “Miyanoshita-san, I mean. You should just go for it.” Every word physically pains him, yet he can’t seem to stop them from coming out of his mouth.
“She might.” Yamaguchi speaks softly, staring out and not looking at Tsukishima. “But it would be leading her on. I can’t do that to someone.”
Tsukishima remembers the conversation they had earlier, in the baths. “Does that mean you like someone else?”
That’s the moment Yamaguchi chooses to look at him. “Yeah,” he says, his voice low and rough, but somehow crystal clear even over the noise of the party. “I have for a long time.”
Tsukishima nods. Well, obviously. Yamaguchi’s always been ahead of him in everything, it’s only expected that he’s ahead of him on the crush thing, too. He briefly wonders who it is, and decides it doesn’t matter; whatever the answer, it’s going to break Tsukishima’s heart.
“I’m going to get a drink,” he declares and stands up. Kageyama dives into the open couch space seconds after Tsukishima vacates it.
One of the Fukurodani guys offers him a beer, but Tsukishima turns it down. He’s not against drinking or anything, but Akiteru gave him one last New Year’s and he knows it’s definitely not his thing. Beer’s not sweet enough, and also Akiteru sobbed while he drank it, calling him nearly a man. Together, that had been enough to put him off it entirely. He grabs a soda and whirls around, almost running right into Yamaguchi.
“Hey,” says Tsukishima awkwardly. They’re standing very close together; Tsukishima has someone behind him, too, and Yamaguchi doesn’t seem inclined to move away.
“Hi,” Yamaguchi says. He narrows his eyes, and Tsukishima gets that bubble of anticipation and dread he always gets right before Yamaguchi really lays into him.
The same Fukurodani guy interrupts, “Yamaguchi, you want a beer?”
Distracted momentarily, Yamaguchi looks away and Tsukishima takes the opportunity to shift to one side. But there’s a reason Yamaguchi’s their captain and in charge of not letting Tsukishima get away with his bullshit; he accepts the beer with one hand and wraps the other around Tsukishima’s wrist, stepping backward and pulling Tsukishima along with him until Yamaguchi’s back is against the kitchen wall and they’re both out of everyone else’s way.
Tsukishima looks behind him, admiring Yamaguchi’s handiwork. “That was smooth,” he says, voicing his thoughts out loud. He’s typically the last person who needs a brain-to-mouth filter, but lately he’s been on the fritz.
Yamaguchi pops the tab on his beer and Tsukishima’s soda. They clink their cans together and each take a drink. “Thanks,” Yamaguchi says and grins, staring at Tsukishima from underneath his eyelashes. He has a little foam near his mouth and Tsukishima unconsciously reaches out to wipe it off with his thumb. There’s a freckle Tsukishima has never noticed right above his lip, a tiny, perfect circle; Tsukishima could lean in and press a kiss right in that same spot.
Which is when Tsukishima realizes he’s still rubbing his thumb back and forth. Yamaguchi sucks in a little breath and Tsukishima drops his hand immediately.
“You had – um – there was –”
“Tsukki, it’s okay.”
Tsukishima nods and takes another gulp of soda. Maybe not going with beer was a mistake.
“Do you like Miyanoshita-san?” Yamaguchi blurts suddenly.
Tsukishima blinks several times. “What? No!” he says loudly enough that several heads turn in their direction.
“You can tell me if you do! It’s just that— well, you know that she asked me out, and you’ve been acting weird since she told me about the party – and, like, you just did that thing you always do.”
Yamaguchi shrugs. “That thing where you try to push something you don’t want, like you’re talking yourself into believing it,” he says. “You used to talk like that about Hinata on the court back in first year, and I just can’t think of a reason you’d try to push me into dating someone, unless you wanted to date them.” He’s so close to the truth, yet somehow so far from it.
“I don’t like Miyanoshita-san, Yamaguchi,” he says. When Yamaguchi opens his mouth again, Tsukishima interrupts, “I promise. Date her, don’t date her, I don’t care.”
He tries to turn away, but Yamaguchi gets him by the arm again and spins him so he has to slam his hand up against the wall to keep his balance and not spill his soda. Yamaguchi’s eyes widen as Tsukishima looms over him and even though Tsukishima knows he should brush off Yamaguchi’s hand and step back, he can’t bring himself to do it.
“You do care,” Yamaguchi says finally, once he’s found his voice. “You do care about it, and I can’t figure out why. If you don’t like her, why would you care if I dated…” He trails off as everything shifts into place; Yamaguchi’s eyes go even wider and his grip around Tsukishima’s arm loosens.
Tsukishima lets out a short, bitter laugh and steps back, putting his soda down on a nearby table. “It doesn’t matter,” he says. This time, when Tsukishima tries to leave, Yamaguchi lets him.
