It didn’t start as an obsession, Shouyou will insist in the future. It starts, as most things do, with simple curiosity.
It’s their third year, with summer starting to peek over the horizon and the Interhigh preliminaries are beckoning. Shouyou is excited, which is normal, but he’s especially excited because the brackets have been announced and if everyone plays well, they could potentially play all the Miyagi powerhouses in this tournament. It makes Shouyou want to vibrate straight out of his skin. They’re so lucky, to have so many strong teams in their prefecture.
And now, he’s a third year (the oldest on the whole team now, so weird) and Karasuno’s resurgence as a powerhouse has meant a lot more applicants for the volleyball team than in recent years - both experienced players and novices, and Shouyou honestly likes all of his underclassmen.
(Kageyama would say this is only because he immediately likes every single person he’s ever met and that some of their first years are in fact, brats. Shouyou disagrees because some people are frowny and grumpy and annoying so no, he doesn’t immediately like everyone and actually he finds the bratty underclassmen rather endearing.)
He’s also been named vice-captain this year, and the thought of it still sends a happy tingle zipping up and down his spine. Yamaguchi was their obvious choice for captain – stable, sturdy and dedicated, and Shouyou couldn’t help but be incredibly touched when they all voted unanimously for him to be vice.
Yamaguchi had insisted they have a team huddle after they voted, even if it was just a small one with only the five of them, and even if it took a bit of wheedling to get Tsukishima to join in. Kageyama had looped his arm around Shouyou’s shoulders as they formed the circle and squeezed tight, just once, briefly. Congratulations, the gesture had said, and Shouyou had had to blink away the tears that had suddenly, embarrassingly, sprung before Tsukishima noticed.
But being the cool, older vice-captain also brought the responsibility of teaching, which Shouyou has found something of a stumble. He likes to think he’s patient enough, but he already finds it hard to vocalise his explanations as it is, yet alone in an easy-to-understand format for a nervous first-year. So, he’s taken more to demonstrating.
There was an incident, at the beginning of the year, with Honda - one of their brattier new recruits. He was already a tall, looming thing, about 6’4” and walked with the swagger of someone who was vaguely successful in middle school.
“Your jump lacks a little oomph, though,” Shouyou had said when Honda had jumped for a block and only just managed to kill the ball. “You can jump way higher.”
“What would you know?” The kid had challenged, dragging his eyes up and down Shouyou’s body with distaste.
So Shouyou had asked Yachi to get the chalk powder, lowered the basketball backboard, and demonstrated how to jump, properly, and tried not to look too smug when his running vertical was several centimetres higher than Honda’s.
Just over Honda’s ridiculously high shoulder, past his gormless, stunned expression, Shouyou had spotted Kageyama smirking.
It was gone in a flash, but it made Shouyou’s stomach flip pleasantly anyway. Kageyama did that sometimes, whenever Shouyou did something particularly impressive. A little demon smile that really should look scary but only ever made him feel hot and full of pride.
It’s Honda they’re watching now, him and Kageyama, as the gigantic first year struggles to get to grips with a quick attack. He’s been paired with another first year, a setter, who was good at judging distance but bad at timing. Honda had been difficult to wrangle into practicing this – he’d apparently just been used as a massive wall in middle school, thanks to his early growth spurt. Blocking was what he was used to doing, not attacking, and that’s all he wanted to do.
Ukai had pointed out, firmly, that middle blockers still had to attack (and why would you not want to? Shouyou cannot fathom), and because Shouyou and Kageyama are the undisputed kings of the quick attack, they have been tasked with showing the underclassmen how it’s done.
(Honda had been adamant, after watching them, that Kageyama should practice with him, but Ukai had refused. “Kageyama is a reward. You can have the good setter once you have an appreciation for what you’re doing,” he’d said. Honda had sulked. Kageyama had looked blandly uninterested.)
“That’s a bit better,” Shouyou murmurs to Kageyama as Honda actually manages to hit to ball this time, and Kageyama hums next to him.
Unfortunately, the ball sails not only over the net, but also far out of bounds, across the gym and straight into the temple of a hapless second year, who squawks and crumples into a heap on the floor.
“Or not,” Kageyama huffs, closing his eyes and pressing his fingers against his eyelids.
“Nice kill!” Shouyou chirps, watching as a gaggle of second years scramble to pick up their fallen comrade.
Honda looks torn between being embarrassed and infuriated, but Shouyou is distracted from his underclassmen’s impending tantrum by the small huff of laughter above his head.
Swivelling his head up sharply, Shouyou squints suspiciously at Kageyama’s now vaguely grumpy face. “Did you just laugh,” he whispers, awed.
Kageyama’s laughs are rare, precious things. Shouyou could probably count on one singular hand the amount of times he’s heard it, if the evil snickering doesn’t count (and it doesn’t because Kageyama only does that when he’s picking on him.)
“No,” Kageyama whispers back.
“You did, you thought I was funny,” Shouyou teases, voice still low and conspiring.
“Don’t be ridiculous,” Kageyama says, still quiet, lifting an elbow and plonking it on Shouyou’s head. “Why are we whispering?”
“Can’t let the first years know you can laugh, Giggleyama, it’ll ruin your reputation as a terrifying volleyball robot.”
“I don’t giggle,” Kageyama growls, grinding his elbow into Shouyou’s skull.
Shouyou jabs him in his exposed armpit, and Kageyama jerks away with a curse.
