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There’s a sense of complacency that comes with being the younger brother of someone as perfect as Akiteru—the comfort of knowing exactly what your parents want you to achieve; the security in hiding behind Akiteru’s little sins, committing them all to memory and vowing never to repeat them lest incur your mother’s wrath; the fact that he can do whatever the hell he wants because the Tsukishima family already had a perfect son.

He’d never admit it aloud, but he’d always been grateful for his niichan, not just for imparting to him a love of volleyball, but also for the good things that inadvertently came with having an older brother. He can’t speak for everyone, but life is much easier on him as Akiteru’s little brother: he’s able to get away with being a complete teenaged brat because niichan had softened his mother’s edges before he even turned thirteen. Even if he fakes chagrin with every head pat and feigns disgust when niichan calls him cute, he really can’t imagine what life would have been like without him.

But the reality is that having an older brother comes with the unfair burden of expectation. Akiteru wasn’t just some brainless, volleyball-obsessed jock: he’d gotten good grades in high school, good enough to make it to Tohoku University, and was just so good that he was immediately accepted to an office worker job on his first try right after graduation. It’s not that he’d asked his mom outright, but he’s pretty sure Tohoku would be the minimum expected from him. In any case, it’s the minimum he expects from himself.

He laughs at the thought. If Tohoku was the minimum, surely there’s no other place to go but down?

Except having an older brother means falling into the pitfalls of competitiveness and ambition and desire: he wanted to go to Tohoku too, and while the little voice in his head told him that maybe he could try for bigger schools like Keio or Tokyo University, because what did he have to lose, really (okay—maybe his pride and maybe his time). He’s a realist, not a dreamer, but more importantly there is just something about the Tohoku University campus in Sendai, the charm that came with it being just far away enough from his family home, far enough so he wouldn’t spend his entire life in the mountains anymore while being near enough so that he can come home to his mother’s nikujaga whenever he wanted.

Really, it’s not just because of Akiteru that he wants to go to Tohoku, just like how Karasuno wasn’t a school he’d picked because Akiteru went. He craved for the fresh air surrounding Karasuno’s mountains, for the thrills of competitive volleyball in a school that was good but not that good, and a small part of him wanted to spite his brother and maybe someday become a starter in a team niichan never managed to break into because that’s what liars and traitors deserve.

He’d seen how easily his world-weary brother would just drift home whenever the hell he wanted: after a tough exam, after a crushing volleyball loss, when his long-term girlfriend broke up with him during his sophomore year. He and Akiteru weren’t on good terms the entire time he was in university, but Kei had eyes that could see how perfect Tohoku is for someone like himself. Perfect for Kei, who struggles to balance his intellectual ambitions and city-lust with the overwhelming desire to curl into the warmth of his childhood blankets. To dream of staying in Miyagi isn’t settling if this is what he wants in the first place.

But then:

Tohoku University doesn’t have a strong volleyball team. They weren’t recruiting him, because there was no team that would even do the recruiting. There was no choice but to enter the traditional way. If he wanted this, he’d have to test into the school, which was one of the best in the country, not just in volleyball but one of the best period.

He’d received a handful of volleyball-related offers, of course, because sports scholarships were a perk that came with being a high school athlete with consistently good showings in national tournaments. The time and sweat and ripped fingers he’d dedicated to volleyball were finally bearing fruit, giving way to scholarships from schools needing a half-decent middle blocker: two Tokyo universities, an up-and-coming team from Hokkaido, he’d even gotten a few emails from schools in Kansai. Really, he could just choose one of these offers and be done with it—take the shinkansen into these big cities, walk into tryouts, block some balls, and break his pinky at the mercy of some university super ace.

He could, and his common sense tells him he should, but having an older brother to look up to means that some of his dreams had been set in stone since forever ago. His heart was set on a dream university; this goal didn’t come with a switch he could turn on and off and on again.

He grips at his pencil tightly, left hand massaging his temple while his right hand continues to solve a difficult math problem.

Tohoku University is the school for Miyagi’s elite, and studying trigonometry, of all things, in order to pass the center test and be admitted to a history program is a pain in the ass. But if there is something he learned over the past two years, if there is one thing he learned from his brother, it’s this: there’s really no harm in putting effort into things that you like.

