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In their three years at Karasuno, things change.

Yamaguchi grows out his hair, like Azumane had done in the beginning of his third year. Contrary to the former ace, Yamaguchi looks more mature in a dignified kind of way, instead of a delinquent way. Yachi’s hair stays the same length, but she’s taken to tying it at the back of her head, as opposed to the side.

Kageyama is formally invited to the U-19 volleyball team. Hinata is expected to attend this year’s National Youth Training Camp; whether he joins the U-19 team is another story, something he and Kageyama find ways to shout at each other about.

“—Cap! Cap!

Oh, and Tsukishima Kei becomes captain of the Karasuno Boys’ Volleyball Club.

Tsukishima doesn’t falter in his step, knowing the raucous crow will eventually catch up to him. The head of bright orange hair appears in his field of vision three seconds later. “Heya there, Cap! Can you hear me?”

“Unfortunately, yes,” Tsukishima says, not bothering to remove the white headphones from his ears, keeping his eyes ahead to the school. “And don’t call me that.”

“What? But you are!” Hinata chirps, dismounting from his bicycle. “What are you going to do, increase my training or something?”

“That is a great idea,” he answers, deadpan. He’s not sure if Hinata fully comprehends that he actually has that authority now, or that he wouldn’t mind extra training. He does that without being prompted anyway, jogging in the morning and in the afternoon, not to mention how far his house is from the school. Speaking of which… “You’re in pretty late today. Aren’t you usually in the gym by now? Completed fifty serves, or whatever your regimen is by 7 am?”

Hinata shakes his head, ignoring or not noticing the snark. “I wanted to get in after the first years today! Last year was pretty lame, I was already there, but Kageyama and Yamaguchi got to make a cool entrance—”

Tsukishima vaguely remembers this, and is pretty sure that they were bringing in new equipment, which could not be as cool as Hinata remembers. His most vivid memory of that day was probably everyone’s reactions to being called senpai: Hinata lived up to his name and shone brighter than the sun; Kageyama’s face twisted as though he had just swallowed a lemon, still unused to positive reinforcement from strangers. Yamaguchi was the only one still verbal, insisting they drop the senpai suffix while still clearly being flattered, leaving their freshmen confused. Yachi openly burst into tears.

Tsukishima hadn’t cared; Tanaka and Nishinoya had laughed so hard and nudged him an inhumane number of times, repeating “Tsukishima-senpai! Tsukishima-senpai!

Hinata is still talking.

“—gonna say to the first-years? As captain, and all that?”

He knows it falls on him to formally welcome the first years; he had watched Daichi and Ennoshita wrangle two batches of unruly crows into compliance. At this point, it might as well be the job requirement for the Karasuno captain.

Hinata stares at him with those unnerving eyes: the look, in Tsukishima’s opinion, that made him such a formidable middle blocker through their second year. He’s all but guaranteed to move to opposite wing spiker this year, regardless of what their freshmen are like—

“Of course you’re the best candidate for captain,” Ennoshita says. Tsukishima bristles, but stays silent. “You’re always thinking about the team, how to improve, as a team and individually, through plays…” Ennoshita puts down his water bottle on the bench, looking up at him. “You may not always say it out loud, and you may not always be the nicest about it, but you’re always thinking about what’s best for Karasuno.”

“I’m sure Yamaguchi and the others do that too,” he mumbles, but it sounds like a weak argument, even to his own ears.

Ennoshita laughs. “Yes, I’m sure. But they listen to you. They trust you. I’m sure you’ve noticed… haven’t you?”

Hinata’s gaze pierces through him, looking for something in his eyes.

“I’ll figure it out,” he says, finally looking away. The little crow grins.

--

When the time comes for him to speak to the first years, everyone falls silent as he stands. Yamaguchi will later tease him for taking full advantage of his height and his glare, which Tsukishima does not deny. He feels no remorse in doing so, especially when he has the requisite attitude to back it up.

“—The Karasuno you know now was built on years and years of effort and practice,” he says, into the quiet gymnasium. “The strength of this team is, and has always been, every single member’s insatiable desire for victory. Remember this: they do not call us crows for nothing.”

Silence greets the end of his little speech; the first-years look up at him in a mixture of horror and awe, which is precisely what he wanted. The fact that the second- and third-years don’t make a peep either helps, too.

He hears footsteps approaching from the school; Takeda-sensei or Coach Ukai, no doubt. To pretend like he hasn’t been terrifying the first years, he says in a marginally lighter tone of voice, “And now, our genius setter and my vice captain—Kageyama Tobio.”

Ukai walks into the gym in time to see Kageyama throw a glare Tsukishima’s way. Without context, he can’t be sure of what happened, but it occurs to him that had the same thing happened two years ago, the reaction would have been much wilder.