I bet I could make you giggle he thinks to himself vindictively, as he wipes his fingers on his shirt to rid them of Kageyama’s gross armpit sweat. He watches as Kageyama crosses over to talk to the first years, and tries to imagine him giggling – all high pitched and sweet, and crinkles his nose. That doesn’t sound right. He prefers his real laugh, rare as it is, soft huffs that you could only hear if you were close by, like a secret.
“Oi!” Kageyama barks, jerking Shouyou out of his thoughts and he scurries over to join his teammates for yet another demonstration.
Historically, Karasuno doesn’t do well at Interhigh. They’re a team that loves to try new things, throw crazy ideas around until something sticks, and plays like that take time to perfect. By Interhigh, it’s only been a few months, and they’re still so rough around the edges.
The final is tomorrow, against a Shiratorizawa that’s almost looking like the unsurmountable mountain that they were in first year. They’re the terrifying crows of Karasuno, they’re the resurgent powerhouse, but Shouyou knows they’re not the ones tipped to win.
He doesn’t care, especially not now, as the referee’s whistle blares loud and sharp in his ears as his feet touch back down on the court. The ball rolls away from Johzenji’s libero as the final set of the semi-final comes to a close. It was a scrappy game, but a fun one, and an elated giggle bubbles from his mouth.
Someone slams into his back, one of their wing spikers, Shouyou thinks, from the way he stumbles under their weight. He laughs as he’s hugged, hands raining down for congratulatory pats and highfives, which he returns with vigour.
When he’s released, Shouyou pivots on his foot to look to his side, where he knows Kageyama will be standing, shaking his sweat-drenched fringe from his eyes. His partner is still panting, cuffing the sweat away from his forehead with the back of his hand. He’s not quite smiling yet, but he still looks satisfied, pleased. Shouyou can tell.
“Finals, Kageyama!” Shouyou yells, closing the distance and raising his hands for a high ten. He’s smiling so wide his cheeks ache.
Kageyama slaps his palms against his, still with too much force than is necessary (though Shouyou knows not to react, because he wise. He knows now Kageyama only smacks too hard because he thinks it’s funny.) Kageyama keeps his palms against Shouyou’s, still slightly stinging, ones and leans in a little. His eyes are shining, and they always look bluer like this, lit up with the thrill of victory. “Finals,” Kageyama repeats.
“We’re definitely going to go to Interhigh this year!” Shouyou declares, threading his fingers with Kageyama’s and shaking his arms up and down. Kageyama lets him.
“Don’t lose sight of what’s in front of you,” Kageyama warns, though he doesn’t pull away or cuff him over the head so Shouyou knows he’s not annoyed.
Shouyou just grins at him, wide and uninhibited. “We’re gonna win,” he promises. Even though it’s unlikely, he can see it – victory. The thought of it sends his blood alight with adrenalin.
Kageyama blinks once before a grin of his own spreads over his face. Shouyou’s breath halts in his lungs at the sight, and he wills for time to stop, just so he can drink it in. He sees it sometimes, when they’re playing - Kageyama’s fierce smile when they pull a combo off just right, when they show their opponents how possible the impossible can really be. But then there’s another serve, another rally, and the moment is gone.
Shame, Shouyou thinks to himself, as he lets his eyes roam over Kageyama’s stupidly happy face, taking in the creases that are from joy rather than frowning, for a change. It’s a really nice smile.
All at once, Kageyama’s grin evaporates into an expression of soft confusion and Shouyou realises with a jolt his brain-to-mouth filter had apparently taken leave and he’d said that last part out loud. Heat spreads rapidly from his cheeks down his neck as he croaks in embarrassment, suddenly painfully aware that their hands are still clasped together.
Sucking in a big breath through his nose, Shouyou tightens his grip on Kageyama’s hands and pulls his setter forward, rocking up onto his toes until he can knock their foreheads together. Kageyama’s eyes are big and startled (and so very blue) this close up.
“We’re gonna win!” Shouyou declares again, loudly, hoping his volume covers up the wobble in the voice and the close proximity hides the pink in his face.
Then he lets Kageyama go and sprints off to accost Tsukishima for a high-five before he can embarrass himself further.
Thankfully, Kageyama doesn’t seem to think he was being that weird, because he makes no further comment on it as the team heads back to the changing rooms. Tsukishima is steadfastly holding his palms up to the ceiling so he can’t get to them, so Shouyou gravitates back to his setter’s side with relief.
It really is a nice a smile though, Shouyou lets himself think when they’re seated on the bus on the way home. It’s quiet - most of the underclassmen are asleep and the air is filled with snores, the hum of the engine and tinny music from Tsukishima’s headphones. Kageyama is silent next to him, scribbling something down in his volleyball journal, though Shouyou doesn’t bother to peer at what he’s writing (he has long given up trying to decipher Kageyama’s chicken scratch.) Instead, he watches Kageyama’s thoughtful face, the way his brow is furrowed, as usual, but this time in thought, and the way his mouth is pursed.
He knows Kageyama is, inherently, just quite a grumpy sort of person. And he knows which frowns are his normal Kageyama-levels-of-mild-annoyance frowns and which ones are his angry frowns and the confused frowns and, rarely, the sad frowns. And that just because Kageyama looks like a grouch doesn’t mean he’s unhappy but… still. Shouyou only really sees him smile when they’re playing volleyball, which he gets, he really does, because no-one understands better than he does how amazing it feels. What it’s like to have that joy from playing bubble up inside of you until it bursts forth.
But Shouyou would, just once, maybe, like to make Kageyama smile – genuinely, in the way that makes his frowny, grumpy face all soft and warm – without volleyball.