 


 

The first game he plays as a high school senior is the traditional three-on-three with the new recruits. There were four of them this year, a perfect 2-2 split of rookies between his team and Kageyama’s. Petals of cherry blossoms litter the gymnasium door, and through the window he can see the heads of the girls who claim to be part of their fanclub.

Hinata had protested against this. He wanted to be the one to defeat Kageyama, the one assigned to leading the other team of rookies, so why was Stingyshima the one who got to play with the rookies, that’s just unfair…

Yamaguchi’s voice cuts in, interrupting Hinata’s rant. “Don’t you want to observe the new recruits?”

“I—eh, yeah,” Hinata answers lamely, because he couldn’t counter that. “But I want to play.”

Tsukishima almost offers to switch: let the volleyball-obsessed idiot chase his passions while he gets to rest his legs, but not before taking a glance at his teammates. Sakamoto, Kihira, he remembers from their earnest introductions a few days ago. Yamaguchi wouldn’t have been so insistent on having him play if there wasn’t a point, and he figures it out instantly: neither of his kids were above 180 centimeters, while one glance at Kageyama’s team tells him that the other side is stacked with height.

Never mind spiking power or speed: a block was necessary to even have the slightest chance against the King’s tosses. Yamaguchi wanted the kids on his team to be able to last through a fair fight.

“Hey, Hinata, think about it this way, don’t you think it’s better if you just watch from the sidelines today so that you’d have more knowledge about the rookies compared to Kageyama?” Yamaguchi says, clapping a hand against the shorter boy’s shoulder. Tsukishima smirks at the way Hinata’s eyes light up at the thought of beating Kageyama at something.

It’s Yamaguchi’s first week as captain, and it comes as a pleasant surprise to him that the newly minted leader knew exactly which words to say.

“Impressive,” he mouths at Yamaguchi once Hinata relents. His best friend really is no longer the boy who he’d muttered a derisive pathetic to almost ten years ago.

 

Later, the king tosses a four to the spiker on the other side of the net, and of course it would be a high set. Quicks are more difficult to execute with people you’ve just met, and Kei knows this timing, has blocked it more than a hundred times by now—

He watches the ball float perfectly in a high arc, tugs at the shirt of the boy—Kihira—beside him, a signal to follow him for a double block. And before the ball reaches the spiker’s space…

“Don’t jump until I tell you to. One, two, three—jump!

The block was well-timed, but the spiker targeted the space between his kouhai’s arms, causing the ball to land squarely in their court. Kageyama’s point.

It’s the boy’s first match in high school, against his royal highness, of all people. Poor thing, he thinks to himself, before realizing that his own first match had been against Kageyama as well. He tries to search his brain for something to say, words of encouragement, some volleyball wisdom, what would Sugawara-san say

He’s buried these memories in the deep recesses of his mind by now, but Kuroo-san’s words tumble from his mouth before he could stop them. “Don’t spread your arms like a banzai block! Hold them up straight! And jump up, not sideways!”

 

(His high set to Sakamoto later in the middle of set two gets blocked by the freshman on the other side of the court—Tokita, his brain supplies. He’d be lying if he said he wasn’t impressed that a single block by a rookie ended up working that well.

He swears he isn’t eavesdropping when overhears Kageyama complimenting Tokita’s kill block. He tries not to grin when the other boy says, “I jumped up and held my arms straight, senpai. Isn’t that what the tall blonde senpai yelled out earlier?”

He breaks and finally smiles when Kageyama answers, “Ah. Good, listen to Tsukishima.”)

 


 

It’s a bit strange, the idea that he’s a third year now, that everything he does from this point all bear weight on the fragile thing called his future. And senior year meant more time than necessary spent talking to his sensei about his prospects. It’s not that Kei necessarily hates his sensei, but he has never been one for opening up easily.

“You want to become a volleyball player, right?” His homeroom teacher asks during the first career counselling session of his third-year life. “You’ve been a regular since your first year, you’ve made it to nationals several times, you’ve put in the work and got the results, so there’s probably no need to wor—”

“No,” Kei interrupts. He dislikes this conversation already, even if it’s only his first counselling session of the year, because he knows people just have questions that he’s never in the mood to answer. He doesn’t know why the world needs him to explain why he wants the things he wants. Still, he’s rehearsed this several times in his head. “I want a history degree,” he finishes quietly. “I’ll be taking the center test.”