--

yamaguchi (20:47): i think kageyama should be vice captain!

hinata (20:47): WHT

tsukishima (20:47): What.

hinata (20:48): Yams why would u evn /say that/???

yamaguchi (20:49): Ok thats kinda mean, but thats par for the course for you regarding Kageyama anyway

yamaguchi (20:49): I do mean it though!

yamaguchi (20:50): Dont Tsukki and Kageyama already plan like two thirds of our plays anyw?

hinata (20:50): Bt ill have to respeeeect hiiiim

hinata (20:51): ε-(≖д≖﹆)

tsukishima (20:51): This IS a little ridiculous, Yamaguchi.

tsukishima (20:51): And consider that your last suggestion was me as captain.

hinata (20:51): O DROP IT TSUKISHIMA UR THE PRFECT CAPTAIN

yamaguchi (20:52): Hehe :3c

yamaguchi (20:52): Seriously tho? Its not that bad

yamaguchi (20:52): The setter’s the offensive core, right?

yamaguchi (20:52): Even you cant deny that youve become the core of karasuno’s defense

yamaguchi (20:53): And you do work well with kageyama. You havent insulted him once during an official for the whole sem

tsukishima (20:53): Ah, it’s been that long, has it?

tsukishima (20:53): Thank you for the reminder, then. I’ll make sure to step it up next time.

hinata (20:53): LOL

yamaguchi (20:54): Tsuukkkkkkiiiiiiiiiii :(

kageyama (20:54): back

kageyama (20:54): well screw you too tsukishima

kageyama (20:54): i hadn’t thought of it that way though

kageyama (20:54): since i kind of… /have/ to make the plays

tsukishima (20:54): Spoken like a true king.

kageyama (20:55): go jump in a lake

tsukishima (20:55): I hope your royal steed drops you on your head.

yamaguchi (20:55): See, youve already got the charming banter down!

hinata (20:56): K honest tho th banter IS funny

kageyama (20:56): shut up, hinata

--

In his two years at Karasuno, Kageyama’s favorite sound has become Nishinoya’s voice calling chance ball!

The ball comes, as it always does, to the center, right next to the net. Tanaka is on the left, with two blockers. Less guarded is Hinata on the right, but across from him is the enemy libero, who’s received two out of three of Hinata’s spikes so far. There’s one more spiker, however—

Set; spike.

The ball bounces right on the end line; their shoes squeak on their landing. The whistle blows; the referee scores the point in their favor. Tsukishima huffs next to him, half irritation, half relief.

“Too high?” Kageyama says, straightening up.

“Yes, and too fast,” Tsukishima says, wiping the sweat from his chin. “There were already no blockers, Kageyama—”

“Their number 8 was running to receive it,” Kageyama insists. “Also, jump higher. It doesn’t matter if you can do it in practice but not in officials.”

“Okay, fine. I’ll jump higher. But slow it down.”

“Got it,” Kageyama mutters, eyes back ahead.

Behind them, Nishinoya and Ennoshita look at each other, eyes bright. I’m so proud, Ennoshita mouths, wiping a fake tear from his eye.

“Kageyama and Tsukishima compromising,” Takeda says to Ukai, who’s grinning as widely as the boys. “I never thought I’d live to see the day.”

“They don’t seem to have noticed, though,” Yachi points out shyly, clutching at her clipboard.

“As long as the rest of the team keeps their voices down, we’re fine,” Ukai says confidently. ”Those two are too deep in the game right now.”

--

They pile onto the bus after a day at Jouzenji to wait for Coach Ukai and Takeda-sensei, who had hung back to talk to the other team’s teachers. Over the backs of the seats, Tsukishima can see Ennoshita standing almost menacingly in the aisle between Nishinoya and Rantarou, their new libero, chattering happily to each other.

He’s lounging in his usual seat near the back of the bus, next to Yamaguchi, when he notices the other sit up like a puppy who’s spotted a squirrel.

As much as he denies it, Yamaguchi’s default expression is his puppy-dog eyes. The rest of his expressions are variations of that original: there’s the bright-eyed enthusiasm, the kicked-puppy look, and of course, the blinding happiness. Hinata once laughingly said that the only time Yamaguchi doesn’t look like a puppy is when he’s about to serve.

(Tsukishima had mentally agreed. When he serves, Yamaguchi looks as much of a vicious crow as the rest of them.)

“What is it,” Tsukishima mumbles, too comfortable to talk any louder.

Yamaguchi startles. “A-ah, um—” he fumbles with his fingers, biting his lip. Tsukishima lets his eyes drift shut; if Yamaguchi wants to tell him, he will.