It hurts as he walks away, and he’s not even sure why. It’s not like he ever expected anything out of it, and now he’s getting exactly what he expected: nothing.
Tsukishima walks back to camp alone. His phone keeps buzzing in his pocket, but he needs a little breathing room. When he’s almost at the doors, he spots Ukai and Takeda coming back, too. Takeda’s slumped over and hiccupping, his arm slung around Ukai’s shoulders as Ukai struggles to hold him up. He looks like he needs a cigarette.
“Sensei, only a few more steps,” says Ukai urgently. “Sensei, come on.” When Takeda dutifully lurches forward, Ukai breathes a sigh of relief and lifts his head, meeting Tsukishima’s eyes. Tsukishima tenses up, waiting to be yelled at for being out after curfew, but Ukai just nods at him and goes inside.
Tsukishima exhales and leans against the wall next to the door. He knows he’s upset and even though recognizing that is big for him, he’s never dealt well with being upset and he’s not dealing well now. But the thing is, Tsukishima isn’t worried that he’s blown up his friendship with Yamaguchi because they’ve survived worse, and of course he isn’t mad that Yamaguchi doesn’t return his feelings. He never expected that. He’s upset that even knowing that hasn’t popped the little bubble of hope in his chest. He’s upset that what he’s still thinking about, even now, is how good Yamaguchi looked tonight, how they’d been standing close enough together that Tsukishima could even see the smallest freckles on his cheeks and nose, how soft his lips looked while he’d asked if Tsukishima liked someone he didn’t, and how much he wanted to kiss them.
“This sucks,” Tsukishima mutters. He pushes off the wall and goes inside.
The room is loud when Tsukishima walks in, a cacophony of sound that Takahashi is trying and failing to silence. He’s the first one to spot Tsukishima and he looks terrified, but all Tsukishima can muster is an irritated sigh, and as small as that noise is, it ripples and echoes through the Karasuno first and second-years at breakneck speed. The room descends into a tense silence almost instantly, quiet enough to hear a pin drop and Takahashi’s tiny, mortified, “Sorry, Tsukishima-san.”
Tsukishima shakes his head. He’s tired – too tired to deal with his mess of underclassmen – and Takahashi was only in charge because the third years all snuck out. “You were trying your best,” he says. “It’s not your fault the rest of your teammates don’t want to win our practice matches tomorrow.”
The quiet turns from uneasy to utter defeat, the same second-years who were hassling Takahashi a minute ago slipping into their futons wordlessly and shoving any first-years who aren’t doing the same as Tsukishima walks out again to clean up before bed.
He pretends to sleep, still pretending when the others come back later, keeping his eyes shut tight when Yamaguchi gets into the futon next to him. For a minute, everything is quiet and Tsukishima is relieved he doesn’t have to deal with this again until the morning, but then Yamaguchi pokes him in the side.
“I know you’re awake, Tsukki,” Yamaguchi whispers. He pokes Tsukishima again. “You don’t breathe like that when you’re asleep. Open your eyes.”
Tsukishima does. Yamaguchi’s face is close enough that he can make it out clearly, even without his glasses on. Yamaguchi doesn’t look like he wants to yell at Tsukishima; Yamaguchi, somehow, isn’t mad. He does look very pretty in the dim moonlight, filtering in from the windows, though. “Why do you know how I breathe when I’m asleep?” he asks.
“Why are you surprised I know that?” Yamaguchi shoots back and Tsukishima shrugs. “Don’t ignore your texts and next time I’ll let you keep pretending. Anyway, I’m going to be responsible here and, before I say anything else, I want you to know that it’s killing me.”
Despite himself, Tsukishima wants to smile. “Noted.”
“Okay,” says Yamaguchi. “If I wasn’t so responsible, I’d drag you outside so we could have a long talk and it’s late, so it’d probably last till sunrise.”
Tsukishima wouldn’t mind watching the sunrise with Yamaguchi, but he doesn’t say that.
“But I also want to win at least one practice match tomorrow because I hate flying falls.”
This time, Tsukishima does smile. “I know.”
“Also, we’re captain and vice-captain and we have responsibilities, so we have to go to sleep now.”
“I know,” he says again.
“But pencil me in for tomorrow night, Tsukki, because you’re all mine then and don’t think I’m gonna let you wiggle out of it.” Yamaguchi gives him a long, hard stare and Tsukishima gulps. The bubble in his chest swells and grows under the scrutiny of Yamaguchi’s freckled glare.
“Well?” Yamaguchi adds, after a moment.
“Okay, Captain,” Tsukishima says, once he finds his voice again.