There’s a brief yet expected flash of confusion that flashes in his sensei’s eyes. “But your results—nationals, volleyball, didn’t you get an offer from—”

“I didn’t spend my high school life in college prep classes for nothing. And my grades are good, too, sensei,” Kei says, firm but with an undertone of irritation that he tries to suppress from bleeding through. “Maybe they’re not Tohoku University good. But I haven’t been studying since my first year to not even try.”

The confusion in his sensei’s eyes gives way to understanding. His sensei takes a peek at his documents, before continuing.

“Okay. I understand. I’m not saying you can’t, because looking at your grades, you can. But I have to say, it’s unusual for someone to not even glance at sports scholarships they’d received, I’ve not met anyone like you before, Tsukishima-kun—didn’t Meiji…?”

Kei shrugs, and before he could stop himself:

“If it’s not what I want, does it matter?”

 


 

He doesn’t become captain, he doesn’t even make vice, and it stung for a little bit at the time—a starting player since his first year, the brains and the grades and the skills to go with either title—all down the drain because of his self-admitted shitty personality. Envy is a bitch, and so is ambition, but he’s quick enough to tamp it down before it gets any worse.

Just because he wanted it because he thought he can do a good job at it doesn’t mean that he deserved it.

He’s not blind: he sees the shine in Yamaguchi’s eyes, the way his best friend patiently teaches the new recruits how to do a targeted serve. He’s not deaf either: he hears the soft tone Kageyama uses to teach his successor how to toss for a perfect slide hit. He doesn’t deserve the slightest hint of captaincy, he’s not nice enough, Hinata had pointed out when they were trying to make their final decisions, and that’s okay.

It’s just a title.

“Senpai,” a small voice speaks from beside him, shaking him from his thoughts. “Teach me how you time your blocks. I didn’t quite get it the last time.”

While the term captain is a title that is given by others, and one that wasn’t given to him, the word senpai practically fell onto his lap. It’s like how Akiteru became oniichan—it wasn’t something he chose to be, or something his parents forced him to become. It just happened.

It’s not the first time he’d been called senpai—the now-second years called him that, too, before realizing that he preferred to be called by the stale, plain, distant Tsukishima-san. But now there’s a shiver that creeps up his spine at the sound of being called senpai, at the thought of being someone looked up to by someone younger than him. The honorific bears weight: it’s not quite as heavy as oniichan, but it’s heavy all the same.

He doesn’t correct the first year—Tokita, first year, class six—let him call him senpai if he wants, he’ll change his mind soon enough.

But there’s a part of him that wants to live up to the honorific. Now isn’t like last year when Ennoshita and Nishinoya and Tanaka were around to be the team’s pillars. If it wasn’t going to be him, or the king, or Hinata, or Yamaguchi, then the kids wouldn’t have anyone, and, well, that’s not what Sawamura-san and his endless well of patience would’ve wanted for the team.

Maybe he’s too much of an antagonistic shit-stirrer to even be considered as a captain, but…

There’s nothing wrong with trying to be good at what you are.

“Sure,” Tsukishima answers, before adding hesitantly, “But I’m not good at this teaching thing…”

Tokita tilts his head. “Huh? You’re the best teacher out of the senpai, though.”

Tsukishima tries and fails to suppress the shock that crosses his features. There’s a warmth at the back of his neck that he doesn’t allow himself to indulge in. Was this what Nishinoya-san felt the first time Hinata ever called him senpai?

“Quit flattering me, I’m not as good as the captain,” he says, waving a hand in the air dismissively. And I’ll never be as good as Sugawara-san, he keeps inside, because Tokita doesn’t know who Sugawara-san even is.

“No!” the wide-eyed first year exclaims with conviction, scratching his head lightly. “You just—well, all the senpai teach different things, but you—you explain things so well and you use actual words and not sound effects and…” At this, Kei lets out a snicker, but motions for the younger boy to keep talking. “You break skills down to the very basics, and you’re…” Tokita trails off, before gathering the resolve to add, “You’re kind of mean, but maybe strict is a better word and—”

Tsukishima raises an eyebrow, and the first year responds by meeting his gaze head-on. “You’re kind of cool, Tsukishima-senpai!”

Senpai.

So maybe he’s no captain, and so what. Putting petty jealousy aside, he didn’t really want to be. It’s too much paperwork and groveling and interacting with authority. But senpai.

He can be that, sure, no problem, yeah.

