It was one of those hot, humid nights again. The kind where sheets stuck to skin, legs grew more and more restless, and box fans recirculated the same sweltering air through the room.
Outside, cicadas screamed with the same volume and passion that Reon wished he could. He punched his pillow into a slightly bulkier shape, desperately hoping it would make even a modicum of difference. He’d long since kicked his top sheet to the foot of the mattress when it had lost the war between wanting something to cover him and needing escape from the smothering heat it brought.
The new pillow shape wasn’t helping. Neither was the fact that he’d flipped it so many times that there was no longer a cool spot.
Reon rolled onto his back, one arm draped over his eyes. His sleep shirt was twisted around his body, but he couldn’t be bothered to fix it. Miserable and drenched in his own sweat like he’d just played a five set match, Reon laid spread-eagle and motionless.
Maybe if I don’t move, I can fool my brain into thinking it’s asleep, he thought hazily.
It almost worked too. He finally reached the transcendental state of being neither conscious nor unconscious, when there was a knock at his door.
The knock wasn’t particularly polite. In fact, it was a tad demanding and far too loud for such an hour.
I’m asleep, Reon thought. I’m asleep. I’m asleep. I’m asleep.
The second knock was even louder and quite obviously more insistent.
Reon swung himself furiously off of his mattress, grunting softly as he did. If it was who he thought it was, the Shiratorizawa volleyball team was about to be down one Tendou Satori.
And so it was with charitable murder on his mind and bone-deep exhaustion on his face that Reon swung open his door. But there was no bright red hair and wonky smirk to greet him.
“Pardon the intrusion,” said Ushijima. “Are you busy at the moment?”
Words stuck themselves in Reon’s throat as he stared a few moments too long. Ushijima was also sweaty, droplets catching the light of the hallway as they slid down his face. But it was less the look of humidity and more like he’d just returned from an intense workout. His eyes were unusually manic, and his hair was sticking up wildly around his head.
This was an Ushijima who Reon had seen only once before: the fifth set of their game against Karasuno High School.
“You better come in,” Reon rasped, glancing outside the door to check for any hall monitors.
Ushijima stepped past him, paced once awkwardly in the small space, then sat down on the floor.
“Ushijima... Do you have any idea what time it is?”
There was a moment’s pause while Ushijima wrestled his flip phone from the pocket of his athletic shorts. “It’s 4:27 in the morning.”
Reon scrubbed a hand over his face. “Yeah. It sure is. Are you alright? Is everything okay?”
Ushijima had begun automatically doing arm and wrist stretches. His face clearly said he was thinking and collecting his words, so Reon was patient. He sat down on his mattress and leaned over to tilt the fan so it would face the room as a whole. The air didn’t smell very pleasant two minutes ago, but now, with a second sweaty guy in a confined space, it was probably about to get pretty bad.
“Ohira,” Ushijima finally asked, “how do you know if someone is attracted to you?”
It was the last thing he’d been expecting, but Reon did his best to disguise his shock. “Uh... Well... Sometimes they act differently around you? Kinda like... embarrassed or shy? Or sometimes they get very touchy-feely and make excuses to be in your space.” It seemed like a decent answer, and Reon was proud of how articulate it was for an unearthly hour after he’d sweated most of his brain matter out his ears.
But Ushijima didn’t look pleased. “Thank you, but that’s not helpful for my circumstances.”
Reon was baffled, and he quickly came to the conclusion that he needed to know said circumstances in order to help. “What’s going on with you? What even brought this up?”
His eyes met Ushijima’s intense ones, sending a chill down Reon’s spine. Of course if there was one thing that could be counted on, it was Ushijima’s blunt, total honesty. “Do you think Tendou is attracted to me?”
As discreetly as possible, Reon bit the inside of his cheek, hoping the pain would rouse him if this was indeed all an improbable dream brought on by heatstroke. But Ushijima didn’t vanish and Reon didn’t wake up. “T-Tendou?”
Reon knew as well as anyone that Tendou hung off of Ushijima. He fearlessly monologued at him, sitting with him during meals or bus rides even though conversation remained one-sided. He constantly touched or bumped Ushijima’s sides and shoulders, and he never shied away from praising his spikes or inventing wild nicknames, each stranger than the last.
But Tendou did that for many people. It was just part of who he was. And Tendou was also notoriously hard to read. But Reon kind of figured that he wasn’t the type to be anything less than painfully overt with romantic affections.
“I... I don’t think you have anything to worry about. I think if Tendou was really truly attracted to you, he would let you know.” Reon gave what he hoped read as an encouraging smile. “I’d say he just considers you his best friend.”
Reon’s traitorous body was slowly being overcome with the fatigue he couldn’t find earlier. He hoped his answer would satisfy both Ushijima and whatever frenzy the guy had worked himself into that night so Reon could have his room back and finally take advantage of his last precious hours of sleep.
But instead, Ushijima visibly deflated in front of him. “Yes. That’s what I thought too,” he said, looking far more miserable than Reon had ever seen him before.
The last piece of the puzzle clicked in Reon’s mind and he resigned himself to a much longer discussion and much less rest.
Losing to Karasuno had been a tough pill to swallow. Reon, like most of the Shiratorizawa regulars, always practiced with the assumption that they’d be going on to fight at nationals. Their season had ended so abruptly, and the current third years had been at a bit of a loss. What did they do now?
The week following spring qualifiers, Reon had found himself slowly circling closer and closer to the gymnasium after class, unsure if he should still show up at practice. He’d been relieved to peek through the doors and see Yamagata already there and leading stretches.
Volleyball club was what Reon’s days were structured around. Every other activity, from eating to homework to bathing, was scheduled to fit whenever volleyball was not. He’d appreciated being allowed to continue joining for practice.
When his alarm went off the morning after Ushijima’s visit, Reon cursed himself and the ever present motion of celestial bodies, and he debated what harm would come of skipping morning practice. The thought lingered just long enough for his neighbor to hammer the wall between them, clearly irritated by the continual beeping sound.
Reon steeled himself and lurched out of bed with a soft hup. He changed into practice gear, did his best to arrange his hair, and swung by the bathroom to brush his teeth on the way out of the dorms. He looked exhausted. There was no helping that. He had dark bags under his eyes and his general aura projected misery and defeat.
Another third year walked in behind him, look one glance at Reon tugging at his eyelids in the mirror, and moved hastily on, like his condition might be contagious.
The early morning air had lost a lot of the heat from the day and night before, but the humidity was still high and suffocating. It stuck in Reon’s lungs and left him already sticky by the time he reached the gym.
“Morning,” he slurred, trying to maintain his usual polite and friendly manner.
Since Reon had dragged his feet more than usual, the gym was already almost full. Goshiki was sprinting around the courts, helping Kawanishi raise the nets, while a group of first years pushed out the ball carts. Shirabu was helping a fellow second year drop into his stretches, and there, just past them, was Ushijima, keying up for a serve.