“Oh, fuck you,” Yamaguchi replies, but he’s grinning as he rolls over and tugs his pillow so he can hug it tight, like he always does. A bunch of memories of Tsukishima watching Yamaguchi drool and clutch his pillow surface, and he realizes he knows Yamaguchi’s breathing patterns while he’s sleeping, too.
Right now, Yamaguchi’s not asleep. Tsukishima is staring at the long line of his back and he can tell Yamaguchi’s breathing is uneven. Maybe he knows Tsukishima’s watching him; maybe he doesn’t mind; maybe this is okay. Maybe, maybe, maybe.
When Tsukishima wakes up, it’s to a ray of sunshine stabbing him in the eye and Hinata poking him in the stomach. Tsukishima, needless to say, is not a morning person.
“Leave me alone,” he groans, rolling onto his stomach and pulling the pillow over his head.
“No, get up!” Hinata says. His voice is still loud, even muffled by the pillow. “Wake up, Sleepyshima. Now!” Then he lets out a yell and karate chops Tsukishima’s butt.
Tsukishima lets out a yelp that’s absolutely not high-pitched, thanks very much. But he slides his glasses on and struggles to his feet, looming threateningly over Hinata, who’s still kneeling on the floor. He leans over, very far, and flicks Hinata in the middle of his forehead.
“Don’t do that again.”
Hinata nods and rubs his head. “Yamaguchi made me do it, though. Dumb Yamaguchi,” he mutters under his breath.
“What did you say?” Tsukishima says, looming again.
“Nothing!” Hinata squeaks. “He told me to tell you to meet him in the bathroom.”
Tsukishima tilts his head and squints suspiciously. “Why the bathroom?”
“Why the heck would I know?” Hinata says. “He told me to wake you up and tell you that and now I did, so I’m free!” He leaps to his feet again and keeps going into a mid-air split. If Hinata could be bottled, coffee would go extinct. Then he runs off toward Kageyama to karate chop him in the butt, too. Tsukishima laughs as he passes them with his toothbrush, the sound drowned out by all of Kageyama’s yelling.
Yamaguchi is in the bathroom, like Hinata said. He’s also sitting in a chair with a towel wrapped around his shoulders, his hair pulled up into a top knot again. Clippers sit on the sink, another towel spread out under the chair. Tsukishima splashes water on his face and brushes his teeth, while Yamaguchi patiently waits for him, watching him in the mirror.
“What are you doing?” Tsukishima asks finally, putting his toothbrush down on the sink.
Yamaguchi tilts his head, showing off his undercut. “I need to buzz my hair again; it’s getting too long.”
“So, I want you to do it.”
Tsukishima looks skeptical. “Yamaguchi, I’ve never cut your hair before.”
“So?” Yamaguchi says. “I trust you, Tsukki.”
“Well, that’s your problem,” Tsukishima says.
Yamaguchi’s face clouds over. “What have I told you about talking shit about my best friend?”
“That I really can’t get away with it in public bathrooms,” Tsukishima says, making Yamaguchi laugh. He picks up the clippers. “Hey,” he says hesitantly. “Does this mean – I mean, I know you want to talk later, but are we okay?”
“Of course, Tsukki,” Yamaguchi says, and it’s not his fake-chipper voice, so he really means it.
Tsukishima’s shoulders relax and he turns on the clippers. He hesitates as he puts his hand on top of Yamaguchi’s head. The hair is soft, just like Tsukishima expected.
“No getting mad if I mess this up,” Tsukishima warns.
Yamaguchi’s voice is confident: “You won’t mess this up. You don’t mess things up if you care about them.”
Tsukishima ignores the way his stomach flips at that, tilting Yamaguchi’s head and shaving right behind his ear. The guide on the clippers makes it easy, but so does Yamaguchi, who lets Tsukishima go at his own pace. It's nice. Comforting. He doesn’t keep things locked inside the way that Tsukishima does, but he’s quiet, too. It’s a different kind of quiet, though – patient and contemplative and determined when his mind is made up. This time, Yamaguchi has decided that Tsukishima is his personal groomer, so Tsukishima guesses he is.
Yamaguchi goes with it as Tsukishima tilts his head from side-to-side, and Tsukishima meticulously follows the contours of Yamaguchi’s scalp. Hair flutters onto Yamaguchi’s shoulders and down to the floor as Tsukishima’s fingertips crawl along the newly buzzed parts, following after the clippers. Once, their eyes meet in the mirror; Yamaguchi’s expression is thoughtful and he’s biting his lip as they stare at each other. Tsukishima has to look back down at his work, and the rest of the cut flies by as Tsukishima’s heart thuds steadily inside his chest.