“You know how we’ve always, ah, sat next to each other?”

Well, that wasn’t what he was expecting. “Sure,” he hums.

“Shimizu-senpai’s always sat beside Yachi,” Yamaguchi says, contemplative. “Now she sits alone...”

“That she does,” Tsukishima says, opening his eyes. He thinks he understands where this is going. “Hinata’s sat next to her before though, I think. I don’t think she’ll mind if you want to, either.”

Yamaguchi is in blinding-puppy-happiness mode. “Yeah?”

He shrugs. “Go for it. It’ll give me room to stretch out.”

“Thanks, Tsukki,” Yamaguchi says, then looks down at his hands, which have closed into fists. For a second, Tsukishima thinks he’s going to stand up and go right then, but then Yamaguchi says, “Um, I’ll try next time.”

Tsukishima snorts.

The ride is silent after that; this is the closest he and Yamaguchi have ever come to discussing the other’s feelings for their manager. He knows Yamaguchi’s talked about it with Hinata, at least, which he is thankful for. He’s always so unsure about what to say about this kind of thing.

Feelings are so dumb, Tsukishima thinks, drifting off.

--

tanakaaa (15:29): KAGEYAMA SD ‘NICE KILL’ W/O STUTTERING 2 TSUKI TDAY

sugawaraaa (15:33): OMG!!!

sugawaraaa (15:33): did they notice??

tanakaaa (15:34): kags didnt but it was in the middle of the jouzenji practice match, so das y

tanakaaa (15:35): tsuki did tht deer in headlights look when kags is accidentally nice 2 him

sugawaraaa (15:37): awW i can imagine

--

“Let’s go, everyone! Spiking drills! Hinata, come demonstrate,” Kageyama calls over the cacophony of the gym.

"Spiking drills with Kageyama Tobio—” “The prodigy setter! ” An excited murmur ripples through the freshmen, oblivious to the true nature of Kageyama Tobio’s spiking drills: a chance for the king to demand 110% from every spiker. The second years look warily among themselves; Yamaguchi and Hinata exchange a smirk.

Tsukishima watches idly as Kageyama puts Hinata through his paces, a routine so worn and flawless and unique two of them that the freshmen ooh and aah. With every frame-perfect spike, Hinata runs back around and does another run-up from the baseline, while the sets keep getting higher and farther.

More importantly, Kageyama’s stopped explaining what he’s doing. Tsukishima sighs.

“You are to run along the middle, and to jump after the set. Your goal is to try and reach it as best you can, then run back around to the baseline and do this five times,” Tsukishima explains, from beside the lowerclassmen. “Every toss will get incrementally higher and farther from the middle. Your benevolent king of a setter needs to know precisely how far he can push each spiker. Understood?”

The team shouts their agreement and settles in; Kageyama throws him an I-was-going-to-say-that look. Tsukishima shrugs, unapologetic.

Ten minutes later, their lowerclassmen are doubled over around half the court, all of them panting heavily, as Kageyama looks off into the distance, unmoving from his original position, no doubt committing to memory every bit of information he’s gleaned from their teammates.

Tsukishima allows him two minutes of uninterrupted rumination, then calls, “Oi, king.

Kageyama’s head snaps up, eyes still glazed over. He’s long since stopped taking offense at the nickname; whether through sheer exposure or for lack of caring, Tsukishima doesn’t know. He’s certainly a far cry from the demanding king he was when they met, that night when Tsukishima had first used the name to antagonize him.

Yamaguchi once suggested that he keeps using the name out of sentimentality; Tsukishima had scoffed.

“It’s my turn,” Tsukishima tells Kageyama, who’s finally blinked out of his daze. “Ready.”

And so Tsukishima runs.

It’s no surprise that Hinata can run this drill with his eyes closed; it was, after all, the only way he could spike in the beginning. What most people, especially other teams, take for granted is the fact that Tsukishima has spent almost as much time on the court with Kageyama as Hinata.

He jumps straight up without looking at the first set; Kageyama never varies the toss for him in this drill horizontally, just vertically. Since that one practice match against Date Tech in their first year, Kageyama has focused on very slowly raising Tsukishima’s maximum spiking height. The ball makes a satisfying sound against the wood as it smacks down; Tsukishima laps back around, making the effort to jump a little higher.

It continues in this vein for three more times; Tsukishima is well used to the increments that Kageyama uses with him. If he’s being honest, he can probably spike the increments he uses with Hinata and Yamaguchi, too. They run this drill not because Kageyama needs to learn their limits, but because their kouhai need the rest.

He’s halfway to the attack line for the last jump when Kageyama shouts, “Left!”