He slumps in his seat as a yawn stretches his mouth open wide, tilting his head until his temple knocks against the ball of Kageyama’s shoulder. Without looking up from what he’s writing, the other boy silently drops his shoulder enough that Shouyou can rest his head against it more comfortably, the warmth from his jacket seeping into his cheek. Shouyou sighs happily into the fabric.
“If you drool on me, I will stab you with this pencil,” Kageyama mutters to him, knocking his ankle against Shouyou’s.
Shouyou taps his ankle back. “I won’t be able to play tomorrow if you give me lead poisoning, ‘Yama.”
“Pencils don’t have lead in them anymore, Tsukishima said so,” Kageyama says.
Shouyou hums, too tired and comfortable to be bothered to argue back (and if Tsukki said it then it was probably true.) He eyes the workbook Kageyama is still writing in with heavy eyelids before letting them drop closed, a plan forming in his mind as the whistle-scratch of Kageyama’s stabbing pencil lulls him off to sleep.
They don’t win the Interhigh preliminary final.
There’s no time to lament the loss, and Shouyou knows better now than to ruminate on what he could have done, should have done. The Spring Nationals still beckon, on the not-so-distant horizon, and beyond that, the daunting future of adulthood.
But before that, there is exams. And no matter how much he had whined to Takeda-sensei that ‘he wasn’t even going to university so why did they matter?’ his teacher had still firmly pointed out that graduating high school was still, at the very least, the bare minimum expected.
“Why the fuck do we need to learn about plants?” Kageyama is raging, gripping the edges of his biology textbook so hard the pages creak warningly, threatening to rip.
Shouyou biffs him over the head with his pencil case from his elevated position on his bed. “Don’t be so vulgar! Natsu’s in the other room!” He hisses.
“Sorry,” Kageyama grunts, still trying to set his textbook on fire with his eyes.
Biology is one of the few subjects where they don’t need any tutoring from their friends, because a lot of it can be related back to volleyball (knowing how muscles worked was useful, who knew?) And hopefully the good grade they should get it in it will carry them through to a pass to make up for their woeful marks in chemistry and physics.
“What do plants have to do with bodies?” Kageyama is still seething, looking viciously between the book and the pages of his homework scattered over Shouyou’s bedroom floor.
“I don’t know, I didn’t write the book! We just have to learn it for this one exam and then we can forget all about it,” Shouyou says, trying to be positive. He looks at his diagram of a plant cell – blank, ready to be labelled – and rubs his temples in concentration as he tries to dredge the names from his memory.
“This is bullshit,” Kageyama mumbles, but his voice is quiet enough that it shouldn’t carry through the walls, so Shouyou doesn’t call him out on his language.
And it is, definitely, bullshit. Shouyou shoves his woefully empty diagram aside and grabs his pencil case, rummaging for the eraser he will certainly be needing. Taking out most of the contents, he eyes the bunch of pens and pencils in his fist before glancing over at Kageyama. After making sure his friend is busy with trying to spell ‘photosynthesis’, Shouyou sets to work. He stuffs two pens under his top lip, one in each nostril, each earhole and then rams the rest of them artfully in his hair. Where they stay, tangled in the curls.
He waits patiently until Kageyama inevitably voices his annoyance again and says, as clearly as he can with pens in his mouth, “I dunno.”
Kageyama is sipping water from a glass (somehow even doing that bitterly) when he turns around to look him in confusion at his muffled voice.
Shouyou looks him in the eye and waggles his eyebrows.
Kageyama chokes on his water, spraying a mouthful all over the textbook pages.
Shouyou grins, dislodging his mouth pens. He leans forward and waits eagerly for the laugh that should’ve definitely earned and then starts pouting when Kageyama just continues to choke instead. With a sigh, he leans forward all the way to thump his friend on the back as Kageyama coughs up all the water that went down the wrong pipe.
“What are you doing?” Kageyama croaks once he can breathe.
“Plants are boring,” Shouyou explains as a pen falls out of his nose.
Kageyama doesn’t smile, but his eyes are twinkling and his face is softer than usual, so Shouyou knows he’s amused at least, in his own weird way.
He waits until Kageyama turns back to his homework before removing the rest of the pens and reaching over to his desk, plucking a small workbook off of it. He hasn’t labelled the cover, just in case someone (Natsu) gets nosy and starts leafing through it, but he has decorated the first page to be an elaborate title page.
‘Operation: Make Kageyama Smile’ he’s written, in bubble writing, and stuck a few gold stars across the page for good measure. In the corner is two little doodles of Kageyama, one with a cartoon scowl and the other with an exaggerated smile.
The next few pages consist of a variety of ideas and schemes, many of them crossed out because they cost money he doesn’t have, were too elaborate, or just wouldn’t work. He’s set himself a goal – to get Kageyama to smile, properly, without volleyball involved, before the end of their last year in high school. Bonus points if he gets a laugh too. Kageyama’s his best friend, he should definitely be able to do this.
(And the new passport and visa application papers in his desk drawer are a poignant reminder of what the deadline really means.)
Shouyou flips to a blank page and scribbles down a few notes about his findings. He knows most jokes fly straight over Kageyama’s head – he’s too straight forward to understand most of them. Shouyou actually likes this about him, how earnest and honest he is, even if he doesn’t understand the nuances of humour. So, he’s trying more physical comedy, as this seems like something Kageyama would maybe appreciate more.
“Alright, enough of this,” Kageyama says suddenly, shoving his half-completed homework away and fishing in his bag.