“Done,” Tsukishima says as he turns off the clippers and puts them back down. He sweeps bits of hair off the back of Yamaguchi’s neck with his palm, reminded that he almost did the same thing last night without the pretense of a haircut. With the excuse, he revels in it, watching every freckle reappear with each stroke of his hand.
Afterward, they clean up the bathroom together and Yamaguchi beams at him, running his fingers up and down the newly shaved parts of his scalp. “It’s better than when I do it,” he praises. “I can’t see the back, so I always nick myself or miss a spot.”
“That’s good,” Tsukishima says. He feels a little awkward now, looking down at his feet.
“You can do it next time, too,” Yamaguchi adds.
Tsukishima looks up again and blinks.
Yamaguchi laughs. “Why do you always look so surprised by me?”
Probably because Tsukishima has spent the better part of ten years waiting for the other shoe to drop, waiting for Yamaguchi to realize there are better, nicer people out there and finally leave Tsukishima behind. But he’s been waiting and waiting and waiting and the day has never arrived, and that matter of fact is a shock. In the past, Tsukishima thought it’d be silly to let it go after so long, to free himself from that tiny back of the head anxiety, but now it seems silly to keep it like a secret with so much evidence to the contrary. Maybe it’s finally time for him to always think of them with their eyes forward, feet firmly on the ground, together.
“Sorry,” Tsukishima mutters.
“No, it’s okay,” says Yamaguchi. He reaches out and touches Tsukishima’s arm. “I like it,” he adds earnestly. Then he gathers up his supplies and starts to leave the bathroom. “Now, come on, Tsukki. Let’s go kick every team’s ass!”
Karasuno wins their first two practice matches of the morning before losing to Nekoma, a familiar sting that hasn’t ever lightened for them. Lev smirks at Tsukishima from the other side of the net while their new starting setter tries to get tips from a baffled Kageyama.
“Give him advice, Kageyama,” Hinata urges, tugging Inuoka over with him. “Be a good mentor!”
“Advice?” Kageyama repeats. “Mentor?”
The Nekoma setter nods eagerly and bows low, and Kageyama’s face is so hilarious that if Tsukishima hadn’t still been smarting from their loss, he’d stick around to catch the end of that routine.
Instead, he wanders over to the rest of Karasuno and takes a water bottle from Yamaguchi, something in his chest fluttering when Yamaguchi shoots him a grin and wipes the sweat from his face with his freckled forearm. Tsukishima walks off to make sure the first-years who lost to him at cards yesterday do their extra flying falls properly. He bends down low to tell one of them that he’s half-assing it and not to let it happen again.
Tsukishima cringes before he even registers who’s speaking; his subconscious always seems to know when someone other than Yamaguchi’s calling him that before the rest of him catches up. He stands again and sighs. Then he’s being dragged into a headlock, knuckles digging into his scalp.
“Let go of me, Bokuto-san,” he says.
To his credit, Bokuto releases him immediately, putting his hands on his hips and beaming. He looks pretty much the same as the last time Tsukishima saw him, which was when he came to watch Fukurodani at nationals last January, but he’s broader still and his hair’s shorter. Bokuto is on the short list for the Japanese Olympic team and even Tsukishima can admit that he’s rooting for him.
“Did you grow again?” Bokuto says, tilting his head and bringing a hand from the top of his hair to the top of Tsukishima’s head and back. “You need to stop that.”
Tsukishima rolls his eyes. “I’ll pass the message onto my pituitary gland.”
“What?” Bokuto says, confused. He shakes it off immediately, though, and slaps Tsukishima heartily on the back. “Never mind. Congratulations!”
“What?” Now it’s Tsukishima’s turn to be confused.
“Don’t what me!” says Bokuto. “I caught the way Yamaguchi was staring at your ass while you were bent over talking to your team. The thirst, man! It’s all over his face now. I mean, it always kind of was, but he used to be so embarrassed about it. It’s nice he can be open now.” He rubs at an imaginary beard, seemingly not noticing that he’s knocked Tsukishima’s whole worldview off its axis. Bokuto leans in and gives Tsukishima a wide-eyed, conspiratorial look. “Kuroo and I have had a running bet since that training camp your first year; I told him I’d get evidence of it today, and he said I couldn’t do it, so in your face, Kuroo. He owes me a thousand yen.”
“What?” Tsukishima says again and swallows. His brain is racing with the information overload, but the most important piece is Yamaguchi staring at him bent over, so obviously that not only did Bokuto notice it, but said – said it was thirst. He whips his head around, finding Yamaguchi immediately, like the red string of fate just tugged hard to confirm their connection; Yamaguchi’s eyes widen because he’s been caught staring, caught staring hard, and his cheeks darken as he looks down and sheepishly rubs at his upper arm, smoothing his palm over every freckle.