Tsukishima swears under his breath, forced to do a broad jump while still trying to get the vertical height he knows Kageyama will put into the toss. He still manages to reach the toss, just barely enough to spike it down.

He turns back to Kageyama, unable to keep the smugness from his face. The setter looks unsurprised. “Nice kill.”

“This is payback for earlier, isn’t it?” he drawls, with no real heat in his voice. Kageyama’s grin is wicked, more of a snarl. Tsukishima recognizes it as the look he gives Hinata after the latter executes a particularly hard attack: the pride of a setter who knows he’s effectively pushed his spiker to the maximum. Tsukishima waves him off, amused. “You done?”

Kageyama smirks. “Never. And don’t think I won’t use that broad in games.” He turns to the rest of the team, some of which are still collapsed on the floor. “We’ll try again tomorrow. Thank you for your hard work!”

The gym is full of the sounds of clatter and chatter amongst the Karasuno team as they go through the usual post-practice cleanup. Hinata slides past Yamaguchi, and hisses, “ Look!

It’s only because the gym is so noisy that they aren’t heard, but across the court, Kageyama and Tsukishima are poring over a tiny notebook, cross-legged on the floor, heads bowed together. Tsukishima is talking quietly, as Kageyama stares at the notebook so hard it looks like he’s trying to burn it.

“The demons are getting along so well,” Hinata says, squinting, mistrust lacing his voice.

Yamaguchi laughs, pushing Hinata around so he’s not staring so obviously. “Still not used to it, Hinata? I understand, but try not to make such a big deal out of it. It’s weird for our kouhai,” Yamaguchi tells him in an undertone, smiling. “But yes, I’m proud of them.”

“That’s stupid,” Kageyama says loudly, right at that moment, followed by Tsukishima’s voice, low and frustrated.

Yamaguchi sighs. Baby steps, he tells himself. Baby steps.

--

ousama (23:01): c quick could work with a delayed attack

tsukishima (06:58): …. It’s Monday, Kageyama.

ousama (07:00): uh, yeah??

tsukishima (07:03): You were up at 11pm doing strategies you dingus

ousama (07:21): we’re still trying out c delayed later

--

He’s walking down to the cafeteria in search of something to eat when someone calls his name down the third-year corridor; he turns to find Yachi, her hair untied and cascading behind her.

Or so it has been described to him, by his very own pinch server, who now looks around in interest beside him.

“Yachi,” Yamaguchi greets, smiling.

“Oh—hello, Yamaguchi-kun! Tsukishima-kun,” Yachi says, sounding harried, “I just wanted to remind you of the pep rally!”

“Pep rally,” Tsukishima repeats, wracking his head.

“Hm?” Yachi’s head tilts, actually tilts, like a puppy. “It’s the captain’s job to talk on behalf of the team at the pep rally… don’t tell me you forgot?”

“Ah, shit,” he murmurs, hopefully quietly enough that Yachi doesn’t hear. Yamaguchi elbows him.

“It’s in two days, Tsukishima-kun, and people are looking forward to it, especially since everyone’s expecting us to go to nationals again this year,” Yachi says, hesitantly, as Tsukishima can only imagine that his face is projecting how distinctly uncomfortable he is with the notion of stepping up on a stage and talking to the entire student population. Yachi hesitates again, then says, “I… do you need help, with what you’re going to say? I’ve had to write some similar things, on the fundraising posters, so I…”

Tsukishima feels like he’s just kicked a puppy. “No, it’s fine.” He sucks it up, and says, “You’re right, it is the captain’s job. Thank you for reminding me.” Yachi looks up at him, with some hope in her eyes. It reminds him of a much younger Yamaguchi. “...I’ll come up with something. If it’s alright with you… I’ll have you look over it… or something.”

“Ah—yes! That’s—that sounds good!” Yachi says happily, then bows. “Well, I’ll be going! See you, Tsukishima-kun! Yamaguchi-kun!”

“That was very nice of you,” Yamaguchi says, with a hint of disbelief, smiling as Yachi turns the corridor.

“I’m always nice,” Tsukishima deadpans.

--

He hears the sound of a smack behind him at the pep rally as he’s bowing to the auditorium after his speech. Yamaguchi will later tell him that one of their first years (“Katsuo-kun, the one from Chidoriyama, you remember?”) was trying to do finger-guns at the crowd, and he had to do something, right?

--

Tsukishima is sitting in the bus, elbow on the windowsill, headphones on his ears, thinking back through their practice session with Aoba Jousai for the day. He reminds himself to bring pen and paper the next time they go out for practice like this; he’d much rather be writing down his thoughts immediately.