His run up was graceful, his form was flawless, and the echoing boom of the ball’s impact had heads turning. An equally strong passion was shining in Ushijima’s eyes, and for the first time in a while, Reon found himself absolutely envious of the guy.
Ushijima Wakatoshi hit one killer serve and was immediately far too refreshed for an hour and a half of sleep.
His hair was combed and neat and his eyes looked bright and alert. Life just wasn’t fair sometimes.
Is there /anything/ this guy can’t do? Reon thought as he pushed his shoes into the cubby next to his usual one. It seemed another club member had taken it already. While some people — like, say, Semi — might be irritated enough to relocate the intruder’s shoes, Reon conceded the space and chose to take it as motivation to show up earlier in the future.
Before he could toe on his volleyball shoes, a hand thrust a pair of ratty trainers into the top right cubby.
Reon would recognize those spindly fingers anywhere.
“Morning, Tendou,” he said, aiming for normalcy.
There was a groan in reply, since, as they all knew, Tendou was absolutely not a morning person. Or perhaps, to put it better, Tendou was a night owl who stayed up way too late watching tv or doodling or reading manga, until the point that he’d pass out with his light still on, just to barely drag himself out of bed the next day.
Reon watched Tendou slouch through the gym, still in his sock feet. He gave a groggy-and-crooked wave to the gaggle of first years that Yamagata and Semi jokingly called his “fan club” — though in reality they were just incredibly intimidated by the blocker and tried their best to pay him respects.
“Tendou,” said Ushijima in his deep baritone, and for a second, Reon’s heart almost gave out as he desperately prayed that the guy wasn’t secretly sleep deprived enough to confess at that very moment. But then Ushijima continued. “You forgot your shoes again.”
Tendou’s laugh wasn’t as energetic as it would be by noon, but he still managed to echo around the noisy gym. “Got em right here, Wakatoshi-kun. Just need to find the energy to stick my feet into them.”
“Walking barefoot in here is incredibly dangerous,” Ushijima said.
“Yeah,” added Semi as he walked past. “Dangerous for the air quality. Do you ever clean your shoes out?”
“That’s the smell of hard work,” Tendou drawled, even though Reon had never seen him work particularly hard unless it was at blocking.
Semi looked about ready to fire something back when Shirabu respectfully reminded him that starters were very likely to have smelly shoes, and Reon had to step in to prevent a scuffle between setters.
By the time the coach showed up, everyone had stretched and dug a couple receives, getting their minds in the zone and ready for practice. While Washijou did allow the third years to join in — he frequently used them as a team to pit first and second years against — they were no longer his priority anymore. So Reon and the others found themselves relegated to Court 4, playing against the handful of third years who had never been regulars.
From his position in the back row, and with Ushijima shouldering the majority of the spiking burden, Reon had time to really think and observe. He was in unusually good shape, despite the lingering drowsiness pulling at him. It was possible that it was just a figment of his imagination, but he felt clear-headed and his field of vision seemed wider than normal.
With his conversation with Ushijima still fresh in his mind, Reon carefully watched his interactions with Tendou. Ushijima was known for his innate stoicism and unexcitable personality. When he spoke, it was with simple honesty and not a drop of narcissism. He was incredibly literal and always assumed other people were as sincere as he was. One would think that of the two of them, Ushijima would be the hardest to spot affection from, yet now that he knew it was there, Reon could see traces of it in the air, like afterimages on film.
Ushijima had complete trust in his teammate, and even if it was unintentional, his body reflected it in the way he conserved energy next to Tendou. His knees didn’t bend as far as usual when he stepped prepped for a block follow after one of Tendou’s spikes. He submitted to Tendou’s timing on the rare occasions that the blocker allowed a two-man block and didn’t simply sprint to the opposite end of the court on a hunch. And Ushijima hit Tendou’s shitty attempts at emergency sets with the same ease as he would one of Shirabu’s. Even Semi wasn’t granted the courtesy of Ushijima’s full confidence.
Meanwhile, Tendou was fully awake now, and his energy splashed around the court with the subtlety of a bucket of red paint. Every successful spike was met with cooing and backslaps, regardless of the hitter, and impressive receives garnered a borderline horrific squawk, buggy eyes, and a gaping mouth.
After three years of this, Reon was fairly certain he would be able to render a photorealistic painting of Tendou’s tonsils while blindfolded.
“MVP! Sa-to-ri!” Tendou chanted, praising his own successful block that had resulted in victory for that set. “Always with the tell-tale looks!” He smirked at the opposing side’s makeshift setter, a third year pinch server who was filling in for the practice match. “I totally understand that you wanna see exactly where you’re setting! And that works for me, since I wanna see where you’re aiming too!” He pranced around the court again, all long and unwieldy limbs, until he was able to grab Yamagata by the hands and spin him in circles too.
Across the gym, Shirabu was watching with something akin to disgust — though that might have just been his face — and Goshiki looked antsy, like he wanted to run over and join in the celebration.
The problem, Reon decided, was that Ushijima’s affection was nearly obvious in its single-mindedness, while the possibility of Tendou’s was easily hidden in a torrential downpour of touchy-feely camaraderie. There was, after all, a reason why Tendou’s blocking method was so successful, and that was his own ability to read any opponent’s quirks and tells, while entirely hiding his own. Semi often complained about how difficult Tendou was to understand or predict, and Reon had to agree.
Anything Tendou said was guaranteed to be 100% fact, but it was what he didn’t say that tripped people up. Reon had played opposite of him before, and while seeing his downturned face — features shrouded in shadow except for the whites of his eyes — was terrifying enough to make a first-year piss himself the first day of club, it was nothing compared to the times that Tendou’s face went frighteningly blank and he just… would walk away.
When Reon and the others had still been second years, Shiratorizawa had won the inter-high as usual. The team had been relatively calm, with the third years used to the victory, and the couple of starting second years equally unphased. But Tendou had been cheering with the first years, just as happy to continue playing as any of them were.
“More matches means more blocks. And more blocks means more wins!” Tendou had warbled, his voice still in that unfortunate break between squeaky and deep. “And more wins means more teams walking away from an absolute, crushing defeat!”
“You have a shitty attitude, Tendou,” someone had said, and Tendou wasn’t even phased by it. He’d just laughed it off and skipped away to pester Ushijima, stumbling briefly over his feet that had decided to keep growing before the rest of his body could catch up.
Then they’d walked outside.
Most of the team had started toward the bus, while a small group remained on the steps, waiting for the coach to finish talking with the refs and come out and join them. Tendou was slumped against the handrail, rambling about a cliffhanger his favorite show had ended on, when another team came up behind them.
“Satori?” asked one of the boys, his face still damp with tears from their loss.
Reon hadn’t known Tendou quite as well yet, but even then he’d noticed a bit of an attitude change. The excitement drained from his body, replaced by a casual lethargy, like Tendou couldn’t be bothered to expend the energy to hold his spine straight. “Mm? Oh. Long time no see,” he’d hummed.