Tsukishima wants to do that. Revelation floods every part of him as he realizes what Yamaguchi wants to tell him later and it suddenly becomes obvious: Tsukishima will get to do that.
“Earth to Tsukki,” Bokuto says, frantically waving his hand in front of Tsukishima’s face and snapping him out of his life-changing discovery. “Think about boning your boyfriend later. My team has to crush your team now.”
“No,” says Tsukishima, straightening his spine. He suddenly feels like he could beat every team here, single-handed, a ridiculous superhuman feeling that only Yamaguchi could get him to admit to having. “That’s not going to happen.”
Fukurodani loses their practice match against Karasuno.
Bokuto actually does a lot for all the teams at the training camp, especially the spikers, and even Tsukishima can’t be unhappy about how much Hinata and their underclassmen improve under his guidance.
“You’re so cool, Bokuto-san!” Hinata exclaims with starry eyes, hanging onto Bokuto’s flexed bicep like he’s a one-man jungle gym.
Yamaguchi comes over and nods. “I wish I could do what you can. You’re a great motivator,” he says, pulling up the hem of his shirt to wipe at his face and making Tsukishima’s mouth actually water. He looks away, even though all he really wants to do is lick Yamaguchi’s freckled stomach.
Bokuto shakes his head. “It’s just another moving piece when you’ve got a great team. They need a great captain, too – like you!”
Yamaguchi grins, huge, clearly flattered by the compliment and Tsukishima has to wander off before he does something stupid in front of a large group of people, like grab Yamaguchi by the sides of his face and kiss him stupid. Instead, he goes around and starts talking to the underclassmen again, but not only the ones from Karasuno. He gathers up Nekoma’s new setter and Yaku’s brother, yet another Broccoli Head from Shinzen, the pair of green first-year middle blockers from Fukurodani, and a hyperactive jumper from Ubugawa, too, short and energetic enough to give Hinata a run for his money.
They’re going to have the biggest after-hours practice match of all time if it kills him, which it probably will.
Then he invites Lev and Inuoka and all the third years from Karasuno, saving Yamaguchi for last. Yamaguchi’s eyes sparkle and they’re so bright that Tsukishima has to walk away, his mouth threatening to pull into a smile at any second.
Then he steps out of the gym and calls Kuroo.
“Traditionally, we don’t start a conversation with ‘this is all your fault,’” Kuroo says.
“Sorry, I don’t understand these outdated modes of communication you old people like,” Tsukishima shoots back. He pauses, then adds, “Thank you.”
Kuroo’s shocked into silence for long enough that Tsukishima decides this is his best idea ever. “What are you even thanking me for?” he eventually asks.
Tsukishima shrugs, even though Kuroo can’t see him. “For a lot of things, I guess.” And then he hangs up before Kuroo gets a chance to find his voice again.
Bokuto literally rubs his hands together as the after-hours practice gets underway. “Ah, I’ve missed this so much!” he says and takes a deep breath.
“It smells like Salonpas!” Hinata says excitedly, taking a deep breath for himself.
Tsukishima leans in close to Yamaguchi, speaking directly into his ear. “Salonpas again. Do you think he huffs that stuff?”
“Maybe,” Yamaguchi says, snickering. “Personally, I’ve always pictured him rolling around in a vat of it. You know, really reveling in the whole thing.”
“Horrifying,” Tsukishima says and grins widely.
“What are you smiling about?” Kageyama asks Tsukishima, wandering over with a volleyball shoved under his arm. “It’s weird when you do that,” he adds without waiting for an answer.
“We’re talking about Hinata greasing himself up,” Tsukishima informs him.
Kageyama turns six shades of red and a vein in his forehead throbs. “You guys are gross,” he growls and runs off, taking shelter with the few players from Nekoma.
Bokuto produces a whistle from somewhere and blows it. “Come on, let’s get started. We’re not here to socialize. That’s for later when we tell ghost stories.” He lets out a hearty laugh. “We’ll break into teams – shirts versus skins!”
“Bokuto-san,” Tsukishima says, exasperated.
“What?” Bokuto scratches his head. “It’s a good way to keep everything separated!”
Tsukishima shakes his head. “The net separates us. I’m sure we can work it all out.”
“Bokuto-san’s idea sounds okay to me, Tsukki,” Yamaguchi says, because he’s full of surprises and also a traitor. He yanks his shirt over his head and tosses it to the sidelines, while Bokuto whoops triumphantly. Now it’s Tsukishima who turns six shades of red.
In the end, there are enough shameless volleyball players that Bokuto’s plan works; Tsukishima’s not that surprised by that, but he’s still not over the shock of Yamaguchi being one of them. He also can’t speak at all because whenever he looks at Yamaguchi on the other side of the net, he’s either looking at all the freckles on his chest or all the freckles on his back and either option is both the best or worst thing that’s ever happened to him.
