Vivid eyes, vivid hair, vivid spirit. Kei loathes it all. From the tips of the boy’s hair to the toenails on his feet, there is no inch of this kid that does not repulse him: an orange ball of fiery passion tightly compressed inside a small, compact body of an over-energetic teenager.
It’s sickening. And doesn’t he know? Doesn’t he realize? The flame that burns the brightest burns out the fastest.
It’s a simple law of nature.
And Kei — Kei knows how this works, has seen it happen with his own two eyes. This isn’t going to end well. He doesn’t have the height to be a middle blocker. Putting forth all that effort when it goes against physics will lead to an even worse fate than his brother’s, he’s sure of it. It won’t be long before the meltdown.
Well. At least that’s something to look forward to.
The meltdown, however, does not happen during their three-on-three match. Despite Kei’s best efforts to crush his spirit, the little Shrimp surprises him.
If you believe effort alone will win out, you’re dead wrong.
Just being reckless isn’t going to make things right. Some people aren’t cut out for some things.
This isn’t a matter of psychology.
You can’t make up for height with feelings.
For a while, Kei thinks it works. He delights in the veins throbbing in every forehead of the opposing team, the angry shouting between the King and his new peasant, the discouraged upturn of lips when Kei stuffs another spike.
But somehow, in the end, against all odds — Hinata defies gravity.
It’s a fluke, Kei thinks, it has to be. But even he can’t deny it after their freak quick happens multiple times in a row. Together, the unlikely pair are already becoming a force to be reckoned with.
It pisses him off.
They lose the set. That pisses him off even more. Kei refuses to dignify them with so much as a look in the eye.
“We’re supposed to shake hands before and after a match.”
Kei turns towards that small head of orange. The boy’s hand is outstretched, his expression set.
“Besides,” Hinata continues, his face souring. “We’re teammates now. Though that doesn’t make me happy.”
I appreciate the honesty, is what Kei would say, but that would mean dignifying them with a response. Instead, he lifts his chin higher and fixes the kid with his best glare.
“Hurry up,” Hinata whispers. “Don’t you know? They’ll kick you out of the gym if you don’t show team spirit.”
“The reason why you two got kicked out,” Kei deadpans, “was because you ignored the captain, started your own competition, and finally, blew the vice principal’s wig off his head.”
“N… never mind the minor details,” the boy grumbles.
When Kei still doesn’t move, the idiot forcefully thrusts his arm forward.
“COME ON! SHAKE HANDS!” he exclaims as Kei shifts out of the way at once.
The stubborn kid keeps trying, reaching out his hand in an attempt to grab Kei’s. He won’t stop, even as it becomes a series of dodge and deflect.
“Get away from me,” Kei snipes back, evading Hinata’s every move.
Although they’re officially teammates now, Kei will be found dead in a ditch before he ever willingly lets Hinata touch him.
While the meltdown may not have happened yet, there’s still time. There’s no way the Shrimp can keep his flame up that bright. Eventually, he will lose steam and that uselessly glorious light will be snuffed out. Kei is prepared for when that day comes.
Even if Hinata’s wildfire continues to blaze on with reckless abandon, scorching everything in its path, Kei vows he will never let himself be burned by the sun.
It’s a simple law of nature: the sun and moon can never shine in the sky at the same time.
Isn’t that why when everyone’s eyes are drawn to Hinata, Kei stays back and makes sure trouble doesn’t happen? Where Hinata shines, Kei wanes, fades into the background, forever orbiting apart.
It’s something that happens naturally. Hinata is blinding more often than not and it would be unwise not to play to that strength. It’s the usual situation. The only difference now is that they’re communicating. Now, Kei has been slowly stepping out into the center — an eclipse or a collision waiting to happen.
Shiratorizawa has been resistant to Hinata’s light, doing everything in their power to block out the sun. While Hinata’s spirit is not so easily crushed, Kei can’t have that happen even just a little bit. The moon still shines from the sun’s borrowed light after all and as sick as it makes him, Hinata’s enthusiasm for the game is a huge weight in pulling the entire team’s morale.
So he elects to step in.
Like the iron wall he’s coming to be, he stands tall and unmoving in Hinata’s path until the wild beast collides with him, cheek bumping against his chest.
“Hey,” Kei greets him.
Historically speaking, Hinata always jumps without looking, his narrow vision too hyper-focused on the ball, often to his detriment. But despite his sloppiness and moments of fumbling, Kei has to admit, as annoying as it is to acknowledge, he’s slowly coming to regard Hinata as a reliable teammate, someone he can even — dare he say it — trust .
Which is why he decides to confront him now. Looking a determined and eager Hinata in the eye, he doles out a suggestion.
“If my serve is cleanly received, there’s a good chance of them doing a quick. Try jumping as high as you can against their #5.”
With a wide grin that almost hurts to look at, Hinata gives him a big nod, his orange hair bouncing with it.
It’s time the sun started polishing his blocks.
Connecting is of vital importance. As long as the ball doesn’t touch the floor, as long as they keep it up in the air, they’ll get another chance.
“One touch!” Hinata exclaims.
It works. The ball is back in the air, ready to be set. Hinata prepares for the run-up — only for Kageyama to pull off a setter dump.
Even Kei has to crack a smile.
In the grand scheme of things, it’s just a point, but the little simpleton idiot had never been one to take those lightly.
Hinata is a volleyball launched straight at his chest, a fireball riding on the wind, gaining speed. Is it going to be a hug or a high five? Kei doesn’t want to find out.
He’s been perfecting the art of the read block, can anticipate the direction of the ball’s trajectory, pinpoint the exact timing of its impact… and right about now—
Kei shifts his right foot and rotates his hip.
Hinata goes flying past him, hands raised, grin wide open. Kei stares at his retreating back in disgust. That was close.
There’s nothing to be so excited about, he thinks as he returns to his position on the court. It’s just a point.