It’s little things like this about captainhood that still manage to blindside him. He’s come to do his own postgame analysis on the buses back to Karasuno since Yamaguchi had taken to sitting beside Yachi in the latter part of their second year, taking advantage of the peace and quiet. He’s never had to write down his thoughts before, though, content with sharing what he could remember when something relevant came up.

As captain, he will admit he’s a bit more pressured to contribute everything.

He’s shaken from his musings by someone sinking rather violently into the seat next to him. He turns with the admonishment already on his tongue until he sees the telltale black mop of his setter.

“The hell?” Tsukishima manages to say.

“Hinata caught Yuuta-kun doing a magic trick for the other first years,” Kageyama says, referring to their first-year setter like this explains everything. “He insisted on making him do it until he could figure it out, but he hasn’t yet, and we’re about to move, so.”

“Is that so?” Through his music, Tsukishima distinctly hears loud chattering from their teammates, just as the bus starts up. He doesn’t have the energy for this. “I guess it can’t be helped. Just don’t elbow me or whatever.”

Kageyama doesn’t deign that with a response, which Tsukishima considers a win.

As the bus starts to move, Tsukishima realizes that Kageyama’s never sat with anyone other than Hinata on the bus. He himself has never sat with anyone other than Yamaguchi, either. It’s a first for both of them.

Hinata sitting with Yuuta amuses him, somehow. It reminds him of Sugawara, warm and bright-eyed, describing to Kageyama the kind of toss Azumane liked best.

“Yuuta getting along well with Hinata?” he asks.

“Hm?” Kageyama says, looking up from his phone. “Oh, uh, I guess so. He still gets a bit quiet around Hinata.”

“Understandable,” Tsukishima says. “And you?”

The bus revs, and Hinata yelps, from somewhere in front of the bus. Distantly, he hears the second-years snoring. Kageyama hesitates for too long, before gruffly saying, “Good.”

“Oh? Aren’t you a good senpai, Kageyama?”

Kageyama burrows into his jacket, the bottoms of his ears sinking past his collar. Tsukishima holds back a smirk. “I’m not as good as Suga-san.”

“That’s a pretty high bar,” Tsukishima says idly. “At least you didn’t say Oikawa. Now that would be different.”

“Shut your mouth,” Kageyama says, although Tsukishima can almost swear that he looks marginally more cheered up.

--

tsukishima (21:35): Ease up on Akito tomorrow

tsukishima (21:35): He’s taking a while to adjust to your tosses

tsukishima (21:35): You’ll break our freshmen before the preliminaries.

ousama (22:02): ok

--

Their arrival at the Sendai City Gym is greeted by excited murmuring and rustling among the people gathered there; going to nationals two years in a row over Shiratorizawa will do that to a team’s popularity.

“That’s him, look,” a nameless voice drifts to them, as they walk across the lobby. “Karasuno’s captain, the middle blocker who’s the nightmare of setters everywhere.”

“Oh? And didn’t he get the captaincy over that setter from the U-19—”

Indistinct chatter washes out whatever reply there might have been, and Tsukishima with the rest of Karasuno walks on. Beside him, Yamaguchi muffles laughter into his hand.

“’The nightmare of setters everywhere’, huh? That’s catchy,” he comments. “Little do they know you’re also the nightmare of your own setter.”

“You’ve gotten a lot cheekier, haven’t you, Yamaguchi?” Tsukishima replies, subtly trying to glance at Kageyama, walking next to a chattering Hinata.

“I learned from the best,” Yamaguchi laughs.

“This is so exciting,” Akito, one of their first-year wing spikers, says excitedly, craning his head around the gym, like they’re in a museum or something. “Are all these people here to watch volleyball?”

“Oh, there’ll be much more of those at Nationals,” Seiji says loudly. Being the most outspoken of the second-years, Tsukishima lets him talk to the freshmen. Idly he wonders if this was how Daichi felt with Tanaka. “The stadium is huge, like, the spectators area is bigger than the courts—”

“That’s enough of that,” Tsukishima intervenes, as Akito and the rest of the first years quiver in equal parts amazement and nervousness. He throws Seiji a loaded look. “Let’s get through the prelims first, hm?”

“Yes, cap’n,” Seiji mock-salutes, not faltering in his step.

Tsukishima sighs, but it’s barely a moment’s respite before Hinata’s voice rings out across the lobby, yelling, “Akiteru-oniisan!”

He whips forward, the reprimand already on his tongue when Akiteru steps up to them, waving politely to Coach Ukai and ruffling Hinata’s hair, and saying meekly to his brother, “Hi, Kei.”

Tsukishima’s anger deflates, but only slightly. “Nii-chan, you have work.”