He’s going to play horribly at an extra practice match that he coordinated and it’s all Yamaguchi’s stupid adorable fault.
The first match is made up of half underclassmen, half third-years. Hinata takes his place at the vanguard on Tsukishima’s team, while Lev and Kageyama tug their shirts over their heads and jog over to join Bokuto and Yamaguchi. On the other side of the net, Kageyama shirtlessly stares down Hinata, who whirls on his heel and drops down on one knee to tie his shoe.
“What the hell,” he overhears Hinata faintly ask the floor, and Tsukishima reduces whatever chances they might have had of winning down to zero.
Tsukishima tries really hard to be a diligent player, correcting the form of Shinzen’s second-year middle blocker and telling him not to be so obvious when reading someone else’s block. He has a couple of centimeters on Tsukishima so he should be a formidable opponent, but Tsukishima’s never had any trouble with him before. After the guy leaps up and swats down one of Lev’s spikes, he doesn’t know if that’ll be the case anymore.
Everything relaxes for a bit, enough that Tsukishima lets down his guard – a mistake. When Tsukishima is front and center, Yamaguchi takes his turn to serve. His face is pure concentration, sweat darkening his hair and covering his shoulders and chest. Tsukishima’s mouth is suddenly dry and his tongue darts out to lick his lips, just as Yamaguchi jumps up for his serve. Even through that haze, he can hear Hinata snort over on the sidelines.
“Shut up,” he mutters under his breath, trying to track the serve and completely fumbling the follow-up to their team’s receive. They lose the point, which means Tsukishima will have to go through that torture all over again.
“I didn’t say anything!” Hinata protests.
Tsukishima looks at Hinata, happy for something else to focus on. “Then how did you know I was talking to you?”
“Experience,” Hinata says wryly, raising an eyebrow, and Tsukishima laughs despite himself.
They lose, just as Tsukishima predicted, and it’s not self-fulfilling prophecy so much as lack of coordination, since Tsukishima trips over nothing every time Yamaguchi so much as changes position. Lev and Bokuto both wrap Yamaguchi up in a hug when they win, grinning at him as they jump up and down in a group. It’s a lot of skin and muscle and sweat and freckles and also skin.
“Yamaguchi’s on our side next match,” Tsukishima calls, and Hinata nearly chokes on a drink of water when he starts laughing. Tsukishima hopes he drowns.
“Did you miss me that much, Tsukki?” Yamaguchi jogs over to Tsukishima’s side of the net, grinning widely. He has three dark freckles just above one collarbone, neatly lined up. Tsukishima’s fingers itch.
“No,” Tsukishima says, scooping up Yamaguchi’s t-shirt from the sidelines and tossing it to him.
Yamaguchi catches it neatly, clutching it to his chest without putting it on, which is somehow worse. “That’s too bad,” he says, meeting Tsukishima’s eyes. “I missed you.”
Tsukishima’s going to die. It’ll be a nice way to go, sure, but he’s definitely going to die. Before he even realizes what he’s doing, he reaches out and grabs Yamaguchi’s shoulder, squeezing. It’s slick with sweat and soft under his hand, warm and alive. Both of them look at Tsukishima’s long, taped-up fingers wrapped around Yamaguchi’s shoulder with some surprise. Then they both suck in a breath and look at each other again.
The built-in camera shutter noise of someone’s phone goes off. When they look up, Bokuto is grinning, looking slightly deranged. “Kuroo owes me so much money,” he says gleefully, and runs off.
Tsukishima plays much better in the second match. Sure, it helps that he’s not driven to distraction, but he always plays better when Yamaguchi has his back. That, at least, he’s known for a long time, and blocking one of Bokuto’s spikes feels a hell of a lot better when Yamaguchi cheers for him and gives him a high five. They bring their hands down together, still touching, and it’s Yamaguchi who links their fingers together and gives his hands a squeeze.
Later, the two of them linger behind. They’re the last two cleaning up the gym, the last two to get back to the room, the last two to wash up. Tsukishima keeps finding little ways to touch Yamaguchi, little brushes of fingers against fingers, or bumping their shoulders together. It doesn’t escape Tsukishima that Yamaguchi keeps reaching out for him, too, but it feels so natural that Tsukishima wonders if they’d always done that and he’d just been too oblivious to notice it. Better late than never, he supposes.
After lights out, when half of the team has settled into exhausted sleep and the other half is nearly there, Yamaguchi reaches over to touch Tsukishima’s arm. He’s bone tired, but his mind lights up at that single touch, and the two of them are up and out before anyone can even ask where they’re going.