On the list of top most embarrassing moments that Kei has had to endure throughout his life, discovering that Hinata has taken his throwaway “advice” and shown up uninvited to the training camp may have broken a new record.
Predictably, the rest of the invitees comment on Hinata’s appearance. Despite his best efforts to ignore the whole fiasco, and Hinata’s presence, Kei’s brows furrow deeper and deeper upon listening to them talk. Instead of the sensible mutterings about why anyone in their right mind would have the impulsive audacity to invite themselves to an exclusive training camp, some seem to be actually impressed or excited to see Karasuno’s number 10 here in the flesh.
Hinata does not need his head inflated any more than it already is.
It’s not like Kei to lose his cool, least of all in front of a whole line of strangers and people he barely knows, but something about this fresh, new wave of idiocy and reckless behavior makes him snap.
“Have you gone mental?” he hisses out from the corner of his mouth at Hinata.
Hinata merely blinks. “Well, I didn’t want to get arrested.”
Arrested…? Kei frowns. The word rings a bell.
And then the memory clicks.
I wanna go and check it out, just once, Yamaguchi had asked.
Why don’t you just sneak in then?
Are you kidding? I’d get arrested at the speed of light!
Kei shuts his eyes, feeling his temple throb. Normally, the team has a hard time getting Hinata to even sit still and listen, yet here he is, having taken Kei’s throwaway joke to heart. Kei supposes he ought to feel touched, if not for the blood pounding in his ears and the pressure mounting in his veins, threatening to pop.
Once the dam breaks, the ruthless tirade of angry words comes rushing forth.
“Why are you even here?! Did you think you actually could get away with this? What were you thinking?! You dingus! You are… an absolute — moron! ”
He doesn’t realize just how angry he’s gotten until he hears the Aoba Johsai kids behind him whisper about him under their breaths. (“Wow, never imagined Glasses-kun could actually lose his cool like that.”) It’s not his fault Hinata is the most obnoxious guy on earth after The Great King.
Kei continues to glare at him when Hinata gets taken away for questioning.
Tch. Serves him right.
For reasons that Kei will never be able to understand, Hinata decides to stay around as ball boy.
At this point, the matter is out of Kei’s hands and, quite frankly, his concern. If Hinata wants to be here so badly that he’d waste his time humiliating himself by fetching volleyballs when he could be getting in normal practice time back at Karasuno with their team, then by all means, it’s fine by Kei. He has better things to occupy his mind than to fathom the foolish, inner workings of a wild beast.
Still, by the time day four rolls around, Kei has to admit he’s a little impressed with how Hinata has managed to stick it out for this long. It’s not news that Hinata only has one brain cell for volleyball, but if it were Kei, he would never have been able to stand the humiliation.
It is therefore out of pity and practicality — and nothing else — that causes Kei to request Hinata’s help during free practice. The way Hinata’s face lights up only makes his sour more.
It’s just blocking practice… trust the little pea brain to get overexcited.
He’s doing this for practical reasons — Hinata is the kind of spiker that would be beneficial to their blocking practice, it would be a waste not to use him — and he tells Hinata as much when he asks. What he doesn’t expect, however, is a follow up conversation.
They’re standing in the dark outside of Shiratorizawa’s gym, ready to leave for the night, when Hinata pulls up beside him with his bike in tow.
“I know why you invited me to play today.”
Kei looks down at the shorter boy with a raised eyebrow and an upturned nose. At Kei’s confused expression, Hinata’s grin only grows wider. Kei crinkles his nose at the sight of it.
“I know you’ll never admit it, Tsukishima-kun, but I’ve decided to take it as a compliment,” Hinata says with all the confidence of a simpleton idiot.
A vein pulses in Kei’s temple. He never asked for this. If he had known that Hinata would try and trap him into a conversation about kindness and ideals as poor repayment for Kei asking him to practice, he would have never bothered to extend the invitation in the first place, practicality be damned.
“How on earth do you work that out in your puny, little mind?” Kei spits back.
Hinata raises his head higher, a triumphant look on his face. “Well, if you didn’t think I was at least a little bit good, I wouldn’t be worth practicing with, right?”
Kei scowls and turns his head away from Hinata.
“Everyone else needed the blocking practice,” he huffs. “So we needed more spikers. Don’t inflate your head too much.”
Hinata’s smile grows, if possible, even wider — a sunrise so bright, Kei want to turn away. It does nothing to smooth out the irritation rising in his blood.
“It’s fine,” Hinata shrugs nonchalantly, something that pisses Kei off more. “You don’t have to admit it to my face, but i still want to say thank y—”
“Please. Save it,” Kei snaps before walking forward towards the bus stop. A show of gratitude would imply a certain quality about Kei’s behavior that simply was never there to begin with. “I didn’t do you any favors.”
“Doesn’t matter!” Hinata insists, and Kei can hear him running from behind to catch up. “I still feel grateful!”
Kei picks up his pace, willing himself to ignore Hinata completely so as not to encourage this discussion and let it continue any further, but with one giant leap, Hinata pops up in front of him, causing Kei to halt in his steps.
“Get out of the way,” he demands at once.
“No.” Hinata flashes his teeth and starts walking forward. “Not until I thank you properly.”
The movement triggers Kei’s fight or flight instincts at once — when it comes to a physical confrontation with Hinata, he will always choose flight.
Kei takes a step back. “There’s no need for that.”
Hinata opens his arms and Kei feels the blood drain from his face.
No — not a hug…
Reaching out, Kei sticks a hand out against Hinata’s forehead, stopping him in his tracks.
If Hinata were a normal person, he might have simply ducked below and tackled Kei to the ground. Instead, he makes a gwahhhhh! sound and flails his arms around trying to hug him. It’s almost like he doesn’t even have the conviction to actually give Kei a hug. It’s pathetic.
“I said stop,” Kei says in a low, dangerous voice.
“Stingy-shima, Stingy-shima!!” he yells repeatedly. Kei likes to think that he’s succeeded in pissing Hinata off, but the spiker only sounds progressively more cheerful as he calls Kei this insulting name.