“I take it you guys won, huh?” Another mystery high schooler stepped around the first. He had an undercut, with asymmetrical bangs combed forward and gelled into spikes over one side of his face. He crossed his arms, and as if on cue, the others around him did too.
“Of course, of course!” Tendou drawled. He reached out to slap Ushijima’s back affectionately. “We’ve got our Miracle Boy, Wakatoshi, after all.”
The first boy’s fingers dug into his own arms. “We’ll win the inter-high next time,” he said directly to Ushijima’s face.
“Okay. Good luck.” Not a hint of conceit. Just a blunt expression of encouragement at the impossibility of the statement.
The other team’s faces creased with disappointment before they began to sullenly trudge off to their own bus. “See you around, Guess Monster,” the boy with the unpleasant hair had huffed. “We will beat you.”
Reon had waited for the “We’d like to see you try!” or another similar comeback. The current Shiratorizawa captain had even set his bag down like he was ready to disengage a possible fight.
But Tendou hadn’t replied. Instead he’d let loose a huge, exaggerated yawn and started down the steps. His eyes were half-lidded and his mouth was set in what counted as neutral for him, which was to say a blandly amused and mysteriously knowing smirk. “Well, I’m pooped,” he’d said. “I’m heading to the bus. I’ll save you a seat, Wakatoshi-kun!”
Ushijima had nodded, and the odd atmosphere had lifted. Reon’s teammates quietly murmured amongst themselves about their plays and how cool the match had looked from the bleachers. But Reon was left with a bad taste in his mouth. Tendou, lover of nicknames, apparently had one for himself, yet he’d never mentioned it.
By the end of that year, it was impossible for anyone not to know who the Guess Monster was. The name was muttered in the hallways and groaned from the audience, sneaking its way into common vernacular without anyone from Shiratorizawa ever saying a word. Tendou had been made a starter by the time the spring tournament rolled around, and other teams watched Tendou nervously, clearly having done their research about his erratic but effective methodology.
But never once had Reon ever heard the name “Guess Monster” leave Tendou’s own mouth. While the cheer section for the opposing team moaned over another kill block depressing their ace, Tendou was calling himself a Miracle Boy. “Sa! To! Ri!” he’d sung. From afar, it looked like he was full of himself, but here, up close, Reon saw it differently, like Tendou was trying to single handedly drown out the crowd with a chant of his own name.
There was something otherworldly about Tendou, what with his unique features and garishly red hair, but dubbing him a “monster” seemed a little harsh. It sounded like something Tendou might wholeheartedly embrace, but instead he was attempting to block it out like he would an opponent’s spike.
It wasn’t as if Tendou looked visibly sad or injured about the alias. This was the same guy who taped both his index and middle fingers before an official match just because it “gave his peace signs more pizazz,” and then explained the wraps to opponents in the bathroom as byproducts of “Ushiwaka’s unrelenting killer spikes.”
“Hey. Ohira. You planning on going to class?” Yamagata’s voice snapped Reon out of his thoughts. He must have been more tired than he’d felt.
“I guess I should,” he said good-naturedly, rubbing the back of his sweaty neck.
He and Yamagata toweled off and wiped down together before heading toward their classroom building. The temperature was already rising, and Reon figured if he didn’t manage to pass out from exhaustion, there’d be no more rest for him tonight either.
“You okay?” Yamagata asked curiously from his side.
“Hmm? Oh. Yeah, sorry. Didn’t get much sleep last night.”
“Augh! Tell me about it. I was practically in bed with my fan, but it did jack fucking shit.” Yamagata winced as a second year girl crossed in front of them, frowning at his language. “Plus the guy in the room next to mine has a cold, so he’s snoring louder than a leaf blower over there. I think our mattresses are up against the same wall.”
Reon hummed to show he was listening. “You could move yours.”
“Yeah, but then I lose my spot under the window, and I need that air circulation more than I need silence.”
Yamagata snorted a laugh as he slid open the door to the building, letting Reon and a group of basketball players through. “Dude, you’re seriously braindead today. You need a coffee or someth— oh shit. ”
“What?” Reon asked, suddenly awake. “What’s wrong?”
Yamagata slapped a hand over his face and dragged it down with a long suffering moan. “I must’ve set down the fucking coffee I bought, and now I have no clue where it went. Damnit! What a waste of 140 yen.”
“At least you still have your phone, right?”
Panic flashed across Yamagata’s typically grim face until he pulled the device from his back pocket. “I’ve got it! I’ve got it. Don’t scare me like that.” They stopped walking as they reached Reon’s classroom. “I swear. I’m doing that more and more lately.”
“Means you’re getting old,” Reon said with a smile.
Yamagata rolled his eyes. “Aw, shut up. You don’t know— oh, hey. Before I forget. I won’t be at lunch again today. Told Goshiki and his little first year friends that I’d help them work on receives. See you at practice, honors student.” He walked off muttering to himself and Reon watched him as he carefully and purposefully placed his phone in his bag.
He’s like my grandfather, thought Reon. Same height too.
Lunch was always an ordeal.
The food was… okay. Decent. Edible. It definitely had nothing on the home cooked meals Reon’s mother made when he came home on breaks. But since the academy’s cuisine wasn’t exactly top notch, it meant the conversation had to steer away from food entirely.
Fortunately with a friend like Tendou, this was no problem at all. He nattered away about a sci-fi movie he’d seen the night before, occasionally taking a couple of his horribly small bird bites as he spoke. Reon watched his plate closely in case he needed to convince him to actually finish eating. As Tendou spoke, he continued to fidget and bounce in his seat. He tangled and untangled his legs with Ushijima’s, an act that piqued Reon’s curiosity. But no sooner had he convinced himself that maybe there was something hidden in Tendou’s interactions, when Tendou suddenly tilted sideways to drape an arm around Semi’s shoulders in a makeshift hug.
It’s no use, Reon thought to himself. The guy’s totally undecipherable.
“Eh? And what about you, Wakatoshi-kun? See any good flicks lately?”
Ushijima frowned at his chopsticks. “No. I can’t think of anything I’ve seen recently, regardless of quality.”
“We gotta fix that!” Tendou said with determination. “We’re young! Now’s the time to watch a bunch of dumb stuff before we’re too old to enjoy free time anymore.” He tilted his head and pursed his lips, sizing Ushijima up through slitted eyes. “You’ve forgotten how to have fun, haven’t you?”
“Oi!” snapped Semi. “That’s rude!”
But Ushijima ignored the comment and continued his pathetic attempt at conversation with Tendou. “I have fun playing volleyball.”
Tendou nodded sagely, if not a little dramatically. “Of course. Of course. Mmhm. I do too. But you gotta have hobbies.”
“I run and lift weights.”
“Hobbies that aren’t related to volleyball.”
“I like to prepare meals for myself. Healthful ones.”
“Waaaaakatoshi-kun,” whined Tendou, “I know you’re more three-dimensional than that.”