He glances at Yamaguchi and sees both firmness and gentleness beneath broad shoulder and muscle. He spares a glance at the king and sees him nudging a first year’s shoulders in order to improve his setting form and sees hardly any trace of the socially awkward boy he’d met two years ago. Hinata is still Hinata, his voice echoing around the gymnasium as he plays along with the antics of the second years, but there’s a dependability to his stance that hadn’t been there before. Heck, even Yachi-san has changed, her small back emanating a sense of security as she quickly jots down Coach Ukai’s words onto her pink notebook.

They’ve all grown so much from the unruly problem kids they once were, and bemusedly, Kei thinks, how the hell did we get here?

Tsukishima squares his shoulders and resolves: maybe he’s not captain, maybe he’s not vice.

But he’s sure as hell not going to lose to anyone at being a senpai.

 


 

Back when he was half-heartedly playing volleyball in middle school, the name Kageyama Tobio was one that often floated around in conversations. An amazing setter, people would say, with an exceptional ability to make in-game decisions and a pinpoint accuracy that every setter in the prefecture would dream of, a prodigy with height and the athletic prowess to back up his on-court ruthlessness. For sure this boy had tickets to go to powerhouses like Aoba Johsai or Shiratorizawa, schools Kei couldn’t even dare dream of attending. As he practices his serves in the Amemaru Middle School gymnasium, his teammates and his coaches would spend idle moments talking highly of this mythical Kageyama Tobio’s abilities.

Except, he’d also overhear some negative things. That this boy is utterly reckless, completely unlikeable, a boy who acted more like a dictator than the team’s crucial playmaker.

Kei never claimed to have a pleasant personality, so commentary like that never fazed him. Maybe that Kageyama boy is just misunderstood, and at the end of the day, what did it matter? Volleyball talent and likeability didn’t necessarily have to come hand in hand, and when it came to volleyball, isn’t it obvious that the former should matter more? Akiteru had charm for days but never made it onto the active roster for three years.

Looking back, it was silly how much he repressed his interest in volleyball, burying it all under a façade of nonchalance and indifference. Though he’d shelved the thought of ever playing at a high level—if Akiteru couldn’t do it, then what right do I have to think I can—he spent most of his free time watching volleyball on the internet, analyzing plays by international teams, creating strategies in his mind. As much as he’d deny it, his feelings for volleyball had always been on the same level as his feelings for academics and music: not quite passion, not quite love, but almost. His interest isn’t something that would just wane because Akiteru isn’t Karasuno’s ace.

So, when he realized Kageyama Tobio was having a match in the Sendai City Gymnasium, just a few bus stops from his home in Miyagi, he knew he had to give the Kitagawa Daiichi match a watch. This is how he found himself, fake volleyball hater extraordinaire, in the bleachers, spending his precious time watching a game that had no bearing on his life or on his future.

Kita-ichi started the game with Kageyama’s serve, and his jump serve, all power with zero precision, was indeed a thing of beauty for someone in middle school. Kei couldn’t have done that even if he practiced hard, was that boy really his age? And then, less than 20 seconds into the first set, there’s a botched play from the other side, which led to a free ball. Kita-ichi’s libero passed the ball to Kageyama, and Kei realized as soon as the setter’s fingers made contact with the ball for a split second to pass it to the spiker—

Kageyama Tobio is a genius.

There’s no two ways around it: no human should have that type of ball control, let alone a boy who was probably barely even fourteen. His toss was perfect, a quick set to the back row that confounds the other team’s blockers, opening a completely empty path for the ball to be smashed through. Kei found himself enthralled.

But then, the other team adjusted, and the so-called genius setter ends up fumbling, opting for speed instead of tosses that his spikers were comfortable with hitting. When Tsukishima thought Kageyama would send it to the left for a sure, morale-boosting point from Kita-ichi’s ace, he’d set it to the middle again and again, faster and faster, only to get blocked, for points to keep going to the other team. Like the only way to get through a block was with speed, when there were other ways: brute force, angles, intelligence, to slow down so his teammates could breathe—sure this boy had ball control, but he had absolutely no idea how to control his own teammates, or even his emotions.

His late-game tosses would be very easy to block, Kei thinks. His anger makes him easy to read. But he’ll probably play at a level beyond my league. The idea disappeared as quickly as it came.

His coaches were right. He shouldn’t have given Kageyama Tobio the benefit of the doubt.