After the sixth time Hinata shouts his name, Kei starts to feel a migraine coming on. Groaning, he asks, “What can I do to put an end to this entire interaction immediately?”
“Just give me a hug!” Hinata laughs, ducking out from behind Kei’s hand and leaping forward with his arms outstretched.
“No thanks,” Kei says as he moves out of the way.
“Come on!!” Hinata presses. “Why are you like this?! We aren’t strangers anymore!”
Kei purses his lips and takes another step back.
“You disgust me.”
Lifting a hand, he brings it up to Hinata’s forehead and flicks it, hard. Hinata gives a small yelp of pain and clutches his head, but his smile doesn’t falter.
“Don’t worry, Tsukishima,” he says, looking smug. “Your secret is safe with me. In some tiny, tiny, TINY corner of your heart, I know you’re a little bit of a softie.”
Kei frowns as he watches Hinata run back to pick up his bike before hopping on and making his way back home. Rolling his eyes, he continues down the path towards the bus stop.
There’s one thing that’s absolutely clear from this entire interaction: no matter how harsh Kei chooses his words to be, for some reason or another, he no longer is able to convince Hinata that he hates him.
As his bus arrives, the corner of Kei's lips pull back into a small smirk. Clearly, he needs to kick it up a notch.
Kei looks up from his desk one afternoon during classroom break and finds a bouncing orange blur assaulting his vision. When he blinks again, he sees that Hinata’s mouth is moving, but he can’t hear anything he’s saying through the music blasting around his ears.
With a sigh, he reaches up to draw back his headphones and fixes Hinata with a threatening glare.
“What?” he snaps in his most scathing tone. Hinata doesn’t even falter. (Which is disappointing, to say the least.)
“I said ‘Good morning, Tsukishima-kun!’” he says brightly. “Have I told you lately what a cool, smart guy you are?”
Kei rolls his eyes. “Get to the point. Your poor attempts at flattery will not work on me.”
Hinata gives a nervous laugh and starts fiddling with his thumbs. Good, Kei thinks. He should be scared.
“Remember how Yachi-san mentioned yesterday at practice that her mother got sick?” he asks.
Oh, no. The fidgeting, the skittish behavior, the lead-in with Yachi’s life — this is heading in a direction Kei does not like.
“Well, you know…” Hinata continues. “Because of that, she’s got her hands full this week with school, volleyball practice, and taking care of her mom, and I don’t wanna burden her! So… if it’s not too much trouble, I was wondering if you could please—”
“No,” Kei turns down flatly. Hand still on one side of his headphones, he starts pulling them back up over his ears when Hinata claps his hands together in front of him and bows his head.
“Please, Tsukishima!” he begs, his eyes shut tight. “I don’t want what happened last year where Kageyama and I almost couldn’t make it to Shinzen’s training camp! There’s an exam coming up in four days and I want to stop tanking them!”
Kei raises an eyebrow, not bothering to hide his pitying expression.
“It’s in four days and you’re only coming to me for help about this now?” he sneers. “You know you maybe wouldn’t have this problem if you’d stop dedicating your only two brain cells to volleyball. If you’d just had the sense to reserve one of them for your studies…”
“I know!” Hinata interrupts, nodding his head fervently. “I know. I’m turning over a new leaf, I swear!” — Kei doubts that — “so even though you’re a mean, stingy, kinda-scary jerk-face” — amazing vocabulary — “I need your help! Please!”
He bows again, this time bending his entire upper body forward until his forehead hits Kei’s desk.
Kei scoffs in disgust. “Get your face off my desk, you’re defiling my space.”
“Sorry!” Hinata leaps backward and bows again and again and again. “Sorry! Sorry! Sorry!”
“Oh my god, shut up,” Kei snaps, pinching the space between his brows with two fingers. “You are the most headache-inducing person I’ve ever had the misfortune to meet.”
“So… is that a yes?” Hinata asks with a smile.
“… What part of what I said makes you think it was a yes?”
“The part where you didn’t say no?” he tries, testing the waters. Hinata’s expression remains hopeful. Too hopeful. Something weird and unfamiliar squeezes inside Kei’s chest at the sight of it.
He shoves it down.
Kei already knows how this will go. It’s a path of diminishing returns. Tutoring a wild beast and trying to get him to understand anything outside of volleyball is a headache in and of itself. Although they’re in their second year, Kei knows from the little tidbits of conversations with Yamaguchi that Hinata still has a lot of trouble with English, and the mere idea of helping him reach a higher level of understanding tires him out. It’s going to be a gargantuan task.
But gone are the days where Kei could make Hinata cower in fear with a single phrase or word. He’s not sure he can find a good way to back out of this. Even if he tries to refuse, he knows the stubborn idiot will never give up, and he guaranteed has far more energy to hound Kei than Kei has to resist.
“Well,” Kei sniffs. “My mother may not be sick, but I’m a busy person too. Do you know how taxing it is for anyone to try and get your brain to absorb and retain anything?”
Hinata grips both sides of Kei’s desk and leans forward into his space.
“I’ll buy you garigari-kun!” Hinata offers at once. “Lots of it! One for every day of this week!”
Kei upturns his lips. “Try strawberry shortcake.”
“Is that your favorite dessert?” Hinata tilts his head in question, genuine curiosity written all over his face. Something about how earnest that expression is tugs at Kei’s better nature, and he realizes belatedly that the unfamiliar squeeze he felt earlier might have actually been something akin to affection.
He turns his face away as he answers, “Just do it. Don’t forget or the deal is off. I expect one tomorrow. And get your hands off my desk.”
Hinata beams and backs away, lifting his arms up as he does so. It’s as bright of a smile as it usually is, but this time, Kei finds that he doesn’t feel the need to avert his gaze.
“Okay!” Hinata promises.
