Sakunami pulled his coat tighter as he got off the train. He could see his breath puff out in front of him as followed the road toward Datekou. There was scarcely anyone out on the streets – everyone taking the chilly weekend morning has an excuse to sleep in.
He slipped into the clubroom. It was empty, except for Futakuchi and Aone’s bags, which were strewn on the floor below their lockers. He kicked them out of the way to avoid tripping over them. He took his time changing into his practice clothes, and heard the door bang open behind him.
“Good morning, Sakunami!” a voice bellowed out. Koganegawa clambers up to the bench behind him, flailing has he tripped over the stray bags. He barely caught himself and his cheeks redden in embarrassment.
“Hello Koganegawa.” Sakunami waved from where his arm was stuck inside his practice shirt. “How are you?”
Koganegawa prattled on about his weekend, filling in any gaps of awkward silence with exaggerated stories and facial expressions. He hit the lockers twice in his excitement, and Sakunami muffled a laugh each time.
Soon after, they were joined by the rest of the team, who meandered into the clubroom. Futakuchi returned with Aone, and when hesaw them chatting idly, having already finished changing, he ordered them to stop standing around and go set-up the gym.
The two of them exited the clubroom, and made their way to the gym. Koganegawa was still prattling on about a movie he had recently seen. His attitude was infectious, and Sakunami couldn’t help but to laugh along.
They worked together to set up the gym, pulling out the nets and the wheeling the volleyballs from the supply closet to the court. The two pass the time by exchanging stories, and mindlessly tossing the ball to each other. Sakunami tried to correct Koganegawa’s form in order to improve his receives, but they kept getting distracted.
When the team found them 15 minutes later, the two were in the center of the gym, laying down and out of breath due to their laughter. Futakuchi sighed and rolled his eyes, instead turning his attention to the first years, while sending Aone to deal with them.
The two continued to giggle throughout the practice every time they met each other’s eyes across the court.
In the end, practice had to end early, because the laughter was too infectious, and even Futakuchi had to give up on wrangling his giggling team when Aone joined in with the rest of them.
It was Spring High when Sakunami realized that he might have a crush on Koganegawa. Unlike their predecessors, the the third years had stayed on the team for one last shot at winning it all. It was comfortable to be sharing a court with all of them one last time.
The had worked after school for hours, organized practice games all over the prefecture, and had become a real team.
In the end, it wasn’t enough. They fell to Shiratorizawa in the semi-finals.
They hold in tears as they shake the other team’s hands. Sakunami unconsciously drifted closer to Koganegawa has they made their way to the locker room. The team slowly changed – the only sounds were the shifting of clothing, bags zipping open and closed, and lockers slamming shut.
Before they could exit, Futakuchi stopped them. He stood on a bench and faced the team. Aone stood behind him – far enough away to give Futakuchi breathing room, but a steady encouraging presence for their captain.
“I want you all to know that I’m proud of you,” he said glancing at all of them. “Don’t you dare laugh. I know I don’t usually say things like this.” Futakuchi rubbed his eyes with his sleeve, and Aone took an unconscious step toward him. “But it’s been an honor to serve as your captain this year.”
He gave a deep bow, and the rest of the team clapped, surging forward to envelope the third years in a hug. Futakuchi started to lead the team out of the locker room with their heads held high. He turned back right as he reached the doorway and gave each of the first and second years a hard stare.
“You come back and win next year. Do you hear me?” Sakunami joined them in yelling back an affirmative, and without noticing it he found himself walking next to Koganegawa on their way to the bus.
He felt Koganegawa’s fingers brush against his, before his hand is enveloped. He looked up to see a faint blush dusting the taller boy’s cheeks. It was spring when he realized that Koganegawa had a crush on him too.
Summer was beautiful. The two of them clicked together like they had known each other their entire lives. After months of playing together on the same court, they seamlessly transitioned to spending the rest of their time together, too.
They went over to each other’s houses for dinner, spent their days exploring the city, studied for college entrance exams, and texted each good morning. It was simple in the best possible ways.
They even go into Tokyo together for date. It wasn’t the most perfect date in the world – in fact, it doesn’t even come close.
It started when they almost missed their train, and end up having to stand the entire way to Tokyo. (Although, Sakunami didn’t mind much, tucked tight against the other boy’s body). Next, Koganegawa almost had an allergic reaction at lunch before he realized that there were nuts in his salad, and the one place they had wanted to visit was closed on Mondays.
It should have been a disaster. Instead, Sakunami enjoyed exploring the city with his boyfriend. They walked through the Ginza, found a hidden shrine that had survived the gentrification of a shopping district, and had the best ramen he had ever had at a hole in the wall restaurant by the train station.
With the two of them officially together, summer passed in a heartbeat.
Inter High was the first time that he got to see the Kanji in action has captain. He had been unanimously selected has captain at the end of last year. The entire team had seen him grow into someone they could follow. Sakunami was particularly proud of how far he had come since being a lumbering, naïve first year who could barely set a volleyball.
He had tried to turn down the position and had wanted Sakunami to be captain instead, but liberos weren’t allowed to be captains.
(One night, has they were cuddling in bed, Koganegawa leaned over to him and said that Sakunami was a honorary captain of Datekou, because the Iron Wall wouldn’t be anything if they didn’t have someone watching their backs.)
The weeks and months breezed by. The two of them were busy with school and practice and trying to figure out what they’ll be doing after they graduate. It was all a little overwhelming. Before he knew it, it was the final match of the Miyagi Prefecture Inter High.
The third set goes into overtime. They go head to head with Karasuno spike after spike, serve after serve. Both teams were running on their last dregs of energy – every movement making their bodies feel heavier than before.
Sakunami’s legs were killing him. Datekou’s great Iron Wall was taking spike after spike from Karasuno’s wild offense. Every dig he made to keep the ball up, made him feel as if he was sliding halfway across the court.
Karasuno matched them play after play. Until they didn’t.
They won. Barely. It was partly skill and partly luck that Karasuno’s first year libero misjudged a spike. The ball fell, hitting the ground with a hollow thud. It was as if time stopped, and Sakunami could hear his heartbeat in his chest.
The team looked up at each other, smiles overtook their faces, and they let out a victorious cheer. The entire team rushed onto the center of the court – a mass of limbs and screaming voices.
Sakunami found himself tucked into Koganegawa’s side. He felt the other boy squeeze his shoulder, and when he looked up at him he couldn’t help but think that victory looked beautiful on him. His face lit up with energy and a smile that outshined the sun.
He couldn’t hear him over the crowd, but he thought that Koganegawa mouthed “we did it!” Sakunami just nodded back, wiping a tear from his eye. There were no words needed when Koganegawa bent down and placed a kiss on his lips in front of everyone.
Sakunami felt himself blush, but returns the kiss, with a peck of his own. The cheering had somewhat died down, and the team organized themselves enough to receive the trophy and shake Karasuno’s hands.
They looked sad, but not defeated. Their captain left them with three simple words. “Win it all.” Koganegawa nodded solemnly back, silently agreeing to the promise.
Koganegawa was then swept up into his captain duties, and it wasn’t until the returned to the Datekou gym that the two of them were finally alone.
“Walk me home?” Sakunami offered. Koganegawa just smiled, and held up his hand.
Walking away, hand in hand, he felt the crunch of the leaves under his shoes. The adrenaline of their win still hadn’t worn off, and he can’t help but to think that this year was going to be his best one yet.