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A Million Floating Hearts and Counting

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Hinata’s cheerful greeting is ignored upon entering the apartment, which is odd. He removes his shoes, struggles with his armful of grocery bags, and is starting to think the place is empty when he steps into the living room and finds Kageyama on the couch. The line of his mouth is twisted into a pout, his eyebrows bunched-up in a deep frown, and he’s preoccupied with his phone of all things. He glances up, sulking shoulders sunk into his hoodie, and grunts out an acknowledgement when he sees his boyfriend standing there.

His long face doesn’t seem all that serious, though. Hinata assumes it’s just a moody combination of low blood sugar and a grumpy default expression, so he doesn’t question it. He only shakes his head in amusement, trusts Kageyama will feel better after dinner, and dumps the groceries on the counter. One of the bags topples over before he can catch it and for a moment he’s busy gathering scattered fruits and vegetables. He’s just reaching for a couple of escaping apples when Kageyama speaks up from his corner on the couch.

“They said ‘I can do better’,” he mumbles, eyes still glued to his phone screen. “Hell is that supposed to mean?”

“Huh? Who’s saying that?”

“People.”

“People?”

“On social media.”

The apple Hinata has been tossing into the air comes to an abrupt stop in his hand and he quickly retraces his partner’s words to make sure he heard him right. Someone randomly says something on social media and Kageyama finds it important enough to notice? For some reason that doesn’t bode well.

“You never check your social media.”

“And I wasn’t.” Kageyama hunches defensively in on himself again. “I was looking for something else and then the notification just popped up.”

At the mention of notifications, Hinata can’t help but sigh heavily. By now he can kind of piece together what this is about. It involves attention, and copious amounts of it.

Interest in them has increased ever since Kageyama moved back home to Japan and Hinata began conquering indoor volleyball for real. It’s not only interest on a professional, career-advancing level but also interest in the eyes of the public. Their partnership on the national team, their friendly head-to-head battles during the regular season, their past history, their complementary personalities – fans and non-fans alike love these aspects about them. They’re impressive individually but they’re a sensation together.

And so is their relatively new, shared apartment.

Publicly they’re just roommates but privately they’re boyfriends; they’ve been boyfriends for a while without letting anybody but friends, family, and teammates know. However, it seems like not knowing something for sure won’t stop people from speculating left and right.

Hinata doesn’t care what other people think. Sure, having strangers make a fuss over something that doesn’t concern them is annoying, and sometimes people leave bad comments for them just as easily as they leave good ones. It’s invasive and rude but for every negative word there are hundreds, maybe thousands, of positive ones to make up for it. Hinata tries to focus on those. Besides, their relationship is nothing to be ashamed of. He would have shouted it from the rooftops if he could.

But Hinata does care what Kageyama thinks. And he’s pretty sure he wouldn’t like it if he did that.

“Turn your notifications off. I thought you’d done it already.”

“Sure, but I wanna know what it means, that I can apparently ‘do better’.” Kageyama sulks, a conflicting pause. “Like, do better at what? Volleyball?”

“Wait –” Hinata stops in the middle of putting groceries away. “What’s the context here anyway?”

“It’s a new comment under our selfie from the Olympic opening ceremony. It just says ‘Kageyama can do better’.”

That suddenly sheds new light on the situation and Hinata quietly berates himself for reading the room so terribly. Kageyama is the type who claims he doesn’t have time for social media but in reality he just doesn’t care about it. Not caring means not checking, and not checking will protect him from a lot of things. His unintentional shield combined with his private personality sometimes produces these endearingly innocent questions. Right now he isn’t uncomfortable. He’s genuinely confused.

At the same time he also fails to recognize that the comment was a subtle insult – an insult directed at Hinata.

“It doesn’t have anything to do with volleyball,” Hinata says lightly and smiles at him over his shoulder, determined not to let the humiliation and anger get to him. “I guess they’re of the opinion that you can do better than me.”

“Obviously I’m better than you.”

“Not like that, you idiot. They probably meant it like, you could settle for someone else than me. Someone better.”

Kageyama whips his head up and stares at him as though he was just struck across the face. He scoots to the edge of his seat, a flicker of alarm in his expression.

“This person knows we’re together…?”

Honestly, Hinata hadn’t expected that to be his immediate reaction – he thought some outrage on his behalf would’ve been more appropriate – but he quickly brushes it off. It’s Kageyama after all; he tends to process and address things in a different manner than most others. They’re not the same. Of course this is what he’d worry about first.