Unlike the first time Kei tried to tutor Hinata, the next three days are not entirely unpleasant. True to his word, Hinata is trying much harder than ever before to buckle down on his studies — though of course, he claims it’s mostly because he can’t lose to Kageyama in any aspect of their sad little lives.
Still, it isn’t the worst. With a determination he usually only reserves for volleyball, Hinata has been more attentive than usual, trying his best to digest everything Kei teaches him. Kei wonders if he ought to be concerned. It’s quite scary how much Hinata improves once he really puts his mind to things.
Also true to his word, Hinata has brought him a strawberry shortcake to every after-school tutoring session they’ve had so far. It succeeds in actually getting Kei to look forward to spending time with Hinata and trying to knock information into that pea-sized skull. On top of that, he gets to savor the cake later at night after dinner by himself in his room.
It’s not a bad arrangement.
After practice the day after their last study session, Hinata corners him outside of the club room, an impish grin on his face.
“What,” Kei deadpans. “I don’t remember extending my business hours past yesterday.”
Hinata pouts and lets out a whine of frustration. “Why do you always assume I only talk to you when I need something?”
Kei levels him with an exasperated look. “Don’t you though?”
Hinata shakes his head proudly. “Not today! Here!”
He pulls out a clear, plastic box and holds it up to Kei. Kei looks down at it and immediately feels a weird lump form in his throat.
Another strawberry shortcake.
This wasn’t part of the arrangement; it’s an extra one Hinata must have bought. Kei realizes that he has nothing mean to say, so he doesn’t say anything at all.
“I know we didn’t talk about this, but I made a promise to myself that if you helped me get at least a B on this exam, I’d buy you a bonus strawberry shortcake.” Hinata looks up at Kei and beams. “I got a ninety two percent!”
Kei leans back, impressed, a burst of pride swelling in his chest. Well done, Hinata, he thinks in his head. His lips curl into a satisfied smirk.
“Shocking,” he says instead, taking the box from his hands.
“Thanks,” Hinata returns, looking smug. In the next moment, however, his smirk grows wider, causing Kei to recoil in nervous anticipation. “You know what this means, Tsukki.”
“Ew, don’t call me that,” Kei wrinkles his nose. He takes a step back for good measure, and just in time as well — without warning, Hinata stretches his arms out and lunges forward.
“Stop. You’ll ruin my cake,” Kei grumbles, moving cleanly out of the way as Hinata goes flying past him. It’s hilarious how often he’s fallen for that.
“Welp. Can’t stay long,” Kei says, hitching his bag higher on his shoulders as he walks away. “Thank you for the cake by the way. See you tomorrow, Shrimpy.”
He gives a lazy wave of his hand before dropping it back at his side.
Kei may now be at place where he won’t openly deny that he and Hinata are friends, but actually consenting to physical affection?
Never in a million years.
Beads of sweat roll down Kei’s neck, pooling at the collar of his shirt. His breathing is heavy, and it takes every last ounce of effort left in him to lift his head up and give Hinata an exasperated glare.
“That’s the fifth time you’ve said that,” he points out, voice sounding hoarse from the workout. “And you've gotten three spikes past me in the last five minutes. Learn when to be satisfied.”
“Guhhh, but that last one was a little bit off,” Hinata frowns, rolling another volleyball in his hands. “So, not satisfied.”
“I’m hardly even a challenge to practice with right now,” Kei shoots back, bending over with his knees bent and his hands on his thighs. “I’m not Kageyama.”
He looks up just in time to see a sour expression on Hinata’s face at the mention of The Great King.
“Kageyama and I can’t only practice with each other,” he says, and Kei thinks he hears a hint of sadness behind it…
His head starts to throb. The dejected look on Hinata’s face means the conversation is treading into dangerous, unpleasant territory and Kei intends to do anything he can to escape it.
Ever since their first Shinzen training camp, the freak duo have had their good days and off days. Although the off days are few and far in between, this week of their last Shinzen training camp happens to fall under one of them. Of course, it’s Kei who ends up being dragged into picking things up from behind.
“Fine,” Kei assents after a long minute of silence. “One more. But I swear, if you ask that again after this, I’m leaving you to clean this entire court up by yourself.”
A bright, sunny grin splits Hinata’s face and he lets out of shout of glee before asking a second year setter from Fukurodani for another round.
Kei takes a deep breath and tries to refocus his remaining energies to outlast the next few minutes.
Hinata serves, Kei hits it back to him, the Fukurodani setter prepares for the toss, Kei assesses their positions, watches Hinata’s gaze… and one… two… three—
He gets in position and jumps. The ball slams his wrist and topples down between them, hitting the floor on Hinata’s side of the net.
Kei straightens back up, his energy levels completely depleted, and yet, still feels the corners of his lips pull into a lazy smirk.
“Ah, that’s too bad,” Kei says, walking off the court towards his water bottle. “Turns out you wasted your last chance failing to get a spike past me. Oh well. Better luck next time.”
While Kei takes a long, satisfying swig of water, Hinata clenches his jaw and stays by the net, gnashing his teeth together in frustration.
Kei turns his head slightly to glance back at him.
“Did you not hear what I said? I’m not staying past that last one,” he replies. He starts walking towards the exit, makes it halfway to the door when he hears the pitter patter of footsteps running up from behind.
Hinata jumps and spreads himself across the entryway of the gym, his arms outstretched, barring Kei from leaving.
“One more,” Hinata asserts, his voice going freakishly calm.
Kei scowls. After dealing with Hinata for the last two and a half years, he recognizes what’s going on here at once: the intensity, the certainty, the focus that sets into place when Hinata’s conviction burns so hot, his usual brightness dims itself and lends its energy to pure heat. Kei knows better than to try and dissuade him now.
He takes another look at Hinata’s expression, gleans the rage and frustration written in the furrow of his brows and the lines of his face, understanding dawning on him. Draping a towel around his neck, Kei lets out a sigh.
“Alright, pea brain,” he says. “Just spit it out.”
At this, Hinata blinks and his expression clears into confusion. “Huh?”