Reon felt something bump his ankle, and a glance under the table proved that Tendou was gently kicking at Ushijima’s feet and Reon had accidentally been caught by a ricochet.
Unfortunately for Tendou, this was also the moment that Ushijima finished his food and stood up with his tray. “There is still time left for lunch,” he said. “I’m heading to the gym until class begins.”
“Sounds good,” Semi agreed, before shoveling his last few bites from his bowl to his mouth and earning their table some unamused glares from the girls across the aisle.
“I always have time to block some spikes,” Tendou said.
But Reon stopped him with one hand, pinning his tray of half-finished food to the table. “Uh uh,” he said firmly in his best approximation of what Yamagata called his ‘parental voice.’ “You’re staying right here until you finish at least what’s on your plate. Then we can head over.”
Tendou scowled and stuck out his tongue, but he sat down again anyway. “Sorry, Wakatoshi-kun. Guess I’ll meet up with you at club!”
Ushijima nodded, but the brief eye contact he made with Reon was enough to convey his lack of understanding. Once he and Semi had walked off, Reon opened his mouth to ask Tendou a question.
“Yep,” Tendou interrupted. “I am.”
It took Reon by surprise, and he allowed himself a moment to blink before he asked, “Wait, what?”
With an elegant roll of his wrist, Tendou continued. “You were about to ask me if I was ‘good.’ And yep, I am. Don’t worry.”
“H-how… how did you know what I wanted to ask?”
In true Tendou-fashion, he stuffed his cheeks with rice before answering. “Well, that’s obviously not what you wanted to ask. But it’s how you were going to start.” A smirk curled the edges of his chipmunky mouth. “You had that ‘oh crap’ face. The one where you’re trying to bring something up and you’re looking for a casual way to start conversation.”
Reon felt eerily exposed. “You’re too good, Tendou.” Internally, he thought, if you can read my mind, blink twice , but it turned out to be unhelpful as Tendou blinked several times with his huge, round eyes anyway.
“Your face is incredibly expressive, especially your eyebrows.” Tendou waggled his own as a demonstration. “It’s practically an open book.”
“Okay, if you’re so good, what was I planning to ask you?”
“Hmm… Let me see… You were going to ask… if…” Tendou’s whole face scrunched up with mock-exertion. “If I like Wakatoshi-kun!”
Against his will, Reon’s jaw dropped open. “No, I wasn’t—“ he started before giving up at Tendou’s unamused look. “Okay. I was.”
“Well, Wakatoshi-kun is one of my best friends! So naturally I like him.”
Not /that/ kind of like, thought Reon. It’s obvious you at least like him as a friend. You were the only one to consistently seek him out when we were all first years.
“Aren’t you going to ask how?” Tendou’s eyebrows wiggled like worms on his forehead. “Aren’t you even a tiny bit curious?”
“Curious how you knew what I was going to ask? Or curious how you like him?”
“Obviously you want to know how I learned to read minds. It’s a useful skill, and one I bet you’d kill to have.”
Reon really didn’t want to kill anyone for anything, but he knew better than to interrupt a monologuing Tendou.
“I’d love to teach you, Reon-kun, but you see, it’s just not something that can be shared through words. It’s something you either can do or can’t do. Innately.” With great difficulty and a swig of water, Tendou managed to swallow the rice he’d been holding hostage in his cheeks the whole time. “It’s not teachable.”
Reon snorted in amusement. “So, what. We have to mindmeld first?”
“Ooh… Transmit the ability you mean?” One long finger tapped Tendou’s chin in thought. “Maybe mind-reading and guess-blocking are contagious. Like diseases.”
“If that were true, I think I’d have caught it from you by now.”
A third year member of the art club stopped suddenly by their table. “Are you okay, Tendou-kun?” he asked. Reon studied his face, more than aware that they’d been in the same class as first years, but unable to remember the poor guy’s surname.
“Yeah? I’m perfect!” Tendou’s tongue slithered out of his mouth to lick away food from his cheek. “Never been better.”
“Oh…” The guy glanced between Tendou and Reon in confusion. “I thought you said he’d caught something from you. I heard colds were going around.”
Reon shook his head. “No, we were talking about something else.”
“You have something that’s not a cold? Is it the flu?”
“No, it was… Unrelated. We were just fooling around.”
Tendou’s head creaked back on his neck. “We were talking about mind-reading. And if it’s contagious or not.”
Bewildered, the art student took a few steps back. “Oh. Okay.” He met Reon’s eyes. “I think Tendou-san really can read minds. He does it in class all the time. The teachers hate it.”
And so do his classmates, I’ll bet, Reon thought.
After a moment more of an awkward silence, the guy moved on, taking his empty lunch tray up to the service counters, and Tendou’s head resumed its upright position.
“You shouldn’t do that,” Reon sighed.
“Try to scare people.”
For someone who could look so menacing, it was a wonder how Tendou could capture the aura of absolute innocence when he needed to. “I don’t try to scare people.”
“You do. At least a little.”
“Yes, you do. Come on, Tendou. You move your head all weird and sing haunting little songs and intentionally confuse everyone.”
Tendou shoved the last bite of his lunch into his mouth. “Mm. Is that why you think I do it? To scare people?”
“Why else would you?”
A groggy fog began to creep over Reon now that his stomach was full. His mind was struggling to process and his limbs felt heavy on the bench. He was in no shape to enter into a verbal battle with Tendou.
“Why do schools have entrance exams?” asked Tendou cryptically. Then he grabbed both his and Reon’s trays and slouched away through the crowded cafeteria.
Reon was so busy trying not to doze off and contemplating Tendou’s response, that he didn’t realize Tendou had never given him a solid answer about Ushijima until the bell for after-lunch classes rang.
The best part of afternoon practice was when it ended.
It meant they could finally sit down and catch their breath. It meant the coach, helpful as he was, would finally leave them in peace. And it meant all bets were off and anyone could practice with whoever they wanted.
For Reon, that specifically meant he got to hit more of Shirabu’s sets and play alongside the guys he’d expected to be with in Tokyo.
He bent at the waist, leaning on his thighs, as he waited for Semi to serve from the other side of the net. The sun was dipping just low enough to stop shining through the high gym windows, but the heat lingered, filling the building with a thick, invisible fog. Yamagata botched the receive as the sweaty ball squeaked off his arms instead of bouncing, and when Semi’s next serve went into the net — also victim to the layer of moisture on his hands — even Ushijima had to call it a day.
“It’s almost 20:00,” Ushijima said firmly. “The temperatures are rising quickly. Please shower well and use tonight to get some rest.”
“Ha!” Semi croaked from across the court. His sweaty face flushed further when he realized how loud he’d been. “Sorry.”
Reon quietly took up a broom and started sweeping Courts 1 and 2, while Tendou pawned off net-takedown duty onto his first year fan club. Ushijima singlehandedly hefted four net poles under his left arm, and Yamagata just collapsed into a wet heap on the floor with a groan, calling for a cold compress.