“Nah, they just phrased it like that,” he reassures him and turns back to the groceries, ignoring the sinking feeling in his stomach. “Don’t pay any attention to them. They’re random online strangers.”

Kageyama goes back to frowning at his phone. “I guess,” he mutters, his expression much darker than before.

Hinata closes the fridge and waits for him to continue, but he never elaborates any further on it. In the end they make dinner and go on about their evening as usual, joined by a strange, lurking mood that definitely wasn’t there before.

 

**

 

Kageyama’s fan base is sizeable.

It was one of the first things Hinata noticed when he returned from Brazil. When everyone talked about the Schweiden Adlers it was for a good reason. They had garnered attention and built a reputation in a way that only a reigning team can, and for a while they really were unbeatable.

Kageyama had already created considerable buzz by debuting in the Olympics at only nineteen years old, and then by smashing his opponents in the following world championships. The few years Kageyama spent playing abroad also boosted his popularity. His debut in the foreign league truly shook the international volleyball community and his talent suddenly reached a wider selection of people. Hinata feels like all of them followed Kageyama back to Japan via virtual hearts and shares.

Being an admired volleyball player undoubtedly brings along a lot of… intensely dedicated fans. Sometimes they’ll say the weirdest (and craziest) things. Hinata used to make fun of him for only updating his social media once a month at best, but he’s starting to realize how smart that is.

He plunges his hands into the soapy dishwater and frowns. It’s not like he’s jealous. He’s long since grown confident enough not to envy anybody anymore, his boyfriend least of all. He’s no longer the rival who used to defeat him at everything; that playing field has been leveled with the years. Hinata’s own fan base is big, too. During his time in Rio he literally gained celebrity status and his appeal in Japan has been no different. People find him easy to like and root for, and he’s relatable and welcoming in a way his partner rarely is. Kageyama isn’t going to beat him at first impressions.

Popularity is great, to a certain extent. As long as the anonymous remarks stay anonymous, then it’s fine. It won’t become a burden to either of them. And Kageyama would never consider settling for someone else, someone ‘better’, just because some stranger on the Internet suggested it. Of course he wouldn’t.

Hinata absentmindedly pulls his hands out of the water, the pads of his fingers numb and wrinkly. There’s a lag in his reaction time and the clean glass slips out of his grip and hits the floor, instantly shattering into a thousand crumbly pieces.

“Damnit!” he swears, with more force than a cheap glass deserves. “You idiot!”

Kageyama appears in the doorway seconds later, alarmed by his sudden outburst. He spots the small crater of shards at Hinata’s feet and gestures for him to stay still. Moving in a wide arc around the disaster site, treading like the floor has turned into lava, he disappears out on the balcony. Moments later he reappears wearing a pair of gardening gloves, the old and dirty ones he uses when tending to their small herb crates.

Hinata rolls his eyes. “Seriously?”

“What?” Kageyama glares back at him. “I’m not risking any injuries, especially not to anyone’s hands, you moron.”

“It’s just a bit of broken glass.”

“We’re looking at the Olympics in little under a year,” he reminds him sternly and carefully gathers the bigger shards into his gloved palms. “A bit of broken glass can do plenty of damage.”

“A tiny cut in a finger won’t need a year to heal,” Hinata reasons.

“Then what about a huge gash in your hand?” Kageyama counters. “What happens to practice when your hand needs stitches, or is wrapped up in bandages?”

“I’d be careful.”

“No, you wouldn’t.”

Hinata falls into brooding silence and watches him brush the smaller fragments into a dustpan, making sure he’s collected all the dust and the crumbs.

They’ve been together for a long time, longer than most young people their age. They know each other’s moods and habits, each other’s likes and dislikes and comfort zones. But just because they’re happy this way doesn’t mean there’s a lifetime guarantee. What if it doesn’t last forever? What if Kageyama ends up settling for someone else after all? What happens to practice then? What happens to the Olympics, their spots on the national team? What happens to them?

Only thinking about it feels like having the ground torn out from under him and for someone who has no problem speaking his mind, Hinata can’t imagine himself confronting Kageyama with these questions. A bit of broken glass is nothing in comparison.

“There,” Kageyama says and removes his gloves, oblivious to his partner’s worries. “I think I got everything.”

“Seriously, I should’ve cleaned that up… You’re the one whose hands are most valuable, being a setter and all.”

“Don’t say stupid things.” He gently laces their fingers together and presses his lips against the back of Hinata’s hand, his warm breath feathering briefly across his knuckles. “It’s the same for all volleyball players, setter or not.”