“You’re bothered by something, aren’t you?” Kei asks, wiping his forehead with the back of his arm. “I told you I’m not blocking for you anymore, so just spit it out so we can get this over with.”
Hinata’s eyes widen. “D-id you just — are you — are you inviting me to — to share ?”
Kei puts a hand on his hip and looks away. “If you’re going to do so, please hurry up before I change my mind.”
Hinata turns to the Fukurodani setter. “Ah, you can leave if you need to, Inihara-kun! We can clean up from here!”
The boy nods and takes his leave, saying goodbye as he passes them on his way out through the exit.
Once he rounds the corner and disappears, Hinata takes a deep breath and releases it. Kei leans a shoulder against the wall and waits for Hinata to speak.
“Kageyama wants to apply to five different schools for next year,” Hinata begins, then dips his head down, pensive. “None of them are in Sendai.”
“What does that have anything to do with you?” Kei asks.
“Because!” Hinata exclaims, throwing his hands up in the air. “Only two of them are schools I want to apply to. What if we go to the same school? What if we go to a different school? What if we go to schools in completely different prefectures and never even get to play each other again? What if he gets accepted somewhere with a really good volleyball team and I don’t? What if the same school accepts him but rejects me?”
Hinata pauses, going quiet.
“What if after the last two years here, I still won’t be good enough to stand on my own.”
He says the last sentence as a statement, not a question. It’s weird, too weird, seeing Hinata like this. Kei doesn’t really know what to do with it. Defeat is not a good look on him.
Suddenly, Hinata raises his head and stares up at Kei.
“Say, Tsukishima?” he asks. “Do you know what you want to do in the future?”
Kei opens his mouth, but Hinata interrupts him again.
“Wait, what am I talking about,” Hinata says, shaking his head. “Of course you know. You’ve probably got the next ten years of your life mapped out, haven’t you?”
Kei shrugs. It’s not too far from the truth, though it’s probably more realistic to say the next five years rather than ten.
“More or less.”
He thinks of Akiteru and how his brother probably once thought long ago, naively, foolishly, that he’d be playing volleyball forever, for the rest of his life. Ni-chan has always been passionate about the sport; Kei doesn’t doubt that in the slightest. But Kei also knows this: no matter what, given a few more years out from university, pragmatism eventually will take over. It’s a simple law of nature, a sad reality that every person on this earth must someday come to accept if they want to stay afloat. No one is exempt. (Unless they are born filthy rich, of course.)
“I just want to win,” Hinata mumbles.
For Kageyama, Kei understands; it is the one skill he is exceptionally good at, as though from birth, all of the talent in his very being have gathered into one solitary compass arrow pointing north towards volleyball. Hinata, however, has more options than he probably realizes on his horizon. It could be a bit of a shame if he doesn’t choose to explore any of them.
“Well. I’m not surprised you’re feeling so conflicted. You’ve always been incredibly short-sighted,” Kei says. “Maybe you won’t, or can’t, be playing volleyball forever. Maybe you won’t even like it five years from now.”
He almost laughs at the horrified look on Hinata’s face at these words. The possibility has clearly never crossed his small, pea-sized mind.
“How can you even say such a thing, Tsukishima?!”
Something about Hinata’s wide-eyed gaze and deer-in-the-headlights look causes laughter to bubble from the pit of Kei’s stomach. Throwing his head back, Kei brings a hand up to hide his grin and starts snickering with glee.
“Oi! Stop laughing!” Hinata snaps, bristling with indignation. “It’s not funny!”
But Kei can’t help himself — Hinata is so earnest and one-track minded, it’s… annoyingly kind of endearing.
“What are you so worried about then?” Kei asks after he’s calmed down enough to speak. “You’re always bouncing around, too over eager and excited. You never stop needlessly exerting yourself, have an endless bank of energy, never shut up or back down from a challenge — it makes me sick. In fact, your most aggravating quality is both your drive and motivation to push past any obstacles that come your way and not knowing when to give up. I really don’t know how I’ve put up with you for so long.”
Hinata balls his fists and glares up at him. Kei raises an eyebrow. And then — Hinata’s expression clears. The knot between his brows smooth out and he straightens himself up, giving Kei a knowing smile.
“That was a compliment, wasn’t it?” Hinata asks, leaning forward to peer up into Kei’s face. Kei frowns and averts his eyes. Unfortunately, after two years of spending time and playing volleyball together, it’s clear Hinata has now picked up on all his behavior patterns and what they really mean. “It totally was! You were actually trying to make me feel better!”
His face splits into the brightest grin he’s ever given Kei in the history of their friendship. “I’ve finally learned how to speak Tsukishima!”
Kei’s frown deepens. “Congratulations, you’ve learned to communicate like a normal person.”
“That’s a lie and we both know it!” Hinata laughs. Cupping his hands around his eyes to make fake glasses for himself, he drops his voice down to a low, deadpan monotone. “‘You make me sick. You’re too excited and hardcore and awesome, all good qualities I hate.’ I mean,” — he breaks back into his normal speech, “who talks like that?”
“That’s not what I said!” Kei snaps, feeling his cheeks burn as Hinata doubles over with more laughter. “And that’s not how I look or sound like. You just look like an idiot.”
Hinata doesn’t stop. Kei pinches the bridge of his nose, the blood pounding in his ears. He’s starting to feel like Kageyama. Is that what Hinata does to people? Shine so bright, others lose their cool?
“Hey. But seriously,” Hinata says, wiping the tears from the corner of his eyes once he’s calmed down and gone quiet again. He frowns at the floor. “This is our last training camp. I don’t want it to be, but it is. None of us can get around that.”
Kei blinks down at him. “So what’s your point?”
“I don’t know,” Hinata says with a subdued huff. “I just hate thinking about the future.”
Kei snorts. “Like that’s a surprise.”
“Well, if you were me, would you be worried?” Hinata asks.
“You’ll have to be more specific. If I were you, I’d be worried about a lot of things. What I do with the rest of my brain cells for one.”