They finished resetting the gym and trudged to the lockers and showers as a team. Goshiki loudly bemoaned how he’d just be sweaty again the moment he got out of the shower, and Shirabu smacked him with a towel.
The problem was that Goshiki was completely right, and Reon took twice as long to dress again, what with his skin hindering any attempt to pull clothes on. Even Ushijima grunted as he knocked his elbow against his locker while wrestling into his shirt.
“Whoever designed our summer uniforms did not consider student athletes,” Tendou grumbled.
Finally, after much cursing, the third years walked off together for the cafeteria, hoping that a hint of dinner would still be left.
Semi spent most of the meal trying not to faceplant into his food. He looked like the day had really caught up with him, and Reon almost felt badly for not noticing the dark circles under his eyes either.
“You too?” he asked kindly, hoping to commiserate with the setter.
Semi seemed to grow slightly more alert, and he eyed Reon carefully before coming to some apparent conclusion. “Yeah,” he huffed. “I’ve been sleeping terribly.”
“Join the club,” Yamagata moaned from where he was slumped against the table, face mashed into his own shoulder.
Tendou shrugged. “I haven’t slept well either, but that’s kinda typical for me.” He leaned over to poke Ushijima in the cheek. “How about you? You seem perky still.”
“Practice energizes me,” Ushijima said simply. “But no, I haven’t been keeping to my typical sleep schedule.”
There was a low whistle from Tendou. “Wow! You know it’s hot when Ushijima ‘I’m in bed before midnight’ Wakatoshi can’t get any rest.”
“It’s not the heat keeping me up.”
Reon managed not to sag in his seat. It wasn’t like it was much of a mystery to him why Ushijima wasn’t getting to bed.
“Eh? Then what is it?”
Ushijima blinked once. “Thoughts.”
“Thoughts about what?”
Semi interrupted just before Reon could. “Thoughts about volleyball, obviously.”
“We don’t call him a ‘volleyball idiot’ for nothing,” Yamagata added.
Sure, thought Reon. That’s what’s been plaguing him at night. Definitely. He squeezed his eyes shut for a moment, pleading to any and all deities that he wouldn’t be getting a mystery visit later. He didn’t know if he could take it. All day had been a constant battle to stay awake, and he’d wasted several hundred yen on coffees that had somehow sent him straight into heart-pounding shakes while bypassing the energy boost altogether.
He’d had a handful of urgent bathroom trips that day, and he wasn’t looking forward to a repeat. Ever.
“Alright,” Yamagata said as they all watched Semi’s body jerk awake for the third time in as many minutes. “I’m turning in. Semi? Come on.”
There were a few halfhearted protests, but Semi miraculously managed to drag himself to his feet — though Reon lifting him by his armpits probably had something to do with it. Reon helped Yamagata support Semi as they wobbled out of the cafeteria, but before they left, he threw a glance over his shoulder to see Tendou and Ushijima, chatting — at least, Tendou was — seemingly oblivious to the fact that the others had left.
His box fan was on. His blankets were folded at the base of his bed. The window was wide open.
And Ohira Reon was finally dozing off.
It was hot, yes, and every now and then his leg twitched as something that was either a drop of sweat or a crawling bug tickled the hairs. But he was so, so tired that his mind gave into exhaustion like a paper boat capsizing in a puddle. It felt like he’d been sitting in a sideways tire and he’d started to slip through, butt-first.
Reon was deep in a dream, watching Goshiki attempt to build the world’s first upside-down shopping mall, when a knock startled him awake. He sat bolt upright and practically felt droplets of sweat fly off his body as he did so. Then the panic subsided and frustration set in. On a team of hotheads and weirdos, Reon prided himself on his consistent temperament and reliable availability.
It took far too long for him to get himself back under control.
He whipped the door open mere milliseconds before Ushijima could knock again. Like last time, he was covered in post-workout sweat, and his eyes were just a little too wide to be fully neutral.
“I was worried you weren’t here,” Ushijima said, and Reon rubbed the bridge of his nose. He was all too aware he probably looked just like his mother. He needed to call her soon. Let her know how much he appreciated her and how she’d handled him when he’d had various crushes throughout the years.
“Where else would I be, at…” Reon paused to check his phone, “at 4:30 at night?”
Ushijima shrugged. “Sometimes people aren’t in their rooms.”
It was a baffling statement, and one that Reon lacked the cognitive function to analyze. The one thing he knew was that allusion and hints weren’t going to cut it. If he wanted to get through to Ushijima, he had to be just as blunt as the guy himself.
“Look. Ushijima. You… you can’t… I need my sleep.” Reon sagged against his doorframe, hoping that would block entry. “I can’t be woken up every night so we can talk until the sun rises.” He laughed deeply and it came out a bit more hysterically than he’d hoped. “If you’re so hung up over Tendou, then you need to talk to him. Either confess or don’t, but you can’t just keep…” He trailed off at the sight of Ushijima’s expression closing up.
It was sliding into the territory it reached when the topic of Oikawa came up or when someone mentioned Goshiki’s friendship with Karasuno’s number 10.
Reon gave in. “Sorry. I’m just. Tired. You better come in.”
“I don’t want to disturb your rest.”
“I said it’s fine.” Reon gave him a worn-out but encouraging smile. “I always have time for friends.”
“Thank you,” said Ushijima, before bowing low and walking in. “I won’t disturb you tomorrow night.”
“I’d appreciate that. Now. Tell me what’s going on.”
Morning practice was a living hell.
Reon’s stomach was cramping nonstop, furious with the amount of cold brew he’d been consuming from the vending machines. He sprinted twice as fast to reach the restroom as he did when they’d started laps around the gym.
Class was disastrous, and Reon ended up having to step out multiple times to relieve himself, leading his classmates to rather obviously whisper that he must have eaten some bad sushi the night before. At one point during his math class, Reon dozed off for a moment too long. His forehead clunked loudly against the desk before he could retake control of his neck and spine, and the teacher threatened to make him go to the nurse’s office for a nap. Then later he met with his counselor during homeroom and was forced to listen to an impromptu lecture about how unwise it was to exhaust himself at practice instead of focusing on college entrance exams.
During lunch, Reon hid from the others by eating outside for a change. The few minutes he was able to doze on the grass, sweating through his inevitably dirtied uniform, were invaluable to help him survive until afternoon practice.
Tendou’s voice was far too loud in the muggy confines of the gym, and some wires in Reon’s brain had crossed enough for him to blame his frustrations solely on the red-headed blocker. Go confess to Ushijima, he thought murderously in Tendou’s direction. Go kiss the guy so I can finally get some sleep.
A foreboding aura from Yamagata indicated that the libero’s own nighttime problems hadn’t been resolved either.
“Neighbor still have a cold?” Reon asked as they halfassed their cool down stretches somewhere the coach wouldn’t see.
“Your snoring neighbor who’s been keeping you up.”
“Oh, right.” Yamagata shook his head as if he was trying to clear the sleepy cobwebs and wasn’t actually just letting sweat fly off like the country’s weakest sprinkler. “Nah, man. It’s just the heat. Can’t get comfortable.”