Shouyou has just enough time to shove his workbook under his pillow before Kageyama sees it before the setter has plopped down on his bed in front of him with a bundle of flashcards in his hands. “Help with me with English.”
“Okay!” Shouyou agrees, readily, because this is one subject he’s actually sort of good at now.
He waits until they’ve finished one round of the flashcards before he says, “Kageyama.”
He may have written off most jokes, but everyone likes a good, old fashioned cheesy one right? He’ll even take the disgruntled hair ruffling he’s likely to get, after he’s made Kageyama snort first.
“That’s not on the flash card,” Kageyama says, instead of following the script.
“What? No, knock knock.”
Kageyama just frowns at him, somewhere between confused and annoyed.
Shouyou makes a little ‘go on’ gesture with his hand. Kageyama’s scowl deepens.
“Who’s there?” Shouyou prompts.
“Whose…? What are you talking about now, dumbass?”
Shouyou drops his flashcards onto the duvet. “It’s a knock knock joke, dumbass?”
“A… nock nock joke,” Kageyama repeats slowly, now looking thoroughly confused.
“Uhh… yeah?” Shouyou says. “You know like ‘knock knock’” - he makes a little knocking motion with his fist - “’who’s there?’, ‘you’, ‘you who’, ‘yoohoo I’m over here!’ Those ones?”
Kageyama just looks at him like he’s sprouted a second head and Shouyou stares back, vaguely stunned, before he shakes himself to refocus on the task at hand. Okay, Kageyama apparently doesn’t know what knock knock jokes are. This is fine, he can teach him. He has to teach him, really, before someone else finds out and makes fun of him for it.
“Right, so when I say ‘knock knock’ you say ‘who’s there?’ and when I reply you say that word and ‘who?’ on the end, got it?”
Kageyama looks enormously disgruntled, but he nods his understanding nonetheless.
“Right, so, knock knock?”
“… Who’s there?”
“Don’t cry, Kageyama, it’s only a joke!”
There’s a long beat of silence, before Kageyama mumbles through pursed lips, “I don’t get it.”
Shouyou’s heart twinges a bit, because there’s something oddly sweet about Kageyama – over six feet tall and broad and serious Kageyama – sitting cross legged on his bed, confused about a knock knock joke.
“Ehh, they’re not that great anyway,” Shouyou tries to dismiss, because he can see a hint of frustration in the edges of Kageyama’s scowl. He forgets, sometimes, how Kageyama struggles with social nuances, and how it frustrates him. He can be sensitive about it, and the last thing Shouyou wants is for Kageyama to feel like he’s picking on him intentionally, making fun of him for not knowing a joke.
Kageyama shuffles the flashcards in his hands and looks slightly appeased, but is otherwise quiet.
“Want to hear another?” Shouyou ventures, an idea forming in his mind.
Blue eyes flit up to meet his before a quiet, “sure.”
Shouyou takes in a deep breath and sits up straight, rearranging his face into one of deep condensation. “No it’s ‘to whom’,” he says, in his very best Tsukishima impression.
Honestly, he doesn’t get the joke either, he’d seen it in a YouTube video once and it seemed popular, but it was really more about the impression than the words.
Kageyama doesn’t smile, exactly, but his face softens out of his scowl and his lips seem to be a little tilted, there at the corners.
It’s not a smile, but Shouyou will take it for now.
Shouyou shelves jokes for a while. He focuses on other areas instead – making funny faces across the table at lunch, or doing impressions of their teammates and rivals, or showering Kageyama with an unusual amount of praise.
All it earns him, respectively, is a variety of confused looks, that dark conspiring smirk, or a deeply red-faced Kageyama that covers Shouyou’s entire face with both hands to get him to shut up. And as much as embarrassing Kageyama is fun and highly amusing, it’s not actually earning him any smiles.
The pages in his notebook are starting to have more crossed out ideas than notes on anything coming to fruition.
So, he resorts to dirty tactics one afternoon in Tokyo, while they’re at their last training camp before the Spring National qualifiers. Most of his plans haven’t worked, but Hinata Shouyou is no quitter, and he knows he can win, even if it might require a little cheating.
They’re on the steep hill outside Shinzen High’s gymnasium, flat on their backs after a dash up and down the grass, panting for breath. It’s a self-imposed punishment. They’d agreed if they couldn’t beat Nekoma with a sufficient point-gap they’d dash up the hill. The rest of their teammates are still in the gym, staring at them with varying levels of concern and confusion (or ignoring them entirely, in the case of Tsukishima.)
Shouyou glances over at Kageyama, who has his eyes shut as he breathes heavily, and takes his chance to pounce.
He throws himself across his setter, and blue eyes fly open with alarm, but he’s been taken by surprise and is too slow to stop Shouyou’s nimble fingers from assaulting his sides.
Every single person on Earth is ticklish, Shouyou is pretty sure, and so this will definitely work. It might be cheating, but when Shouyou is tickled he wreathes and laughs and laughs until tears leak from his eyes and his lungs are screaming for air. It might be a forced laugh, but so help him, Shouyou will get one out of Kageyama.
The setter squirms immediately with a furious shout as Shouyou digs his fingers into the firm muscles on his sides.
“Dumbass! What are you- stop!” Kageyama roars, his voice pitching higher at the end, finally finding purchase in Shouyou’s hair and tugging wildly. Shouyou battles on.
Despite Kageyama’s furious bucking and desperate twists to get away, Shouyou still manages to poke and prod against his sides and under his arms. But Kageyama is just yelling, rather laughing, so Shouyou ups the ante and slips his hands under Kageyama’s shirt to press his fingers against his skin instead.