“Gahhh, you know what I mean!”
Kei considers him for a moment.
“No,” he finally says. “I wouldn’t be.”
Hinata gives a loud sigh of relief and beams.
And then he’s walking nearer.
Kei takes a step back. “What are you doing?”
“Giving you a hug,” he replies, stretching out his arms. “Come on, don’t be a stranger!”
“Get away from me,” Kei commands, backing away more and more until his hip suddenly presses up against the volleyball cart behind him. Reaching back, he grabs a ball and shoves it at Hinata. By pure instinct, Hinata retracts his arms and catches it in his hands, giving Kei enough time to slip away.
He runs back to retrieve his water bottle and hurries out the exit.
“Oi! Tsukishima!!” Hinata calls out after him, one hand clinging onto the doorframe. “You’re supposed to help me clean up! I told Inihara we would!”
Kei stops in his tracks and turns his head just enough to glance back at him. “I never said I agreed to it.”
“Mean!” Hinata cries out as Kei turns back around and keeps on walking. “You’re leaving me alone?! So unfair!! Stingyshima! Unfair-shima! Mean-jerkface-and-selfish-shima!”
Kei gives a final wave of his hand and continues on the path towards the showers, a small, barely visible smile spreading across his face.
Gravity slows; the world stops turning.
The ball hits the floor, a crisp smack reverberating throughout the stadium. Every eye on the court follows it until it rolls to a stop, the air heavy with the silence of the crowd’s bated breath. The only sound Kei can hear is the thudding of his own heart.
A whistle blows. Sweat drips down the back of his neck. Kei turns away from the net and prepares himself to face the rest of his team.
For five whole seconds, they stand and stare at each other—
The stands erupt into cheers. Hinata is the first to make a move. He clenches his fists and lets out a roar of triumph that Kageyama echoes at once. Together, the team closes in on each other, quickly losing themselves in a mess of hands and arms as jerseys are gripped and tears are shed.
“We… We did it, ” Hinata chokes, sounding as though his breath has been completely knocked out of him. “We won. ”
The team echoes back with shouts of agreement. Across the sea of joyful embracing, Kei finds Hinata staring straight at him, the glow in his amber eyes a bright light bursting into flame.
“How did you know it would be there?” Hinata asks, a mixture of disbelief and reverence in his voice.
In the last few seconds leading up to their final point, Hinata had dived out of bounds to save the ball. Given the trajectory of the initial spike, Yamaguchi had just barely been able to get it up into the air. Hinata’s subsequent receive had therefore been both difficult and their last, desperate lifeline. Although it’d flown at the wrong angle to the other side of the court, they had connected . After being on the same side of the court for three years, they’ve grown too familiar towards one another not to. Kei had been there right on time, hit the ball over towards the center where Kageyama was able to perform his one final toss.
Kei levels him with an equally fierce gaze. The sun and moon never shine in the sky at the same time. But after three years of blood and sweat, of conflicts and squabbles, of all that pushing and pulling of the tides, Kei has to admit: he and Hinata have somehow managed to defy the very laws of nature.
It isn’t an eclipse, neither blocking the other one out. Rather, it’s a coming together, a collision of light, the formation of a star.
He shrugs. “Someone had to.”
The grin that spreads over Hinata’s face tells Kei he’s read the real meaning behind those words: I have your back; I have always had your back.
For the first time in all their years of knowing each other, Kei smiles back — a genuine, true smile.
In the next moment, however, Kei regrets doing so at once when he sees Hinata pushing his way through the team to get to him.
“That wasn’t an invitation for you to—”
He shifts his body away just in time as Hinata draws near but the spiker still manages to wrap his limbs around Kei’s left arm.
“Get off,” Kei demands. Hinata’s grin turns impish.
Burying his head in Kei’s shoulder, he clings on even tighter until Kei’s arm starts to feel real pain.
“Ow! You moron! Let go!”
Reaching around with his other arm, Kei tries to pry Hinata off. A crazy wild beast as ever, he puts up an annoying struggle against Kei’s fingers, which are already bruised and bandaged up.
“Oi! Get off!” Kei repeats, but Hinata continues to laugh and cling.
Thankfully, Yamaguchi chooses that exact moment to chime in and save the day.
“Come on, guys, it’s time to line up!”
At long last, Hinata lets go and backs away. When Kei looks down at him, he finds the most vibrant smile gleaming up at him.
The sun and moon never shine in the sky at the same time.
But they’re both shining bright today, along with the whole team by their sides. As they head over to shake hands with their opposing school, as they bow their heads at their loyal fans in the stands, as they line up later at the awards ceremony to receive their trophy, Kei has to hand it to him. With their combined rays of light, he and Hinata truly make up a blazing star whose radiance will never burn out.
The afternoon of their final day of high school is crisp and cold, the last of winter’s chill still clinging in the air. With not a single wisp of cloud in the sky, the weak spring sun shines down upon them, the mild warmth just barely seeping through their coats and scarves. Despite it all, Hinata and Yamaguchi have insisted that all five of the third years make a trip to Ukai’s shop together after the graduation ceremony for garigari popsicles, tacking on sad, tragic phrases like “for tradition’s sake” and other such unnecessary and overly sentimental nonsense.
After purchasing their food (Kageyama had added three pork curry buns to his order, of course ), the five of them step back outside into the cold to enjoy their snacks. Yamaguchi gives a heavy sigh as he pops open his wrapper, looking morose. Kei braces himself for the sort of lament he knows is about to come.
“I can’t believe it. Today is really here.”
Hinata nods and gives a hum of agreement. Kei rolls his eyes.
“Shut up, Yamaguchi,” he says. “Don’t talk like you haven’t been exuding anxiety about today for the last few weeks. That would be inconsiderate to all parties who had to deal directly with the full brunt of it — in other words, me.”
“Sorry, Tsukki!” Yamaguchi replies cheerfully, probably out of habit more than anything.