“You know I love you, right?” Hinata replies softly.

He’s said it countless times before but something about his tone must have sounded off because instead of the usual flattered blush it only makes Kageyama frown. He looks like he’s seconds away from reaching out to check for a fever and he squeezes his hand, concerned.

“What’s got you in a weird mood? Is it because you broke the glass? They’re just cheap IKEA ones, it’s no big deal.”

It’s true. The glass matters about as much as the anonymous comment on their picture: it bears no significance whatsoever. And yet thinking about it made Hinata unwittingly break something. He supposes it depends on how much significance he assigns to it. He pushes all bad thoughts to the back of his mind for now and puts his arms around Kageyama’s neck.

“Yeah, it’s no big deal,” he agrees lightly and leans up to kiss him. “Good thing it wasn’t one of our volleyball mugs.”

 

**

 

Hinata doesn’t turn his notifications back on but he still finds himself spending a couple of extra seconds scrolling the comments after every new update. It’s possible he’s only seeing what he’s expecting to see but things really do seem to revolve more around their personal lives than their volleyball achievements. Maybe it was always like that? He can’t tell.

One thing’s for sure, though: the day Kageyama picked that one comment out of the faceless crowd he created a before and after. Social media is the same it’s always been, it goes about its usual pattern, but Hinata feels like something’s changed.

It’s probably just him. He hopes it’s just him.

And it’s stupid anyway. At the end of the day they’re volleyball players. That’s what their fans are supposed to focus on, in his opinion.

“You seem down, niichan,” Natsu remarks via video call. She narrows her eyes at him through the phone screen. “What’s wrong? Did you walk home alone?”

Hinata hums a confirmation just as he locks himself into the empty apartment, one-handedly ridding himself of his gym bag and his jacket.

“Tobio hadn’t finished practice yet so I went ahead.” He takes a second glance at Natsu’s surroundings and only now notices the moving scenery and the colorful ads behind her. “Are you on the train?”

“Yep, I’m on my way back from campus.” His sister nods and smiles brightly. “Oh, and I talked to Mom yesterday, she sends her love to the both of you. She knows you’re busy but you should call some time.”

Hinata promises he will before he flops onto the couch, exhausted. He sinks into the pillows, his stomach growling. He hopes Kageyama sees his message and picks up some groceries; it’s his turn to pay anyway. They were supposed to do the shopping together but their schedules didn’t add up this time. Hinata doesn’t know why he feels weird about it but he does. They’re already used to splitting up separate ways for practice, going to their respective teams. Heading home alone shouldn’t feel any different.

“You never answered my question.” Natsu interrupts his wandering thoughts, reminding him that she’s still there. “What’s wrong?”

“Nothing, really.” Hinata peers at her from behind a pillow. “Just thinking about… comments.”

“Comments? Oh – hang on, this is my stop.”

She juggles her phone and her bag as she gets off the train and he catches a glimpse of sleeping businessmen and chattering schoolgirls in the background before the crowd blocks them out.

“People leave comments,” he explains, once her face settles on the screen again.

“You mean on social media?”

“Yeah…” Hinata rolls over on his back and flings an arm across his face, suddenly embarrassed. “Sometimes I worry about what others think.”

“No way!” Natsu exclaims on her end. “I don’t believe that for a second. You’ve never cared about what others think.”

Hinata sits up, fidgets with his earbuds. He hasn’t shared these thoughts with anyone yet, let alone Kageyama, and he’s not sure if he wants to confide over the phone like this. It’s so pathetic, too – worrying that he’s not good enough for his boyfriend.

“Were they bad comments? Did somebody cause problems for you and Tobio?”

“Well…” He squirms, knows that Natsu has noticed something’s off. “I wouldn’t exactly say problems…”

“Then what are you saying?” she snaps, her patience running out. “Every time I touch upon the subject you skirt around it. Seriously, spit it out!”

“Someone commented that Tobio could do better.”

“Do better than what?”

“Than me. And he read it.”

“Oh…” She goes quiet for a long moment, her line of sight moving away from the camera and fixating thoughtfully on a point up ahead. “Well – did they specifically mention you? Maybe… maybe they meant he’d be better off doing something else than volleyball? Or that his smile or his expression could be better or – or something.”

She pulls a face, faltering a little at her own suggestions.

“It definitely wasn’t about volleyball,” Hinata mutters glumly. “Plus it was our selfie from the opening ceremony in Tokyo. He’s perfect in that picture. It was totally a stab at me.”