This proves to be a fatal mistake – as once it occurs to Shouyou that he just stuck his hands under Kageyama’s shirt (and wow those abs are firm) his relentless tickle attack falters just enough that Kageyama is finally able to grab him by the upper arms. In one swift movement, his hands are ripped away from Kageyama’s abdomen and the setter rolls them over until he is on top, pressing Shouyou’s wrists into the grass in a vicegrip.
Shouyou blinks up into Kageyama’s face – bright red and furious and contemplates wailing to his teammates at the bottom of the hill for help because that face spells murder.
Blue eyes flash and Shouyou braces himself for a tirade of shouting and jerks violently in surprise when one large hand releases one of his wrists and starts burrowing fingers into his side.
He starts wheezing immediately, squirming helplessly as Kageyama pokes (a bit violently) at his very ticklish sides. “Kageyamaaaa!” He wails, smacking futilely at his shoulder, his head, his arms. “Nooooo...”
Kageyama does not relent, fingers dancing across his middle and Shouyou is giggling madly, trying to gasp in air. Eventually he manages to stick his fingers in the junction between Kageyama’s neck and his shoulder, digging into the skin and trying to tickle him there. Kageyama grunts and tilts his head sharply to try and trap Shouyou’s fingers there and stop him.
“Do you give?” Kageyama demands, still mashing Shouyou’s hand between his shoulder and his cheek.
“N-no!” Shouyou gasps out, because he will never give in, ever, and he manages to wrench his hand free to poke his fingers into whatever potentially ticklish spots he can find and reach.
There are tears starting to form now, running down the sides of his face and blurring his vision as he laughs and gasps helplessly. He thinks he can see Kageyama grinning down at him, that same victory smirk he gets on the court when he’s done something better than Shouyou but his vision is so wobbly he’s not really sure.
“Hey!” A new voice calls out beside them and Kageyama’s fingers abruptly stop.
Shouyou lays there for a minute, catching his breath and rubbing his eyes, until his giggles finally subside and he manages to compose himself. He looks up to see Kageyama staring off to side and turns his head to lay eyes on Yamaguchi, who is standing next to them looking amused, but in a sinister sort of way. Shouyou gulps.
“If you’re quite done…” Yamaguchi says, smiling brightly at them but with a steel of warning in his voice. “Coach is calling for us.” He jabs his thumb over his shoulder.
Shouyou cranes his neck to look past Kageyama (who is still on top of him, pinning him down) to see Ukai standing in the doorway to the gym, looking like he might explode.
“Oops,” Shouyou says and squirms underneath Kageyama until the big idiot gets the hint and finally rolls off of him. He does offer a hand though, to his credit, and Shouyou grips it and allows himself to be hauled to his feet.
“I win,” Kageyama mutters under his breath to him, low enough so Yamaguchi can’t hear, as they trot back down the hill.
“You did not,” Shouyou whispers fiercely back, indignant.
“You were crying.”
“You have grass stains all over your butt.”
Kageyama twists around to look with a curse, and Shouyou darts off with a cackle before Kageyama can see his shorts are actually clean and take a swipe at him.
Later, when everyone is asleep in the dorm room, Shouyou mournfully crosses out ‘tickling’ in his notebook.
It's autumn when Shouyou finally starts to feel frustrated in his mission.
“Err, what did you need in here again Yachi?” Shouyou asks, turning in a little circle.
He, Kageyama and Yachi are in one of the old storage sheds out by the gyms. Dusty buildings, they’re full of everything from old equipment to uniforms to school supplies, piled high on towering shelves.
Yachi had asked him and Kageyama to help her get something earlier that morning at practice, so here they were at lunch.
(And, okay, she’d actually asked Kageyama, with his stupidly long legs good for reaching high up things but Shouyou had tagged along too, naturally)
“Some posters,” Yachi says, pointing a box high above their heads with a label on the side Shouyou can just about decipher. “They’re old ones, from when we went to Nationals before, and I wanted to look at them. For inspiration, you know? I’m a little stuck on the new poster for donations…” she trails off, eyeing the box and wringing her hands. “But, actually, it looks a little high… I thought Kageyama might be tall enough, but maybe we need a ladder.”
Kageyama hums, apparently in agreement, as he makes no effort to reach up for the box in question.
“That’s okay, we have a ladder!” Shouyou says.
Yachi tilts her head. “We… do?”
“Yeah, his name is Tsukishima,” Shouyou says matter of factly, and immediately looks at Kageyama, watching for the lip twitch or snort of amusement.
He receives a blank stare.
Shouyou holds eye contact, waiting for the lightbulb to go off in his best friend’s admittedly rather thick skull.
Kageyama sneezes from the dust wafting in the air. Shouyou huffs with annoyance and digs around in his pocket for a tissue and shoves it in Kageyama’s face.
“Tsukishima’s studying…” Yachi starts to say, but Shouyou waves her off. Okay, that was a bad joke, but it’s okay, he can roll with this before it starts to get awkward.
“We’ll use our back-up ladder!” He announces, smacking Kageyama on the shoulder.
“Back-up ladder?” Kageyama repeats, squinting at him suspiciously over the tissue.
“Yup, come on you overgrown giraffe.” Shouyou gestures at the ground inpatiently. “We don’t have all day.”
Kageyama eyes the box above them, slides his gaze over to Shouyou, before looking back at the box. He pockets his tissue, puckers his mouth in thought, a little crease between his brows, before he picks up on what Shouyou is asking for (without Shouyou needing to explain, because Shouyou never needs to) and he crouches down, until his head is level with Shouyou’s hip.