“I do,” Akiteru replies, oblivious to the way Tsukishima’s kouhai are trying and failing not to gawk. “But my captain of a little brother is also about to take on his first official matches!”

“Oh my god,” Tsukishima exhales, looking heavenward for guidance. While he’s glad that his relationship with his brother has improved greatly since they started acknowledging what happened during his years in Karasuno, it also came at the expense of his dignity, especially around his teammates.

“Hi, Tadashi,” Akiteru continues, directed past his brother. “Looking forward to those serves today! High five,” he raises a hand, which Yamaguchi hesitates at only slightly before high-fiving. Akiteru grins, and greets the two other third years: “Shouyou-kun, Tobio-kun! Good luck today!”

Tsukishima will never get used to the fact that his brother is on a first-name basis with the third years on his team. Hinata and Kageyama blush, the former smiling and the latter trying to stifle his own. Akiteru has always had that effect on people; that is to say, the polar opposite of Kei.

“Never tired of supporting the team, eh, Akiteru?” Coach Ukai says, walking up to properly say hello.

Akiteru smiles, angelic in a way that Kageyama has said is opposite of Kei’s entire being. “Of course not! It’s my cu—”

“Okay ,” Tsukishima says loudly, not wanting a repeat of the last time he let Akiteru go on and on, like he’s still eleven and a foot smaller than his older brother. “If you don’t mind, nii-chan.”

Akiteru laughs, bright, waving them off. Out of the corner of his eye, he sees one of their first-years shyly return his brother’s wave.

--

“Was that… Tsukishima-senpai’s brother?” Akito hisses, later in the locker room, once Coach Ukai has called out Tsukishima and Kageyama for captain-y things.

“I think so,” Yuuta whispers back. “They have the same hair, and the same eyes—”

“But he seemed so nice, though,” Katsuo puts in.

“Are we whispering about Akiteru-san,” Rantarou shuffles closer. The three freshmen recoil guiltily. “No, don’t worry about it, it’s cool. We had pretty much the same reaction last year.”

“He’s a Karasuno alumnus, and he knew the Little Giant personally, so he’s interested in Hinata-senpai,” Seiji adds, from beside Rantarou, “And Tsukishima-senpai, of course.”

“And he seemed so nice,” Katsuo repeats doggedly.

“Yes, well,” Rantarou says sagely, tugging at his orange libero jersey, “he’s also really cute, isn’t he?”

Tsukishima slams the door open, sports glasses already in place, to Rantarou laughing heartily as their three freshmen blush and groan. Without waiting for context, he says loudly, “Rantarou, I don’t know what you did, but I’m going to generally disapprove just to be sure.” The libero opens his mouth to explain, but Tsukishima holds a hand up to stop him. “Save it. Let's go win some games.”

--

rantarou (01:58): You know how captain sometimes calls Kageyama-senpai “king”?

seiji (02:01): boi it is 2 a m

rantarou (02:02): But since hes the vice captain, wouldnt it be more accurate to call him the prince?

seiji (02:02): .... you make a good point

seiji (02:03): BUT COULDNT THIS HAVE WAITED UNTIL TOMORROW

--

Kageyama flubs a toss.

Akito has the misfortune of messing up the spike, and so takes the brunt of Kageyama’s frustration. Kageyama’s scoff is audible as they both land, and he switches between glaring at his fingers, the ball, and Akito.

“Kageyama,” Tsukishima intervenes, taking care to step between the two. “Your hair. Did you forget to get it cut again?”

Kageyama almost immediately deflates. “Oh,” he mumbles.

Tsukishima feels Akito looking around his shoulder. “I—I’m sorry, Kageyama-senpai—”

“Wasn’t your fault. He forgets to trim his bangs sometimes, volleyball idiot that he is,” Tsukishima tells him, almost reassuringly, signaling to Takeda-sensei. “It gets in his eyes. Perfect nail care routine, but forgetting about your hair—”

“I’ll take back the point,” Kageyama grumbles, while Takeda-sensei rummages around in his bag on the bench.

It has the air of a well-worn argument, further confirmed when Rantarou brings out a hairband not unlike the one Coach Ukai wears. Kageyama immediately puts it on with no complaints, to Akito’s quickly stifled surprise, his only thought being: Kageyama-senpai looks very different with his bangs swept up.

“At least you didn’t yell at the first years this time,” Tsukishima says, unperturbed, as Kageyama settles back into position.

“Mm,” Kageyama replies, eyes forward, much more docile than Akito expected him to be.

“Happens more often than you’d think,” Rantarou mutters to Akito, then gives him a quick shove. “Get back into position, before captain spots you.”