“Niichan…” Natsu sighs softly, her footsteps slowing down. “What they said isn’t true at all and you know it. Tobio knows it, too. That person was just being rude for the sake of it. People will say all sorts of things when you’re a public figure.”

“Yeah… But it still makes you think.” Hinata gestures vaguely into the air. “We’ve been together for ages already, and before that he was my best friend in high school. I dated a little in Brazil so maybe it’s different for me, but Tobio –”

“You dated in Brazil? You’ve never mentioned that before.”

Hinata freezes up, completely forgetting that he’s talking to his little sister. She knows about most of the things he did in Rio but definitely not everything. And he’d very much like to keep it that way. He blushes a telling shade of crimson and stutters, scrambling for an explanation.

“No – I – it was just for fun! And Tobio knows about it! We weren’t even officially together back then! Anyway, that’s not the point – my point is that Tobio didn’t date. I’m the only romantic partner he’s had.”

“For real?” Natsu tilts her head at the screen, surprised. “He’s only ever been with you?”

“Yep.”

“Huh. For some reason that’s both expected and unexpected.”

“It was actually kinda cute that he turned out to be inexperienced but –”

“Okay, please don’t overshare! I get it!” She momentarily disappears in a panicked blur, her footsteps stumbling, and when the camera refocuses she has turned red with secondhand embarrassment. “Honestly, I don’t see what the problem is. That just means you’re his only one.”

Hinata bites his lip. To be Kageyama’s only one suddenly feels very overwhelming, even though it’s not wrong. They’ve gravitated towards each other from the moment they first met. They always knew they were going to be in each other’s life somehow, and they both assumed it just meant they’d be friends forever, until something shifted and changed during their third year. It was a change that was never properly confronted because neither of them had the maturity or the bravery for it. Their separation after graduation helped process those feelings, and when the time came for their reunion they just followed the natural progression of how things used to be. Sure, it was a little awkward at first but in the end it was easy. Nothing changed between them except coming to terms with being in love.

The front door unlocks in that moment and Kageyama calls out a greeting, followed by the rustling sound of grocery bags being manhandled through the door. Hinata swallows his worries back, hides his fear that Kageyama might have settled for him because he simply doesn’t know any better, and lets Natsu have the last word on the matter.

“I gotta go, Tobio’s here. You okay getting home safely?”

“I’m at my place now,” his sister reassures him. “Say hello to Tobio from me! And try not to worry too much about these things, okay?” she adds sternly. “Bye, niichan!”

Kageyama appears in the doorway just as he hangs up. “Who were you talking to?”

“Natsu. She told me to say hello.”

Kageyama nods, puts the grocery bags on the counter, and leans over the couch to give him a kiss. When he pulls back he’s already mid-frown and a delayed thought seems to form in his mind, a dark shadow falling across his face.

“Did she call because something happened?”

The sweet yet halting concern makes Hinata smile and he pokes at the crease between his eyebrows. “She just wanted to talk, you dummy.”

Kageyama swats at his hand and grumbles something under his breath, but his concerned expression melts into relief. He tilts his head down to kiss him again and then thoroughly ruffles his hair.

“You know I love you, right?” he says fondly, an unexpected repeat of Hinata’s own words from a week ago. “Leave dinner to me. You look tired.”

Hinata watches him move happily around the kitchen, deft hands cutting vegetables and washing rice, and some of his weariness lifts. He must be worrying for nothing; that cursed comment has probably long since evaporated from Kageyama’s memory anyway. He’s pretty sure they’re okay.

 

**

 

The front door slams behind them, so hard it rattles the frame, and Kageyama stomps into the apartment. He heads straight for the bedroom, followed closely by an equally furious Hinata.

In all the years that have passed Hinata has rarely seen Kageyama rage like this. He honestly didn’t know he had it in him. It’s no secret that he can be loud and snappy and harsh, he’s lost his temper many times before, but not to the point of nearly freaking out. He’s never said or done anything in pure anger.

Hinata couldn’t care less right now, though. His own blood is boiling hot, so much that his hands are trembling when he forcefully shoves the door to the bedroom open.

“That was so rude!” he exclaims sharply and waves an accusing finger at Kageyama’s silhouette, which is in the process of wringing his dress shirt off. “I can’t believe you ended up ruining dinner like that! Dinner with our friends, even! You know we don’t have time to meet up that often!”

“I didn’t ruin anything!” Kageyama snaps defensively and rifles blindly through his wardrobe in the semi-darkness. “If only Yachi hadn’t brought it up –”

“Don’t blame it on Yachi!”                                