Shucking off his shoes, Shouyou swings a leg over Kageyama’s broad shoulders (so broad, Shouyou is careful not to stretch his leg too far over them, lest he give himself a groin injury) while Yachi starts to fret beside them.
“Uhh, is this safe? I’m sure a teacher will be able to lend us a ladder…”
“Nah, we’re here now!” Shouyou assures her, gripping the top of Kageyama’s head for balance as he settles himself on the setter’s shoulders. “Ladder extend!” He tugs a little on the silky strands beneath his fingers – shorter now, these days, much to the mourning of the girls in their year and himself.
“I will throw you off,” Kageyama threatens, but stands all the same, placing one large hand on each of Shouyou’s knees to keep him balanced.
Even sitting on Kageyama’s shoulders, the box is still too high for Shouyou to reach, and he grunts in frustration. “You thought Kageyama could reach this on his own? He might be six-feet-too-many-inches but he’s not eight feet tall.”
“It didn’t look that high at first...”
“I am not ‘too many inches’, you’re just five-feet-too-litt– oww!” Kageyama grumbles, then breaks off as Shouyou knocks a knee into his ear.
Reaching for the shelving in front of him, Shouyou grips it for balance before lifting one leg (after Kageyama lifted his hand from it to rub his sore earlobe), and planting his foot into the meat of his setter’s shoulder. Realising what he’s doing, Kageyama grips his shin firmly, holding him in place as Shouyou does the same with the other leg, adjusting his feet until his footing is solid and Kageyama holding is onto him tightly.
From the ground, Yachi whines a little in distress.
“If you fall, and break something, I will never forgive you,” Kageyama warns darkly.
“Don’t drop me then!” Shouyou says cheerfully, unbothered. Kageyama might threaten it, but he would never actually let him topple to the ground.
The box is now sitting squarely in front of him and Shouyou grabs it with a triumphant grin. “Got it!”
“Great. Now get down, you’re heavy,” Kageyama orders, and Shouyou can hear the slight wheeze in his voice.
“Right! Uhh… hmm.” Shouyou looks at the box and the ground, over six below him, with a frown. Nimble he may be, but even he doesn’t think he can jump to the floor from here, not with his hands full. “Can you kneel down?”
There’s a pause, before Kageyama says eventually, “I don’t want to drop you.” The hands around his shins tighten, just a bit.
“Maybe drop the box? There’s nothing fragile in it,” Yachi offers, looking at the floor around them. “There’s enough room.”
“Okay, scoot back a bit.”
Yachi takes a few steps back to give him room, and Shouyou reaches out as far he dares before letting the box fall. It lands on the ground with a thwump, and a cloud of dust billows up around them.
Kageyama starts coughing immediately, and Shouyou clings onto the shelving as his perch starts shuddering underneath his feet.
“You okay down there?” He asks once the spluttering subsides.
“Ugh, yeah,” Kageyama grunts, tugging on his trouser legs. “Down.”
Shouyou lowers one leg down at a time until he’s seated back on Kageyama’s shoulders. “Well, let’s go get lunch,” he says, leaning his arms on Kageyama’s head and swinging his feet.
“Get off,” Kageyama says darkly. “You’re going to break my back, you’re such a lump-“
“I am not a lump!” Shouyou says indignantly, tugging at Kageyama’s dust sprinkled hair. “It’s all my muscle weighing me dow- whoa!”
His sentence is cut off as Kageyama suddenly grips his ankles extra tightly and bucks, hard enough that Shouyou dislodged from his seat and flung backwards over Kageyama’s back. His legs are still hooked over the setter’s shoulders, held in place by Kageyama’s vicegrip, and he windmills his arms as he dangles upside-down, the ground still disconcertingly far away. “Kageyama!”
Yachi shrieks a little next to them and nearly drops the box she’d picked up from the ground all over again. “Guys, please.”
“Use your muscles to get back up,” Kageyama taunts, swaying ever so slightly from side to side.
Shouyou shoves at his shirt where it’s fallen free from his trousers and has bunched up around his face. “Fuck off!” He snarls. Kageyama snickers above him, that little demon laugh he makes when he’s making fun of him, and Shouyou’s face heats from both annoyance and all the blood rushing to it.
Letting go of his shirt, Shouyou cranes his neck so he can see the ground and stretches out until his fingers are brushing the floor. “Crouch down,” he orders, and Kageyama does so, surprisingly. Once his hands are solid against the floor, he kicks his legs until Kageyama lets him go, slowly. He balances in a very wobbly handstand for all of two seconds before dropping one leg down after another in an arc, somehow ending up back on his feet.
“Wow, that was actually kind of graceful, Hinata,” Yachi says, eyes sparkling.
“Thanks,” Shouyou says breathlessly, blowing his hair out of his very red face. Stuffing his shirt back into his trousers with one hand he jabs at Kageyama’s stomach with the other. “Prick.”
Kageyama just snickers again, and he’s got that smirk on his face, the really annoying one and Shouyou huffs angrily. It isn’t just that Kageyama’s teasing him (because even if it does rile him up, he knows now that Kageyama never means to be malicious), it’s that he’s smiling and laughing but not in the way that Shouyou wants him to.
“Come on!” He says loudly, shoving his shoes back on, shooing Yachi ahead of him and stalking out of the horrible, musty storeroom, leaving Kageyama to close it up behind them.