--

It’s not until the bus is moving and Kageyama falls asleep that Tsukishima realizes that he’d just spent the last forty-five minutes with him.

Between herding their teammates and all of their gear back on the bus, as well as Kageyama adding his own quick thoughts to Tsukishima’s postgame notes, it sinks into Tsukishima how comfortably they’ve settled into their roles.

When Yamaguchi had first suggested this arrangement, it had sounded ludicrous. When Coach Ukai and Takeda-sensei agreed, their disbelief turned into sure, what the hell, let’s try it. He isn’t sure, somewhere along the way, when this became routine.

He scrambles to remember when was the last time he and Kageyama had argued— and he’s almost glad when he recalls a moment earlier in the day, when Kageyama had refused to move his stuff out of the way of Tsukishima’s locker. But those were petty arguments, almost cute in comparison to the way they had argued in their first year.

Heh, cute. The only thing cute about Kageyama are his arguments with him, Tsukishima thinks mildly.

The setter slumbers on next to him, oblivious. His mouth is hanging open slightly; Tsukishima wonders if he’ll wake if he pushes it shut.

The bus moves onto an open field; through the window, a healthy orange sunset paints the insides of the bus in its colors. In another situation, perhaps with another seatmate, Tsukishima might have appreciated the resemblance and symbolism of their team color. However, right now, in this light, Kageyama’s cheeks look flushed pink.

Tsukishima looks away, blinking rapidly.

--

“Hey.” Kageyama calls, at the carefully regulated volume players use when they don’t want the other team to hear. “Their setter’s been giving you the stink-eye.”

“Think it had anything to do with the past—let’s see—five blocks I’ve pulled off?” Tsukishima says, disinterested. He knows; he noticed. With anyone else other than Kageyama, he might’ve gotten a scolding for his arrogance. However, it’s objectively true; he scored their team points, which is all Kageyama cares about. “I know, Kageyama. It’s not a problem.”

“I’m just saying,” Kageyama insists. “Glare back at him a little.” Another pause, during which Tsukishima can almost hear the gears grinding in his head. "Daichi-san used to do it a lot. And Tanaka-san. And—”

“Well, why don’t you do it, then? Between the two of us, anyway, you have the more intimidating glare,” he interrupts, looking over Kageyama’s shoulder, as the king seems to mull over whether he should be insulted or not.

--

suga-senpai (17:35): congrats on making it to the finals!!!

suga-senpai (17:35): glad to see you and tsukishima are getting along too :DD

kageyama (19:07): thanks, sugawara-san

kageyama (19:07): and yes.. me too

suga-senpai (19:11): vice captaining going as you expected? :)

kageyama (19:23): i honestly thought tsukishima and i would be arguing more

kageyama (19:23): but its … not that bad really

suga-senpai (19:25): of course!

suga-senpai (19:25): you had your differences as freshmen but even before we graduated you were starting to get along better

suga-senpai (19:26): and from what i’ve heard about your second year it’s only improved

suga-senpai (19:26): it’s cute, really ;)

kageyama (19:27): thank you, senpai

suga-senpai (19:28): haha aww did i fluster you?

kageyama (19:28): no, senpai

kageyama (19:29): coach is calling us now… postgame meeting

suga-senpai (19:30): timing is truly the devil

--

Timeouts on the Karasuno bench are awkward.

They’re not even in a high-pressure situation yet—sure, they’re in the second set versus Shiratorizawa in the finals, but they won the first set and they’re still ahead by two.

The first years are still more tense than Tsukishima is comfortable with, but Rantarou and Kageyama’s stability as libero and setter are holding them up. In a five-set game, however, Tsukishima knows the value of consistency, and the first-years are starting to slip.

If there’s one thing he never appreciated Daichi and Ennoshita for consistently doing, it would probably be the way they always knew exactly what to say during a timeout. Whether they were ahead or behind, they would tell the team not to get complacent, or to tease just the right person on the team to reset the mood.

Tsukishima does not know how to even begin to go about doing this.

“Tsukishima,” Hinata says, oblivious, “if I pulled on the band of your glasses while you were wearing them—“

“Please do not,” Tsukishima says reflexively, muffled into the towel he’s wiping his face with.

“—would it hurt?” Hinata’s eyes sparkle, undeterred.

The captain sighs, in a very why-do-I-have-to-deal-with-this-headassery kind of way. He has more important things to deal with, he thinks, until he sees Katsuo over Hinata’s shoulder, looking around at them curiously.

“Yes, Hinata, it would,” he says bluntly.

“Bah,” Hinata says, snapping his fingers. “Worth a shot.”

Seiji raises his hand, like they’re in class. “Maybe Cap can lend you his glasses and you can try it for yourself!”