Against the gym wall, Shirabu made a rather snide comment toward Semi, who mysteriously didn’t even respond. All the better since Reon really didn’t have the energy to go break them apart.
“Reon-kun!” Tendou called as he jogged across the gym. “Can I steal some of your water? I forgot my bottle in my room.”
“Just take it,” Reon said, hoping his mild irritation wasn’t audible in his voice. “Get it to me by tomorrow and it’s no big deal.”
“Ah! Thank you! So generous!” Tendou’s smile fell slightly when his teasing wasn’t received, and his fingers twitched lightly against the sides of the bottle. “Are you coming down with something actually contagious?” he asked. “You seem unhappy, and if I’m drinking your water, I don’t wanna catch it too.”
Reon zipped up his gym bag. “No, Tendou. I’m just tired. It’s been very hot, in case you haven’t noticed.”
Tendou’s hair was flagging slightly in the humidity, strands pulled down to earth even if the blocker’s energy was still at peak levels. “Mm. You get awfully testy when you’re sleep deprived. Good to know!” He walked off whistling a tuneless riff, hands shoved down the sides of his shorts and Reon’s bottle under one of his arms. “Wakatoshi-kun! How about you treat the first and second years to some snacks at the konbini?”
“Stop volunteering Ushijima’s own money!” Semi snapped, though it lacked its usual bite.
Tendou mockingly repeated the words back in a much higher pitch, then pointed at Goshiki when Semi spun around furiously. “Why don’t you come along, Eita-kun!” Tendou suggested over Goshiki’s desperate protests of innocence. “I’m sure you’ll find something that’ll lift your terrible spirits!”
“Forget it. I’m taking a pointless shower, eating as much food as I can in ten minutes, then going the fuck to sleep.”
“Shit. Same here,” Yamagata said wearily, and Reon dropped his gaze to the floor to avoid being targeted.
“Wakatoshi-kun!” Tendou said cheerily as he sidled away. “Let’s hit the showers and go!”
“Okay,” Ushijima replied.
“I want some ice cream to help beat the heat!”
Semi ground his teeth. “You aren’t a first or second year, Tendou.”
“But I’m his best friend. Aren’t I?”
There was a second’s pause. Too long for Reon to miss, but not so obvious that the murmuring first years would notice.
But Tendou’s eyes snapped upward.
“Yes,” said Ushijima. “You are.”
An uncomfortable tension descended over the gym.
“You don’t have to agree if it isn’t true,” Tendou said, already recovering. “Who is it then, huh? Am I behind Eita-kun? Reon-kun?”
“No. It’s you.”
“Sure, Wakatoshi.” Tendou’s face was falling carefully neutral again. Half-lidded eyes. Casual smirk. “Don’t tell me who my competition is. That just makes it more fun!” He scooped up Reon’s water bottle and his own towel and strolled off toward the showers.
Reon met Ushijima’s eyes and could only decipher one blatant message: Help.
That night felt like a clip from a horror movie, moments before a jumpscare. Reon climbed into bed with the desperate speed of a man who knew he’d be woken up again that night.
Just a couple hours. That was all he needed. Enough to free himself from the heavy weight of his eyelids and the sore exhaustion of a body with no time to heal.
Ushijima usually turned up between 3:30 and 4:30 in the morning, so if he could just doze off now, at 23:30, then maybe…
The knock came.
Rapid-fire this time. It rattled his whole door like an approaching stampede. Reon glanced at his phone. 23:43. This was getting ridiculous. He stumbled to the door and threw it wide, almost ready to shed a few tears of desperation.
But it wasn’t Ushijima. It was Yamagata.
“Uh…” Reon started.
“Please let me in. Please. ”
“Of course.” Reon stepped aside and watched as Yamagata slid past him and quickly slammed the door closed.
“Pardon the intrusion, but Ohira, I’m begging you. Pleaseletmesleepheretonight!” heaved Yamagata in a single breath.
“The snoring?” asked Reon.
There was a moment where he thought the libero might fervently agree, but instead, Yamagata sank to his knees, face in his hands. His hair wasn’t gelled back like usual, and the wispy strands curled at an awkward length by his jaw. There was a certain vexation in the angle of his spine, and the beads of sweat on the back of his neck just served to make him look that much more miserable. “No. No, there’s no snoring,” Yamagata finally whispered. “I need you to hide me from Ushijima.”
“You… You aren’t making any sense. What does Ushijima want with you?”
“Nothing much,” Yamagata said quickly. “It’s just volleyball stuff, but I’m really tired and I haven’t slept well lately and he always wants to talk about volleyball and I’ve just about had enough and I need sleep and—“
There was another knock at the door, and Yamagata actually jumped.
“Shit. Shit. Fuck. He found me.”
Reon looked nervously at the door as the knocking continued. “Yamagata, I can’t just ignore him.”
For a long moment, Yamagata just stared at the door, like maybe if he wished hard enough, the knocking would stop. “Fine. Let him in.”
Pretending he hadn’t just been given permission to let someone into his own room, Reon opened his door. And found Semi outside.
“Ohira-kun!” Semi hissed desperately, bowing politely for once. “I’m sorry to intrude! May I please come i— oh. Yamagata. Hey. Sorry… Am I interrupting?”
“Not at all! Just get in here!” Yamagata snapped, and Reon tugged the setter inside as well, shutting the door behind him. “Can’t sleep, huh?”
“Uh. Yeah.” Semi scratched the back of his neck. “Actually… no. I’m kind of… hiding… from Ushijima.”
Heat, Reon thought. We were all sleepless because of the heat. And snoring neighbors. Except there was no snoring neighbor, and the heat had been bad but not unbearable, and apparently Ushijima had been terrorizing the third years with late night chatter, about… volleyball… Unless…
A rush of affection surged through Reon. “You’re both really great guys,” he said, struggling not to tear up alongside his soppy grin.
“Great?” Semi scoffed. “I just told you I’m trying to avoid our captain. What’s so great about that?”
But Reon wasn’t deterred. “He’s been coming to you guys too, huh? About his volleyball problems. ”
After a second, total relief washed over Semi and Yamagata’s faces.
“A very specific volleyball problem,” Yamagata laughed. “Damn. I’ve been trying not to betray Ushijima’s confidence. I didn’t wanna out the poor guy.”
“Same here,” Semi said. “When I promise to keep a secret, I actually do my best to honor it!”
Reon couldn’t stop relieved chuckles from slipping out of his chest. “He’s got it really bad.”
“ So bad.”
“The worst! ”
Yamagata collected himself enough to jump and sprawl on Reon’s bed, heedless of how sweaty the sheets probably were. “It’s been like, a week now of nightly Ushijima visits. I’m telling you, the clock strikes midnight and there’s a knock at my door.”
Semi groaned and commandeered Reon’s desk chair. “Lucky you. I’m going on about a month now. It’ll be 2 in the morning and bam! There he is. Not every night though. I’ve uh… I’ve been sneaking to Shirabu’s sometimes just so I can survive classes during the day.”