Eventually, his spikers left him alone. The set went up, but everyone who can hit it stayed unmoving in their spots. No one made an approach, and the ball ended up rolling on the floor. This wasn’t an error: this was Kitagawa Daiichi’s middle school volleyball team making a statement. A whistle, and Kageyama Tobio was taken off the court. The most talented player he’d ever seen in his life was benched.

Not for the first time in his life, Kei found himself disappointed in the stands. He did come to satiate his curiosity about a prodigy; instead he felt like he wasted his time watching nothing but botched plays. Somehow, people he’d placed on a volleyball-related pedestal kept putting him down.

He resolved to leave, not bothering to find out who wins or who loses. But before he managed to leave the stands he overheard someone, likely one of Kageyama’s teammates, utter the phrase “the king of the court” with as much vitriol as humanly possible. The hatred lacing that majestic nickname sounded disjointed to his ears; Kei decided that he liked the irony of it all.

As he exited the gymnasium, Kei wondered what he’d do if he ever had the dubious fortune of spiking one of Kageyama Tobio’s sets. He shook his head, chuckling under his breath. It’s never going to happen anyway.

 


 

The ball hits the floor with a satisfying thwack, and he’d be lying if he said he wouldn’t miss the way Kageyama’s sets end up with the ball right under his palm for the perfect spike, every time. The second years who tried to block his quick look at him aghast, to which he merely smirks in response.

It’s only the middle of May, they still have several months of being teammates to go, but time flies and he’s feeling slightly sentimental. He isn’t stupid enough to think that he and the king would be playing the same level of volleyball after graduation.

There’s a grin on his face (he refuses to acknowledge that he’s gone soft over time) and when he looks to his right his expectation meets his reality: there’s Kageyama, right hand held up, waiting for a high-five.

“Nice kill,” Kageyama says gruffly as Tsukishima returns his high-five. The king’s palm is sweaty and Kageyama’s unnecessary force causes the gesture to sting slightly. Still, their quick is the product of two years’ worth of repetition and practice and of swallowing pride. They’ve come a long way from where they were back then, when they were constantly at each other’s throats, unable to sync up for even the most basic of hits, unable to exchange compliments or acknowledge each other’s skill.

“Nice set, your highness.”

Kei watches Kageyama’s brow furrow at being called the familiar nickname—see, Kei tries to learn from his mistakes, but he will never allow himself to let go of life’s simple pleasures. While Kageyama’s grown into his role as the ruthless, uncompromising setter of Karasuno High, he still finds the nickname irritating, especially when it comes from Tsukishima’s mouth. He’s sure of this, he’s observant, he knows. He tries to not let himself think that he’s special.

 


 

At the end of the volleyball season of their freshman year, right after the senpai retired and right after Hinata collapsed with a fever and after their loss to Kamomedai, Kei had resolved to get stronger. Strong enough to stand on the court for as long as possible, strong enough to be able to keep his options open two years down the line, strong enough to ensure the time he spends in the club would be commensurate to the results he would eventually get.

He never, ever, ever wants there to be a day in which he’d fall on the floor out of exhaustion, unable to get up and help the team—

Kei can still taste the moment in their first match against Shiratorizawa, when he ripped a finger open and it hurt like hell, but back then he was comforted by the idea that if he just walks fast enough to the medical center and returns just in the nick of time, he’d still be able to get a few blocks, maybe one point in from a well-timed quick set. He’d felt helpless in those few minutes—it’s only a club, my ass—but he was still able to stand up. All things considered, dislocating his pinky finger in the middle of his first year hurt his pride, but it hadn’t been that bad.

Hinata’s incident, on the other hand…

There’s a loud voice from his left side that snaps him out of his reverie. “Tsukishima. Tsukishimaaa. Tsukishima-san. Hello?”

Kei barely manages to muster a glare in response. “Yes, Hinata?”

“Are you going to the gym tonight? Let’s walk together if you are.”

“Ew, gross,” Kei shoots back with no real contempt in his voice, to which Hinata just rolls his eyes in retaliation.

Because this was almost routine: they’ve been going to the gym together several times a week, lifting weights and doing squats, developing an actual companionship after their first year run at spring nationals. It was unspoken, but the two of them had similar thoughts: get stronger, get better. Be good enough to stand on the orange court, even after this whole stint with Kageyama ends.

 


 

“It’s creepy when you smile, your highness,” Kei says, pressing a water bottle against Kageyama’s temple. It doesn’t do anything to get rid of the grin on Kageyama’s face. “Stop doing it.”