Hinata perks up. “Hey, Tsukishima—”

No. Seiji, stop it.”

The team stifles their laughter, Katsuo choking on his water bottle behind Hinata. Tsukishima’s a little peeved that this came at his expense, but if it works, it works.

He snaps his sports glasses back on, and opens his mouth to talk strategy to his vice-captain, when he sees him facing the Shiratorizawa bench and openly glaring at Goshiki, the Shiratorizawa captain.

When he calls out Kageyama’s name, he’s unable to keep a note of amusement from his voice.

--

Kageyama is already asleep in the window seat of his usual row on the bus. Over the rest of their team’s heads, he can see Hinata, already passed out in the back row, leaning heavily against Seiji.

“Everyone seems tired,” Yamaguchi murmurs unnecessarily, from behind him.

“Long day,” Tsukishima replies. Yamaguchi settles into the seat beside Yachi, easy as breathing, natural as the sunset. In the row behind them, Kageyama sleeps, unaware.

His thighs are about to give out, and the soles of his feet feel like they’re burning, but he wordlessly stands in the aisle, counting off the crows he calls his teammates, checking to see that all of them were there.

The bus bobs as Coach Ukai and Takeda-sensei board, both of them looking up at him.

“Everyone accounted for, Tsukishima-kun?” Takeda-sensei asks quietly.

“Yes.”

“Get some rest, Tsukishima,” Ukai tells him with a little shove, amused that he hadn’t even sat down yet while half the team had already conked out. “Good work today.”

There’s little more to do except incline his head, and sink into the seat beside Kageyama.

It’s marginally less weird than the first time he’d sat beside Kageyama, and that’s not even considering the fact that Kageyama wakes, slow and unhurried.

“We’re going?” he asks, voice rough.

“Yes.” Tsukishima watches him. He hesitates, then says, “Good work today.”

“You too.” The bus is quiet; up front, Coach Ukai and Takeda-sensei talk in low voices. Their teammates are, miraculously, silent, almost like they’re too tired to snore. Kageyama shifts, taking his attention. “We’re pretty good at this, Tsukishima.”

“Whoa,” Tsukishima says lowly. He would jokingly take Kageyama’s temperature, but he doesn’t think he can do that right now. “Are you sick or something? We still have nationals, king. Don’t scare me like that.” It’s a split second before his stupid brain catches up to his stupid mouth.

Kageyama huffs, amused. It’s the closest to actual laughter Tsukishima has ever heard from him. “Just trying to be honest,” he says through a yawn.

“Well,” Tsukishima says, after a moment of silence, “to be honest, I thought we would’ve ripped each other’s throats out by now.”

“Ak—uh, someone did think that too, yeah.”

Tsukishima rolls his eyes. “Akiteru needs to mind his own damn business.”

“He’s nice,” Kageyama mutters, blinking. He looks ready to sleep again. “Unlike you.”

“I’m plenty nice.” Tsukishima wonders how long he can keep talking to Kageyama before the other falls asleep. “Just not to you.”

“Fuck you.” Kageyama’s eyes fall shut, and he adds, “you’re nice to me.”

“I can’t tell if you want me to be nicer or meaner to you.”

“If you were nicer to me I’d think something was wrong.”

It’s Tsukishima’s turn to stifle a snort.

Kageyama falls asleep soon after that, and Tsukishima spends the rest of the ride hoping that the way Kageyama’s head, tilted towards him, very close but not touching, does not look like Kageyama fell asleep on his shoulder.

Five minutes before they get back to Karasuno, Yamaguchi gets up on his knees to look over the backrest of his seat. He takes one look at the captain and vice captain, and a slow smile spreads over his lips.

"It's not what it looks like," Tsukishima begins, and when Yamaguchi's smug expression doesn't shift, he hisses, “I swear to god, Yamaguchi, one word of this to anyone—”

--

suga-senpai (17:35): kageyamaaaaaaa!!

suga-senpai (17:35): congrats!!

suga-senpai (17:35): i mean, for getting to nationals too, i guess, BUT

suga-senpai (17:36): i heard from yamaguchi about you and tsukishima-kun!!!!

kageyama (19:08): ….. senpai...

suga-senpai (19:10): oh, no need to be shy

suga-senpai (19:10): daichi and i started dating as captain and vice captain too ;D

kageyama (19:11): tsukishima and i are NOT dating

suga-senpai (19:13): ah, my bad!

suga-senpai (19:13): well, i wish you luck in your non-dating endeavors ;)

kageyama (19:14): suga-senpaiiiiiii

--

kuroo (21:45): so whats up w u and that setter of urs?

tsukki (21:56): Fuck off, Kuroo.