He’s still frustrated as they head to the outside picnic tables, stewing quietly and sulking. Yachi’s happily babbling her thanks and talking about how she’d like to reference the old posters in her new design but Shouyou tunes her out, glaring at his shoes as he stomps along, his head full with the notebook pages and all the crossings-out and how he can't get Kageyama to-
Fingers slide into his hair and Shouyou has to tense the muscles in his neck to stop himself from bucking Kageyama’s hand away as the setter ruffles his hair. The touch is gentle, though, not rough or tugging at his curls. ‘I’m sorry’ it says, and Shouyou lets some of the tension ease from his shoulders because he knows Kageyama’s apologising for tipping him upside down but that’s not why Shouyou’s annoyed at all.
And it’s a bit childish, really, but Shouyou is very aware of how it’s now autumn, how half of the school year has gone, already, and the deadline for his self-appointed goal is suddenly rapidly approaching.
But even if Kageyama is the source of Shouyou’s frustration it’s not actually his fault, and Shouyou sucks in a deep breath through his nose.
It’s fine, he has time.
The thing is, Shouyou has never been able to keep a secret from Kageyama.
They’re at Shouyou’s house again, which is free for once, as his parents have taken Natsu out for the evening. Studying was supposed to be on the agenda, but when Kageyama had turned up at the door, he’d lifted a DVD case and asked him if he wanted to watch some matches instead. And because Shouyou would shove aside algebra for volleyball at every available opportunity, here they are on the sofa, watching a recording of Japan’s national team from one of their games last year.
(Shouyou has a sneaking suspicion that some of the people Kageyama have been speaking to from the V-League have mentioned opportunities a little more… grand, than just a spot on a Division 1 team, but he hasn’t said anything yet.)
“We should take notes,” Kageyama says as a time out plays on the screen.
“Hmm, good idea, go get some stuff,” Shouyou says, stretching out from his spot on the sofa to poke his toes into Kageyama’s thigh.
“Why do I have to go?”
“You’re closest to the door. And it was your idea.”
Kageyama looks like he wants to argue more, but he pauses the DVD anyway and lumbers to feet, muttering something under his breath about being a guest.
It’s only when he’s typing out his fifth text to Kenma in a row (he’s moving into his own place, holy shit), that it occurs to Shouyou that Kageyama is taking a disconcertingly long time just to fetch some paper and pens. He looks up at the door with a frown, just as his friend comes back through the doorway.
“There you are.” He complains, swinging his feet off the sofa, “what, did you get lost?”
Kageyama doesn’t reply, instead staring silently at a small slim book in his hands.
With a jolt, Shouyou’s heart stops dead in his chest when he realises that’s the book he’s been writing about making Kageyama smile in. He feels cold sweat pricking up across his skin as he leaps to his feet. “Hey, wait-“ he starts, weakly, heart starting to pound. Oh God, this is so embarrassing. He must have left it open on his desk-
“What’s this?” Kageyama asks finally, and his tone of voice stops Shouyou dead. He doesn’t sound angry, or annoyed, or even teasing. He just sounds confused, and Shouyou ducks his head so he can see his best friend’s face properly from where it’s bowed down a little.
Kageyama is frowning, because of course he is, but there’s a wobble to the set of his mouth and tension in the corner of his eyes that signals to Shouyou that this is one his sad frowns.
Shouyou feels his blood freeze in his veins, his tongue swell until his mouth feels heavy and full and he can’t get any words out except a croak. He forgets sometimes, he forgets, that Kageyama can be sensitive about things like this. “It’s- it’s nothing,” he squeaks, and makes a dart for the book.
Kageyama pulls his hands away before he can grab it, his reflexes for once faster, and holds the book aloft, high above his head where Shouyou can’t reach it without making a leap for it. “Are you making fun of me?” He demands, some anger finally starting to edge into his voice. It’s bluster, though, Shouyou can tell, a loud voice to cover up his anxieties.
“No!” Shouyou insists, giving up on reaching for the book and balling his hands into determined fists, staring into Kageyama’s (bright, shiny bright) blue eyes.
“You are,” Kageyama says. “Is this one of your jokes? A bet? Did someone put you-“
“No!” Shouyou shouts, over Kageyama’s tirade, and he reaches out to grab his friend’s upper arms, holding onto the sleeves of his jumper tightly. He’s this close, he knows, to having Kageyama storm off out the house where he will ignore Shouyou for the rest of the day and then he’ll have to wait until tomorrow to sort this out and he will not let Kageyama stomp home in an upset sulk, if he can help it.
It’s easy to forget, sometimes, with how Kageyama is normally so tall and serious and seemingly unbothered about people that he’s insecure about things. How awkward he can be, how it bothers him that he doesn’t quite understand some of the nuances that come with friendship and that if he fucks it up, he’s terrified it’ll be snatched away, still, to this day.
“I’m not making fun of you, I swear,” Shouyou says firmly, his voice just cracking oh-so-slightly. Kageyama squints at him but doesn’t buck his hands off or try to bolt so Shouyou feels emboldened to continue. “I just… wanted to make you smile.”
“… Why?” Kageyama asks, voice low.
“Because!” Shouyou flusters, because how, how to explain this without making it obvious what an absolutely massive sap he is? “It’s a nice smile!”
There’s a new tension in Kageyama’s face now, some pink on his cheeks that hints he’s embarrassed but also that Shouyou’s very likely to get his hair pulled, if he’s not careful.