“And you’re a piece of shit, Tsukishima,” Kageyama answers, almost too brightly. He grasps at the bottle Tsukishima was handing to him before taking a swig of the cold water inside. It’s the end of one of their inter-high qualification matches, they’d beaten their opponents in straight sets, their semifinal match with Date Tech is scheduled for the next morning, and Kageyama still won’t stop smiling.

“Did something good happen?” Kei asks, curiosity getting the best of him. A tinge of pink crosses Kageyama’s cheeks. He tries to wager a guess. “You got a confession or something?”

“Ha?” the setter answers, appalled, narrowing his eyes at Tsukishima. The pink had now crept up to Tobio’s ears, and he tries not to be too pleased with the fact that Kageyama shot his idea down so quickly. “Where did that come from?”

Kei shrugs. Really, Tobio’s smile today is infectious. “So did something good happen?”

Kageyama looks left, right, and behind him, just to make sure that nobody was listening, before beckoning him to come closer. Kageyama lines up his mouth with his ear and.

Oh.

“Shit, no wonder,” Tsukishima answers, awestruck as Tobio pulls away. There’s a traitorous thought in his mind: ah, this is what it feels to be left behind, but it lasts a mere millisecond because at the end of the day, he expected this—“Congratulations, King.”

It’s a testament to how happy Kageyama is that he doesn’t even tell him to quit it with the nickname. “I mean it’s not final or anything, and contracts have to be signed, and there might be more offers…”

Yes, but this is a Division One offer,” Kei answers, voice low so that no one could overhear. “Red Falcons, huh… So… you’re not going to university?”

There exists a small part of him, an unrealistic part that sometimes allows himself to indulge in little fantasies. A part that never let go of that match he watched in middle school, that wants to play against the king. It’s a very small part that grew up to dream that one day he’d be able to out-think Kageyama Tobio in an official match, that one day he’d defeat the same strategies that had gotten him and Karasuno through several high school prefectural championship games. If Tohoku wouldn’t accept him, then he’d play collegiate for some team in Tokyo, and then maybe he can take the king down a few notches. Really, that’s a more than decent backup plan.

But their dreams had been divergent in the first place. They were never going to run in the same circles, they’d spent their entire lives working towards different things. Just because Kageyama got his confirmation before he received his university admission letter doesn’t mean that he got left behind. They were always meant to go their separate ways.

He knows Kageyama’s answer before it comes.

 


 

Their final play during the inter-high qualifiers goes something like this: a match point jump serve from Date Tech’s up-and-coming ace, barely received by Hinata in the back. It’s not a clean pass and it’s arcing so much closer to his zone than to Kageyama’s, but it’s high enough for him to try and set. They don’t have to give up a free ball at this crucial moment.

Somehow Hinata managed to get up and start his backrow approach, and he hears their own ace on the left calling for the toss. But the only real toss he can make now to the best of his abilities is one directly to the setter’s spot—

“Kageyama!”

He’s not a good setter by any means. His careful, high toss is completely read, the opponents set up a three-man block, and while Kageyama tries his best to tool the block, the ball lands in-bounds on their side of the court.

I played for three years in high school, Kei thinks as he watches the ball roll on the floor, and yet I’ll never be able to play in the summer inter-high.

 

“My bad,” Hinata says, looking at the scoreboard as it solidifies their loss. He slaps a hand across his back. “Could’ve passed that better.”

Kageyama makes an irritated noise from in front of them. “Nah, it was me. I probably should have gone for a rebound.”

It’s my fault. They read me completely. My toss sucked. I let them win. I’m sorry

Karasuno High School: Eliminated at the Semifinals of the Miyagi Inter-High Qualifier Tournaments.

“I’ll do better in the spring tournament,” Tsukishima says instead of voicing out his inner turmoil. Yamaguchi, Hinata, and Kageyama look at him earnestly. He remembers his own flickering thoughts of quitting after the inter-high, of focusing on college entrance exams, of finally telling his sensei that, yes, he’s done with volleyball for now, please stop asking me irritating questions—all of them, immediately silenced. Tsukishima Kei is not yet done with high school volleyball.

 


 

He’s browsing social media when he sees a post: a simple one-liner, the message concise and clear. The Sendai Frogs are holding tryouts for next year’s team. He doesn’t allow himself to think twice before he submits the online form: Tsukishima Kei, 17, middle blocker.