“You’re both making me look bad,” Reon admitted. “This’ll only be my third night, and I already can hardly stay awake standing up.” He paused. “I usually get my visit around 4 a.m.”
They were quiet for a bit, each ruminating over the situation they’d found themselves in, until Semi piped up. “How the hell does Ushijima do it?”
“What? Fall for Tendou?” Yamagata snorted.
“No. Stay awake. Run laps. Hit tosses. The guy is visiting all three of us from midnight to 6, and he still shows up in time for 7 a.m. practice. Is he napping through class?”
“He must be,” Reon said, looking to Yamagata for confirmation.
But the libero shook his head. “Nope. I sit two seats to his left. He’s always able to answer questions in class, and I’ve never seen him nod off, even when the teacher starts reading English passages.”
“The guy is superhuman,” Semi breathed.
Yamagata snickered as he mindlessly picked at the paint on Reon’s wall. “He better be if he wants to get romantic with Tendou.”
They all laughed until a syncopated knock frightened them all over again.
Reon eased open his door to greet Tendou himself.
“Ooh! Slumber party?” Tendou looked almost feral in the hallway lighting. “I’d ask why I wasn’t invited, but clearly it’s because you were talking about me. ”
“You heard that?” Yamagata asked, even as Semi yelped, “Shut up!” and tried to cover his mouth.
“Bzz!” buzzed Tendou. “Busted!” He leaned back, bending his knees to achieve a ridiculously exaggerated angle. He tapped his nose with a finger and pointed at Yamagata with the other hand, which was curled around a water bottle.
“He didn’t know, idiot,” Semi groaned. “He was just guessing and you confirmed it.”
Tendou laughed and plopped onto the floor with his legs crossed. His hair was also ungelled, and the red bowl cut made him look less imposing but more cryptid-like. “I was just bringing back Reon’s bottle — washed it for you, by the way — and you all looked soooo guilty.” He shrugged with muscles that Reon didn’t know existed. “Obvious answer: it was a Satori-gossip party.” An actually serious expression crossed his face, and some of the humor drained from his posture. “I have noticed that Semi-Semi has been irritated with me lately. More so than usual. Are we complaining about me?”
The guilt that echoed about the room left them all red-faced and ashamed.
“Sorry, Tendou,” Semi said. “I… haven’t meant to be. You’ve done nothing wrong.”
“You really haven’t,” Yamagata agreed. “Sorry if I’ve been kinda distant.”
Reon nodded and reached out to gently jostle Tendou’s shoulder. “And if we were having a gossip party, we would always invite you.”
“Mm.” Tendou’s head tilted in thought as he scrutinized their tells and minute body language. “Okay, so this isn’t about me then. But what else would make you all sit in this smelly little dorm together on a night like this? You’re clearly hiding from someone.”
“No, we aren’t—“ Semi said, but the effect was ruined by the way they all scrambled to hide when Ushijima’s voice came through the door.
“Ohira? Are you awake? I don’t know where Semi or Yamagata are.” There was a soft knock to follow up his words that was much kinder than the ones he’d woken Reon up with the two nights before.
“Ah… Hiding from our ace? Now that’s low.” Tendou clicked his tongue and reached behind himself to open the door without even standing up. “Welcome to the party, Wakatoshi-kun!”
“Oh. Tendou.” Ushijima seemed frozen in the doorway, a visual made more dramatic by the way his whole form filled the frame and let in only a little light around the edges.
Semi sat awkwardly in the chair, eyes roving across Reon’s desk like he might find a distraction hidden among the page flags and notebook papers scattered on it. Meanwhile, Yamagata had succeeded in making a small pile of wall plaster flakes on the pillow, and Reon was desperately hoping he wouldn’t be the one to pay for it, even as he cracked his knuckles and stared at the underside of Tendou’s jaw. The blocker was leaning back on his hands to look upside down at Ushijima’s face.
After a tense moment, everyone’s mouth opened to speak at once, but Reon was faster and louder.
“Okay,” he said, in the deep voice that he used to call for a toss across the din of a cheering crowd. “Everybody out. This is a tiny dorm room; max capacity: 2. And it’s my tiny dorm room.” He stood up with everyone but Tendou, who was still thankfully reclining on his rug. “Semi, go to your room. Your room. And leave Shirabu alone. Yamagata, if I get in trouble for damaging the wall, I’m giving your cell number to the school. And Ushijima, please go to bed. No late night visits. No jogs around the campus. Just sleep. ” Then he looked down at Tendou. “And you. Stay here. We need to finish something.”
Tendou’s eyes widened like he was awaiting his execution, and then the facade broke and he grinned. “You can look pretty foreboding when you take charge, Reon-kun.” He made a shooing motion with his hands and helped clear out Reon’s room. “You heard the man. Get to sleep!”
When the door finally shut, Reon let out a sigh of relief. “These rooms get enough humidity without five guys recycling the air in them.” He eyed Tendou and then the bed. “Get up here. You’re sitting by me.”
“Anything for you,” Tendou singsonged as he crawled over.
“First of all, if you want to go, you can. I’m not holding you hostage. And if you don’t want to answer something or talk about anything, you don’t have to.”
“You couldn’t make me if you tried.” Tendou shuffled down the wall until he and Reon were shoulder-to-shoulder. He gazed straight ahead through half-lidded eyes, completely peaceful. “I never answer anything I don’t want to.”
Reon suddenly understood why Yamagata had taken up property destruction. His hands felt restless and antsy, desperate for something to preoccupy them. “I know I’m asking for a lot from you when I say this, but… Can you be honest with me? No word games. No mind games. Just be sincere?”
“No?” Reon flinched and looked sideways at Tendou whose mouth was set in a slanted grimace. “Okay, well—“
“I can try, but I can’t promise it’ll always work.” Tendou glanced at him out of his peripheries. “But I’ll do my best.”
“I’m trying not to turn this into an interrogation.”
“Nah, Reon. Interrogate away. I can take it.”
“I’m your friend. I don’t want to make you uncomfortable.”
“Reon-kun.” Tendou’s fingers gripped his jaw and turned his face to make eye contact. “I, Tendou Satori, hereby swear not to answer anything I don’t want to, while also being as honest with you as I can be.”
“Well, when you put it like that, I sound like a real asshole.”
Tendou dissolved into cackles on the bed. “Holy shit , Reon. You’re asking me if I have ooey-gooey, romantic feelings for Wakatoshi-kun, not holding me for ransom.” There’s moonlight on his face, catching in the glossy whites of his eyes and filtering through a stringy curtain of sweaty red hair.
Reon finally came up with his first question. “What do entrance exams and freaking people out have in common?”