“Easy for you to say,” Hinata pouts. “You’re the one leaving us.”
Kei purses his lips. “Kageyama is going to a school in Tokyo, too.”
At the call out, Kageyama shoots him a glare, which Kei is happy to return. Old habits die hard.
“Well, he’s not the one complaining, is he?” Hinata shoots back. He sticks his tongue out at Kei, revealing the fact that the entire interior of his mouth has already been dyed blue from the garigari stick. Kei wrinkles his nose in disgust.
“Yachi isn’t going to be staying that close either,” Kei points out under his breath.
And it’s true. Although Yachi will be attending a school in Miyagi, she will no longer be an easy, convenient bus ride from Hinata and Yamaguchi, who are the only two planning to go to the same university close to home.
“Gahhh, you don’t have to be so negative about everything,” Hinata whines, elbowing Kei in this ribs. “Right, Yachi?”
“Wha—?” Yachi blinks, looking alarmed to be asked for an opinion. “A-ah… yeah,” she frowns. “We really will miss you two though!”
Kei sighs. With three (and a half, if you count Kageyama’s perfect neutrality on the matter) against one, there’s just no evading the inevitable: the uncomfortably emotional parting that Hinata, Yamaguchi, and Yachi seem determined to have.
Better to rip it off like a bandaid.
He stands up from his seat in front of the shop and doesn’t turn around to face them.
“We still have a month of summer break before we truly part ways,” he states in a level, insipid tone. “It’s not like we can’t come back here together over holiday breaks.”
Hinata jumps to his feet at once and points an accusing finger at Kei.
“Don’t pretend!” he shouts, his expression fired up and animated. “You’re totally going to miss us too! Even if you'll never admit it!”
Kei dips his head down to hide the smallest of smiles.
“I doubt it,” he says. “We’ve spent enough time together in the last three years to last me a lifetime.”
“Mean, Tsukishima!” Hinata pouts as Yamaguchi laughs quietly to himself. “This is supposed to be a celebratory hangout of remembering good times and looking forward together!”
“I haven’t said anything to stop you all from doing so,” Kei points out.
Hinata and Yamaguchi both open their mouths to argue back before stopping to look at each other after a moment of consideration.
Yeah, that’s right.
“Gahhh, then we’ve been wasting too much time!” Hinata flails his arms around above his head. “My garigari-kun is already gone!”
“Well, the fault there, Hinata, is not in our stars, but in your abhorrently brutish appetite,” Kei smirks.
Hinata tilts his head sideways. “A-ab—hor—rent?”
Kei gives a resigned sigh. “Have you learned nothing from your last three years of education? If this is all it took to graduate high school, anyone could do it.”
“You—” Hinata breaks off with angry huff. “Today is supposed to be a celebratory hangout of remembering good times and — !”
“Yeah,” Kei says, stifling a snigger. “You really ought to reminisce over all those vocabulary worksheets you were supposed to have retained throughout your entire high school career.”
Hinata lets out a roar of frustration.
“Tsukki!!” Hinata yells. Kei’s smile drops at once.
“Don’t call me that.”
The rest of the group breaks out into laughter at both their expense. Even Kageyama is snickering. Kei twists his lips.
And this is how things between them ought to be: sitting together in front of Ukai’s shop and teasing one another relentlessly, just like any other day. No need for formalities or getting overly sentimental about the past. If asked, Kei would deny it until his dying day, but being together like this, exactly as they’ve always been, on their final day of high school — well, he wouldn’t have had it any other way.
They talk and laugh and joke around beneath that faint spring sun, Hinata occasionally speculating with hope and excitement about their respective futures and the great unknown. Kei loosens the scarf around his neck as he listens to him, a renewed warmth blossoming inside his chest. In spite of — or perhaps because of — everything they’ve been through, as he sits with his teammates, here at the end of all things, letting time pass them idly by, Kei is certain that there is nowhere else he’d rather be.
After all their snacks are eaten, popsicle sticks thrown away, the five of them say their goodbyes, Hinata and Yamaguchi insisting they do their best to keep the tradition up every time they’re all home for the holidays. While Kageyama and Hinata devolve into another one of their mindless arguments, Yamaguchi offers to walk Yachi to her bus stop. Wanting to avoid getting caught up in any one of the idiot duo’s disputes, Kei takes this as his cue to leave and heads back home on his own.
He’s just walking along the rice paddy fields when he hears someone calling out his name from behind.
Kei stops in his tracks, confusion settling in. After three years of playing volleyball next to each other, he’d recognize that voice anywhere.
Turning around, he finds Hinata biking towards him, legs pumping vigorously and — is that—?
It is. Glinting slightly in the sun, the large white plastic of Kei’s headphones dangles around Hinata’s neck. In the next second, Hinata skids to a stop in front of Kei and leans his weight on one leg so he can catch his breath.
Kei blinks down at him. He is so used to being constantly glued to his headphones that he had forgotten Hinata had stolen them earlier for a listen after insisting incessantly that after all this time, he still doesn’t know what kind of music Kei listens to. After enduring the torture that is Hinata’s loud, annoying voice for five full minutes, Kei finally relented and permitted him one good listen to his playlist of lofi mixes. Desperate to get away from Kageyama and Hinata yelling at each other after their hangout, it had slipped Kei’s like that his headphones were still around Hinata’s neck.
“Tried to make away with my sound system, did you?” Kei asks, watching Hinata dismount from the bike. Still panting, he bends over with his palms on his knees, head hanging low.
“I’m sorry, Tsukishima!” Hinata shouts, clapping his hands together above his head. “Please forgive me! I know how much trust it takes for you to let someone borrow your precious headphones and I failed you! Sorry! Sorry! Sorry!”
“Stop groveling,” Kei snaps, turning his nose up. “It’s creeping me out.”
Mouth still open in mid-apology, Hinata clamps them shut at Kei’s words and bows his head again. Reaching his hands for Kei’s headphones, he lifts them up over his neck and holds them out to Kei. Kei takes it from him, wrapping the wire, which is still attached to his ipod, around one of the earpieces.