“It’s a nice smile,” Shouyou says insistently, barrelling on and letting his words get away from him in the hope that he will get his meaning across without the two of them crumpling to floor in embarrassment. “And you only really smile when we’re playing volleyball, apart from that- that smirky thing you do, and I just wanted to make you smile properly okay? Just once, before- before we graduate.” He has to pause here, for breath to free his stuttering lungs, because ‘graduation’ doesn’t mean the end of high school, it means adulthood and a V-League team and a visa application. “Because it’s nice, okay? I like it, and I like your laugh too, even if you just kind of huff a bit, and it makes me feel all like ‘fwaaaah’ inside and I just… wanted to,” he finishes, lamely.
Kageyama stares at him for a long moment, his face still all crumpled and constipated, but scrunched now in a way that Shouyou can’t really decipher. “You said… my smile is creepy,” he says eventually, his voice tiny.
Shouyou winces. “It can be,” he admits. “When you’re plotting something, or trying to force it, but when you’re really happy it’s really, really nice.” God his face is so red now, he can feel his cheeks thrumming with heat. Kageyama himself looks a little pink, and still with that strange expression that makes Shouyou’s stomach twist. He lets go of Kageyama’s jumper and winds his arms around his friend’s waist instead, burying his burning face in Kageyama’s chest so he can’t see it anymore. His setter doesn’t touch him back, but he doesn’t make any movement to push him away either, so Shouyou clings to the back of his jumper and summons what’s left of his courage. It’s okay, he can always be honest, with Kageyama.
“I just… like you,” he admits, his voice small and muffled against fabric, because he does. He likes everything about Kageyama, even when he’s being annoying and mean and wrestling him into the dirt. He likes how breathtakingly good he is at volleyball, he likes how he’s honest and earnest in everything he says and does. He likes how he’s even sweet sometimes, and how he does little things for Shouyou like bringing him milk and letting him sleep on his shoulder and never, ever lets Shouyou think he can’t be absolutely amazing at volleyball too as long as he works hard. He makes Shouyou smile and even laugh, often unintentionally, and Shouyou wants to do all of these things and more, for Kageyama too.
“You… like me?” Kageyama repeats, and Shouyou hasn’t heard his voice so soft before, he doesn’t think.
“Of course I do,” he says with conviction, even if his voice shakes just a little. “You’re my absolute favourite person.”
Kageyama makes a strange, strangled sort of sound above him and Shouyou is curious enough to pull his face away from his jumper to peer at him. His setter is almost luminous, with how red his face is, expression crumpled and unreadable. “You can’t just… say things like that, you idiot,” Kageyama wheezes in protest.
“Yes I can,” Shouyou insists, starting to feel bolder, because this is how Kageyama reacts when Shouyou raves about his tosses. When he’s secretly very pleased but too awkward about it to do anything more than make bizarre faces and call him names. “You’re my favourite and I like you.”
Kageyama doesn’t say anything, doesn’t protest or squirm - just stays quiet and still, his face slowly melting out of its crumpled expression until it’s something soft. “Like?” He repeats so, so quietly.
Shouyou’s breath hitches and his heart kicks up a new, rapid rhythm as hope spreads warm through him. His tongue darts out to wet his lips because he knows they’re teetering on the edge of something here, of something that could either be devastating or amazing, depending if Shouyou is reading Kageyama right here.
And, well, he’s never read him wrong before.
He stretches up on his toes, as far as he can because Kageyama is standing stiff and straight and he’s a good head taller than Shouyou like this. He checks, once more, for any warning signs, any signal that he should stop, now, before everything goes wrong but he finds nothing – only Kageyama watching him closely.
Shouyou brushes his lips against Kageyama’s bottom lip briefly, the lightest of touches, because it’s all he can reach and he’s not brave enough yet to drag Kageyama down to him. Pulling back just enough so that he can see Kageyama’s surprisingly blank face, he waits for his reaction. He thinks his heart might have just stopped dead in his chest.
And then, amazingly, wondrously, the corners of Kageyama’s mouth tilt up and spread, until a wobbly smile spreads its way across his face like a flower in bloom. It’s like the look he gets when he stares down at a ball when he’s excited to play – pink cheeks and glittering eyes and a happy, happy smile.
“There it is,” Shouyou whispers in awe, reaching up with both hands to cup the sides of Kageyama’s face to frame it, this perfect, perfect smile that he has finally achieved in seeing.
“Idiot,” Kageyama mumbles, but the insult is soaked in fondness and the smile is not fading.
“Uwaaah,” Shouyou breathes, bouncing on his toes. “It’s so ni-“
He’s cut off by Kageyama swooping down and closing the distance between them, mashing his lovely, smiling mouth against Shouyou’s. It’s unco-ordinated and rough – their teeth clash and Shouyou’s top lip smarts something awful but Kageyama is kissing him and therefore it’s best thing ever. He spreads his hands from the sides of Kageyama’s face to bury them in his hair instead, gently tilting Kageyama’s head until they rest against each other in a much better angle. There’s a soft fwap as the notebook is dropped to the floor and Kageyama’s hands, now free, bury themselves in his shirt and his hair.
For a while there is nothing except the clumsy pressing of lips and soft gasps of snatches of shared air and curious, roaming hands. Until finally Shouyou pulls back so he can look at Kageyama’s happy face with something like triumph.
“Well if I knew that’s all it took I would’ve done that a lot sooner,” he says, grinning cheekily, before Kageyama snorts and kisses his smart mouth.
He’s done it, he’s figured it out, and he’s still got half a year left to make Kageyama smile and laugh and so, so much more. Six months until the paperwork in the drawer in his desk is sent off and six months and year until the passport in drawer below that gets a stamp but those are hurdles for an adult him to cross.
For now he is content to just kiss Kageyama in the living room and make him smile over and over and over.