“Ooh! A riddle!” Tendou said, perking up. “Let me see…”
“No, I mean… When we were in the cafeteria two days ago, and you asked me why schools have entrance exams—“
“I know, I know. I remember. Sorry. That was the good ol’ defense mechanism setting in again.” Tendou started to absentmindedly chew on a fingernail. “Well… I mostly meant that schools have tests, right? To see if a student is a good fit for them. If they meet all the academic requirements and might fit in well with the student body.”
“Oh,” said Reon, starting to get it. “If someone can withstand the exams, then they can handle the school. So when you try to frighten people—“
“And I mean, if a student fails the entrance exams, then they aren’t allowed into the school. The school doesn’t have to waste valuable time and energy on someone who didn’t earn it. Unless of course they get a sports scholarship, in which case they don’t even need to take the entrance exams, and instead they can just come and interview with faculty and this metaphor kinda got away from me, but… You get it.”
“Yeah. I do.” Reon thought for another moment. “You had… something that happened, right? Back in middle school or elementary?”
Tendou groaned and covered his face with Reon’s plastery pillow. “I should have known you’d remember that. Our second year, right? After the inter-high? Which means Wakatoshi probably does too. You guys are frighteningly alike with your quiet observational skills.”
“Is that where ‘Guess-Monster’ came from?”
The groan deepened in pitch and extended in length. “I’m vetoing this line of questioning.”
“Fair enough. Can I ask if you like the nickname at least?”
“Understood.” Reon cleared his throat and changed tacts. “So if it’s not a big deal, then why don’t you confess to Ushijima? You can read the guy as well as you can read us, right?”
Tendou emerged from his fluffy prison, face as red as his hair. “Do you remember the pudding?”
“The day I dragged Wakatoshi down to the konbini for manga. We brought back pudding, and I got to turn them upside down on a plate.”
“Oh, right. And he couldn’t. He looked real upset about that.”
Tendou snickered. “Yeah, he was pretty frustrated. But that whole thing? I was kinda trying to go for a whole ‘date’ vibe, you know? I mean, shit, we pet dogs on our walk over. We bought pudding. I told him about my mom!”
Reon sighed and wondered when he’d slid down far enough to be gazing at his own ceiling. “You know that isn’t going to work. You have to tell him stuff like that.”
“Yeah, I know. I don’t… I don’t think I wanted him to know.” Tendou rolled suddenly, and Reon felt way too close, like the railing was missing between him and a thousand meter drop. “It’s fun to pretend to read minds in volleyball. You guess wrong? They get a point. Just one. It’s even fun with friends. And especially with impressionable little first years. But with something like this? Eh.” Tendou winced as he bit too low on his nail. “High risk. High reward.”
Reon nodded. For the first time he felt like how Tendou must have always felt. He could look at Tendou’s face and see the unspoken words in the tilt of his eyebrows and set of his jaw. In the curling corners of his mouth and the angle of his neck. “If someone passes the entrance exam,” he said, “then they’re precious to the school. And if the school pushes them too hard and they drop out?”
“Poof,” Tendou breathed, his voice at a softer volume than Reon had ever heard it. “The school’s going to take that one to heart.”
Reon could only look at Tendou for so long when his face was that open and sincere. “What did you tell him about your mom?”
“Feh. Just a dumb, off-handed comment. Mostly about how there’s a reason I’m this free spirited and fun!”
Reon imagined a crowd of spunky redheads dancing about with permanent smug grins. “Runs in the family?”
“Nope,” Tendou said. Quick. Direct. “Because none of them have any, so I got all the excess.” He slipped to his feet and pulled Reon up. “Enough making this into a pity party. I’m happy! I’m fine! And I have a disgustingly huge crush on Shiratorizawa Academy’s ace spiker, Ushijima Wakatoshi.” He slapped down the back of Reon’s shirt to rid him of little plaster crumbs. “Now give me a hug and say good night.”
Reon huffed a laugh and wrapped his arms around Tendou’s surprisingly broad shoulders, trying not to crack a joke at the toned but twiggy arms that came up around him in return.
“I feel like you learned a lot about me tonight, Reon-kun! Sometime you’ll have to return the favor.” Tendou’s voice clearly implied it was not a request.
“I did learn a lot,” said Reon. “For example, I learned that mind-reading might actually be contagious, because I think I’m starting to understand you more. Look out! I might steal guess-blocking next.”
“Huh?! Are you trying to start a fight? I won’t take it easy on you just because of your exhausted state.” Tendou’s tongue flicked across his lips like he was scenting the air. “Because we’re such good friends, I’ll warn you in advance: I have very sharp teeth.”
“Tendou. Please. I’m just saying. Ushijima’s school? I don’t think it even has public entrance exams.” Reon eased Tendou out of his room. “But I can almost guarantee you’re being offered a sports scholarship.”
Then he closed his door in the face of a gaping Tendou, and fell limp and flat onto his bed, ready to get some sleep.
Tsutomu waited precisely ten minutes before deciding that Yamagata-senpai had probably forgotten about their lunchtime practice. He then waited five more minutes before coming to the conclusion that, as the only first year starter, he alone had the ability to go remind the libero.
It was a little intimidating walking through the tables of third years in the cafeteria, but Tendou-senpai’s bright red hair served as a beacon to guide him.
He imagined that the stares he was receiving were ones of amazement.
Oh! That’s Goshiki Tsutomu! they would be thinking. He’s the up-and-coming ace for our school’s volleyball team!
Opponents say he’s like a second Ushiwaka— no… He’s better than Ushiwaka! With a laser-focused straight that decimates blockers and receivers alike. And a cross that blows past—
“Yamagata-senpai!” Tsutomu shouted as he reached the appropriate table, but a quick shushing from Tendou stopped him mid-sentence.
Yamagata, Semi, and Ohira were all draped over the table, completely asleep. Semi’s hair was in his ramen, Yamagata was drooling, and Ohira was actually letting out an occasional snore.
“Sorry for disturbing you,” Tsutomu said at a more acceptable volume. He bowed as far as he could, until his muscles were shaking, before glancing up through his dangling fringe. The oddest sight met his eyes: Tendou and Ushijima’s hands were beneath the table, partially on Ushijima’s thigh, fingers tangled together.
Tsutomu rocketed back upright, hand saluting and an apology ready on his lips. But Tendou’s mouth just cracked open into a devious smirk, and Ushijima’s face remained carefully blank, though there was something in his eyes that felt like it belonged on the heat of the court. Slowly, as if giving their ace time to pull away, Tendou raised their hands to rest on the top of the table, right between their plates of rice. Ushijima’s thumb gently traced the prominent veins that stretched over the knuckles there.
Tsutomu’s face burned with his blush. An intense, but familiar, flicker of jealousy slid through his veins, the same way it did when he watched Ushijima hit an incredible serve or smash an amazing spike. It was jealousy where Tsutomu saw what could be possible and wanted it for himself too. “I… I… I hope I find someone just as special for me!” he squeaked, though he also immediately regretted saying anything.
Tendou laughed, eyes slitted and tongue lolling, but Ushijima just nodded, impassive as ever.
“Okay, Goshiki,” he said calmly. “Good luck.”