There are certain feelings that other people have that Tsukishima isn’t too accustomed to. It’s not usually something that bothers him; in the past it’s mostly annoyed him that people on the whole like to bleed their feelings everywhere. Now, though, he can relate. Something is fighting through his exhaustion, something big and monumental that he doesn’t quite have a name for, but it’s thrumming under the surface and trying to claw its way out.
They get outside and Tsukishima takes a deep breath, trying to get a grip on himself again. That all goes to shit when Yamaguchi says, “This way,” and grabs Tsukishima’s hand, tugging him along.
They stumble around the Fukurodani grounds for a while; it’s a big school, set as far out of the way of the Tokyo bustle as it can be, and Yamaguchi leads him to another building entirely. There’s some sort of emergency ladder bolted to the side, and Yamaguchi lets go of Tsukishima’s hand to start climbing it, clearly expecting him to follow.
“It’s so nice out tonight,” Yamaguchi calls over his shoulder, several rungs up. “Warm.”
“Are we going to get arrested?” asks Tsukishima, but he starts climbing anyway.
Yamaguchi laughs, disappearing over the edge a moment later as he reaches the roof.
Tsukishima makes his way to the top, too, and Yamaguchi’s waiting for him there, helping him over with a hand up. There’s some sort of makeshift illegal student hangout up here, one that Yamaguchi clearly already knows about. Scattered around are a couple of plastic tables and chairs, and a big picnic blanket spread out on the flat roof.
“Suzumeda-san told me about this place,” says Yamaguchi. “The students come up here to ditch or smoke or –” He stops suddenly, but Tsukishima can fill in that blank on his own. He swallows and walks away, trying to cover up his nervousness.
Off in the distance are the twinkling lights of the city, far brighter than they are in Miyagi, but still at enough of a distance that Tsukishima feels removed from them. His team sleeps a few buildings over, and his family is back at home. In a way, it’s like he and Yamaguchi are the only two people in the world.
Tsukishima clasps his hands behind his back and takes a deep breath, turning to face Yamaguchi. “So are we here to smoke?”
“What?” asks Tsukishima innocently.
“Don’t be a dick,” Yamaguchi says, but he’s smiling. He walks over to Tsukishima and tugs him over to the picnic blanket; Tsukishima sits without being asked and Yamaguchi joins him. They’re very close together, shoulder to shoulder, and Yamaguchi wears his shortest shorts again. Tsukishima puts his hand on his own thigh, spreading out his fingers so the tip of his pinky reaches Yamaguchi’s leg, hiding one of his freckles. Yamaguchi looks down at Tsukishima’s hand and clears his throat. “You know, you caught me off guard last night. At the party, I mean.”
“I didn’t mean to,” Tsukishima mumbles.
“I know.” Yamaguchi turns his head; Tsukishima can feel his breath fan out over his neck and it makes him shiver. “Listen, I just –”
Then, Yamaguchi reaches up and grabs both sides of Tsukishima’s face, making him look in Yamaguchi’s direction. Tsukishima only gets the chance to think oh, his face is so close before Yamaguchi kisses him. It makes a million questions flash through his head at once: should he close his eyes? Where does he put his hands? Is he any good at this? Does Yamaguchi have any idea how soft his mouth is? Tsukishima shakily lifts his hands to cover Yamaguchi’s with his own and his eyes slide shut when Yamaguchi’s thumbs brush against his jaw.
He doesn’t know how long the kiss lasts. What he does know is he opens his mouth at some point because Yamaguchi’s tongue hesitantly meets his and he hears himself make an embarrassing noise. When they finally pull apart, they both suck in desperate breaths and Tsukishima is left staring at Yamaguchi in a wide-eyed stupor.
“I had a whole speech planned,” Yamaguchi says with a laugh, putting his forehead against Tsukishima’s and lowering their joined hands. “About how long I liked you and how I kept trying to let it go, but how you’re so stupid hot that I never had a chance to. About how I never, ever thought you’d like me back.”
Tsukishima lets out an unsteady breath. “Oh,” he says.
Yamaguchi pulls back to look at Tsukishima’s face. “Tsukki, I like you so much.”
“I like you, too,” Tsukishima manages. “So much,” he echoes after a moment.
Yamaguchi lets out a giddy laugh that chokes off when Tsukishima lifts his wrist to his mouth, pressing his lips to a ring of freckles there. And Yamaguchi doesn’t pull away, just goes limp as Tsukishima kisses his way up Yamaguchi’s arm, thrilled at finally getting to do what he’d wanted to since that moment back in Yamaguchi’s bedroom. Yamaguchi sucks in a gasp and lifts his head to look at the night sky, his throat exposed.