“Thanks,” he mutters before he stows the headphones away in his bag. He’s going to need to properly sanitize them later. “Is that all?”
“Um — yeah!” Hinata says, scrambling to bend down and pick his bike back up. “Yeah, that’s all. So, uh, I’ll just — I guess I’ll see you…”
He trails off, pressing his lips tightly together, and the two of them fall back into an awkward silence. It’s clear he was about to say tomorrow, before remembering that their school year is now over. But then, as he tries to correct himself and say after break , Hinata’s eyes widen. He, like Kei, must have finally arrived at the dawn of their new reality: there is no tomorrow or an after break anymore. Only uncertainty and the unknown of what’s beyond the horizon.
Everything is going to change.
They stand facing each other for what feels like ages. Somewhere up above, the clouds shift to cover the sun, casting everything into shade and stealing the warmth away. Kei shrinks into himself, lowering his head until his nose is tucked behind his scarf, a growing discomfort at their predicament mounting in his stomach.
Resilient as ever, Hinata still hasn’t moved an inch. Kei doesn’t know how much longer he can stand this. He doesn’t know how Hinata can.
Just as Kei is about to turn around and extricate himself from the situation, Hinata lets out a long, weary sigh and looks down at the ground.
“You know…” he frowns, his hands twisting around his bike handles. “Even though you’re always so mean to me, I’m…” he shuts his eyes and takes a deep breath. “I’m really gonna miss you, Tsukishima.”
Kei blinks back in surprise. If he had felt uncomfortable at all before these words, it was nothing compared to the discomfort he feels now. The admission is too honest, too sentimental, too — too Hinata . He doesn’t know what to do with that.
It’s an asshole move and he knows it, but the easiest way out of this sticky mess is to default to how he’s always been.
With a casual shrug, he utters the word, “Nice,” before turning around and walking away without another glance at Hinata’s expression. Kei’s lips curl upon reflex, a small smirk growing in anticipation for the boisterous shout of protest he knows will surely come. He strains his ears for Hinata’s voice and the pitter-patter of small feet chasing after him, but it doesn’t come.
Instead, after a mere five steps out, he hears a resigned sigh — the sound of defeat.
Kei stops walking at once, the smirk fading from his face.
Although he will never admit it, Kei has gotten used to disliking that noise coming from Hinata. It’s the same sound he makes when he’s had a fruitless practice but is still forced to go home, the same one Kei’s heard once or twice when Hinata has actually put forth his all and still can’t wrap his head around a difficult concept in time for a test. It’s not a sound Hinata makes often, but when he does, Kei knows he’s facing a crushing defeat.
Rearranging his expression back into perfect neutrality, Kei turns around.
Hinata is slightly hunched over, his head bowed down and his eyes on the ground. Even his orange hair appears crumpled, looking dull and muted and lacking its usual bright luster. He’s genuinely sad, Kei realizes. Sad at the prospect of not seeing each other as often anymore.
Against his will, a faint warmth blooms inside his chest, rising up to form a lump in his throat. Three initial months of trying to snuff out Hinata’s fire, three years of playing volleyball together — and after everything they’ve been through, Kei finds that he no longer wants to ever see that bright light burn out of existence.
He clears his throat. “Oi. I’ll see you when I see you.”
Hinata’s head snaps up, disbelief written all over his face.
“Huh?” he asks, sounding disgustingly hopeful.
With a scowl, Kei shifts his gaze somewhere off to the left of Hinata, refusing to look him directly in the eye.
“This isn’t goodbye.”
Hinata blinks back at him from across the path, still processing and letting the words sink in. After a few seconds, the corners of his lips pull back, splitting his face into the widest grin Kei has ever seen.
At that moment, the sun starts to creep back out from behind the clouds, illuminating the sheer delight and blinding joy on his face. Hinata’s hair seems to stand up a little straighter, glow a little brighter, an effect intensified by the breeze blowing up against him from behind. And just like that, Hinata is once again bursting with renewed energy, rolling around on the balls of his feet.
With a sigh, Kei turns his head away and stretches an arm out. He’s not sure he can bear to witness this.
It’s a simple law of nature: the sun and the moon can never shine in the sky at the same time. But here is another truth: eventually, with time, the moon will turn on its axis towards the light and offer it’s face fully to the sun.
For almost a whole minute, nothing happens. Kei peeks over at Hinata out of the corner of his eye and sees the shorter boy still standing in the same place, staring at him in complete shock.
“Ugh,” he groans. “Just hurry up before I change my mind. My arm’s getting tired.”
But before he had even finished the sentence, Kei hears the bike clatter to the ground. Quick and nimble as ever, Hinata flies at him at once, his vivid hair ruffling with the wind. A strong force collides with his chest, knocks the air out of his lungs, and a pair of arms wraps around his torso, squeezing tight.
“Ow! Watch it,” Kei scolds, though it’s without any real heat. Hinata ignores him completely, happy to press his cheeks into Kei’s chest as he continues squeezing him with a vice-like grip.
“Seriously, I can’t breathe.”
Kei clenches his teeth, feeling as stiff as a board in Hinata’s hold.
“It’s your fault,” Hinata tells him. “Consider this three years’ worth of hugs I have to make up for.”
After a few moments of adjustment, Kei eventually lets himself relax a little. Lowering his elbow, he folds his arm around Hinata and squeezes back.
He hears a muffled giggle at his chest and glares down, the orange tips of Hinata’s hair barely grazing his chin.
“Don’t get used to it.”
“I know,” Hinata laughs, face still pressed into his shirt. “That’s why I’m gonna hold on for as long as possible.”
Kei blinks, feeling the heat rise up his neck. Scowling, he grips Hinata’s shoulder tighter.
Glad that Hinata can’t see his face in this position, Kei lifts his head and stares off across the rice paddy fields. Slowly, he lets his lips curl into the smallest of smiles.