Tsukishima tugs aside Yamaguchi’s shirt collar, kissing the three-in-a-row freckles he’d noticed before, then mouths his way up the column of his throat. He’s giddy with possibility, at least as giddy as he’s ever been; Yamaguchi has so much skin and now he gets to explore all of it, as much as he wants, as long as Yamaguchi lets him.
“You have so many freckles,” Tsukishima says, wondering.
“Ugh, don’t remind me,” Yamaguchi says.
Tsukishima sweeps his thumbs across Yamaguchi’s cheeks. “Shut up, Yamaguchi,” he says before capturing his mouth again.
It’s really late when they get back, late enough that it might actually qualify as early. But Tsukishima doesn’t care about his lost sleep, and in fact loses more of it as he lies on his futon and replays everything that happened tonight. Tsukishima’s pretty sure he kissed every freckle on Yamaguchi’s face, and a lot of other ones, too. It was everything he could have wanted, sappy as that sounds, and the noises Yamaguchi made and the way he looked – well, Tsukishima thinks he might already be addicted.
Everything that happened on the rooftop is something that Tsukishima will remember with perfect clarity and with an uncharacteristic lack of cynicism. It’s… nice. Thinking about kissing Yamaguchi is nice. Actually kissing Yamaguchi is more than nice. It’s crazy that he’ll get to do it again tomorrow and hopefully every day for a long time to come.
He’s baffled by his luck, and dangerously happy, and he’s just drifting off to sleep when Yamaguchi slips his hand into Tsukishima’s and squeezes. Tsukishima’s heart squeezes at the same time he squeezes back.
A few days later, the team is back at home and Tsukishima is getting ready for a weekend pick-up game, waiting for Yamaguchi to collect him before they head over to meet with everyone else. He’s pulling on his shorts when his phone rings, and he rolls his eyes before he accepts Kuroo’s call.
Kuroo huffs into the phone. “Jeez, where did you learn your phone manners?”
“Prison,” Tsukishima drawls and props his phone up on one shoulder as he hunts through his dresser for a pair of socks.
“Explains a lot.” Kuroo laughs. “Anyway, Bokuto keeps sending me pictures of you and Yamaguchi that he took during training camp, saying I owe him money.”
Tsukishima wrinkles his nose. “How many pictures?”
Kuroo ignores him and continues, “I told him that pictures of the two of you sharing water bottles and gazing deep into each other’s eyes don’t count for anything because you always do that.” Something in Tsukishima wants to protest, but since he’s spent a good chunk of time staring at Yamaguchi the last few days, at least all the time they haven’t spent making out, a bigger part of him keeps his mouth shut. “So, just tell me straight up, did Bokuto win our bet or not?”
“What bet?” asks Tsukishima innocently.
“The one where you finally made a move!” says Kuroo. “I don’t know what I want to be true; I’m torn between pride and my love of keeping my own money.”
“Hmm.” Tsukishima falls silent, stretching things out for a few long moments to keep Kuroo dangling on the line. “Bokuto-san’s right,” he eventually admits. “I considered not saying anything, but as it turns out, my privacy matters less to me than you being wrong.”
“Dammit!” Kuroo says, followed by, “Congratulations! I’m gonna ask for lots of details soon, but let’s face it, pictures are worth a thousand words. Keep that in mind.”
“Keep out of my love life, Kuroo-san,” Tsukishima says, and ends the call.
Tsukishima smiles to himself as he digs through his pile of t-shirts. He starts to pull one over his arms when he hears Yamaguchi shout, “Are you ready, Tsukki?” before barging into the room.
Yamaguchi freezes in the doorway, catching Tsukishima with his shirt barely on; Tsukishima doesn’t miss the way Yamaguchi’s jaw drops a little and his eyes flick down to Tsukishima’s chest and stomach before his cheeks turn red. He reaches up and sheepishly fiddles with his ponytail as he lifts his eyes to Tsukishima’s face. The fact that Tsukishima can get this reaction out of Yamaguchi is something that he doesn’t think he’ll ever get over; it’s just a shame it took him so long to notice.
He plans on making up for lost time.
“Hinata’s already –” Yamaguchi’s voice cracks and he clears his throat. “Hinata’s already waiting for us, everyone else should be there soon.”
Tsukishima, innocently, lets his shirt slip to the floor, smiling a little when Yamaguchi watches it fall. “Or,” he says, “we can just not go.” He waits a beat before adding, “Captain.”
Yamaguchi swallows hard. He looks at the shirt on the floor, then at Tsukishima’s bare shoulders, then at the knowing smirk on Tsukishima’s face.
“We can be late,” Yamaguchi decides, and kicks Tsukishima’s door closed before shoving him onto the bed.