Hinata flicks the switch on and floods the room with light. Kageyama is stripped down to his boxers and he pokes his head out of the closet, hair on end, and irritably waves a pair of running leggings at him.

“I’m not blaming it on Yachi!” he protests. “I’m just saying, if only she hadn’t brought it up at such an inconvenient time then it wouldn’t be a problem.”

“What – are you a kid or something? You got all moody and made everyone uncomfortable. And besides, it’s not even her fault, she received that message out of the blue. She was concerned for us more than anything.”

Kageyama reappears from under his fresh t-shirt, scowling. “So you’re saying you’re okay with it, then?”

“Okay with what?”

“That complete strangers are going out of their way to contact our friends just so they can ask about us! I don’t know about you but I’m not fucking okay with that!”

The room falls stiflingly quiet, a breathless pause filling the empty void left by their yelling voices. They’ve finally circled back to the core of their argument, which seems to be the same as always: other people talking about them. They’re angry about the exact same thing but the motivation behind their anger is different, splitting up in clashing directions, forcing them to fight. Hinata was stupid to think Kageyama had actually let the issue go.

“I’m not okay with it,” he sighs, not knowing what else he can say. “Of course I’m not.”

“Glad we’re in agreement.” Kageyama briskly pulls his leggings on and brushes past him. “I’m going for a run.”

“Wait – now?” Hinata hurries after him to the entryway. “But… it’s late. We just got back.”

“I won’t be long.”

Hinata watches him put his trainers on, a little taken aback by his decision, but after a thoughtful second he grabs his jacket, not caring that he’s still in jeans and a dress shirt. It’s not a terrible idea; it’s actually a good way to let off some steam.

“I’ll come with you.”

He makes a move to follow but finds himself stopping abruptly in his tracks. Kageyama’s hand is splayed on his chest, his big palm holding him back, and the move is so unexpected that Hinata remains there on the spot, too dumbfounded to protest.

Kageyama’s expression makes the transition from annoyed to startled to apologetic in impressively few seconds. His hand trembles a bit in place before it moves from Hinata’s chest and comes up to a rest at his shoulder, which he awkwardly pats twice.

“Just – let me go alone.”

“Tobio…”

“Ten minutes,” he promises, avoiding eye contact. “Fifteen, tops.”

With that he ends the discussion and runs off into the late evening before either of them can change their minds. Hinata is left alone and speechless in the entryway, the discomfort lingering in Kageyama’s wake, sticky and bothersome. Hinata’s off-and-on anxiety returns, the switch staying firmly at ‘ON’ this time.

He lingers restlessly by the kitchen counter for a while, tries to figure out if he’s hungry or not, and finally decides that his appetite is ruined. Instead he spends longer in the bath than usual and hopes that Kageyama will return in the meantime, but ten minutes have long since passed by the time he gets out of the water and he’s still not back. He ends up tossing and turning in bed, wide awake, struggling not to think about what happened earlier. Unknown strangers overstepping their boundaries is one thing, but Kageyama getting so upset he feels the need to leave twice is something completely else. At this rate he isn’t even going to find somebody else to settle for; he’ll just break it off once and for all and be gone.

It’s such a stupid thing to fight over. They should be together on this.

When Hinata finally hears the key turn in the lock it’s much later than what he was promised. He listens to soft footsteps, the kitchen cupboards opening and closing, the clatter of a glass as it’s placed in the sink, before the door to the bathroom slides shut and the shower starts running. After a few minutes of gurgling pipes and splashing water, Kageyama’s warm shape slips under the covers next to him.

Hinata doesn’t turn around but he’s pretty sure Kageyama knows he’s still awake. He also probably knows that he’s the one who should apologize first. He was the one who ran out so he’s the one responsible for breaking the ice. When he speaks up his voice is as quiet as the darkness surrounding them.

“Shouyou, I’m sorry.” He hesitates, the sheets crinkling as he moves. “I also called Yachi while I was out, to apologize for earlier. I promised her we’d catch up some other time. She was cool about it.”

“Yachi usually is,” Hinata replies tersely, “unlike certain others.”

There’s a short moment of silence before Kageyama scoots closer, his chest pressed against Hinata’s back, his arm slipping around his waist. He smells like mint and thyme and home and for all that he tries to resist and stay mad, Hinata can feel the remaining pieces of his anger helplessly waning.

“I’m sorry I lost my temper,” Kageyama whispers into his hair. “I’m not sure how to deal with… all that. I mean, it’s just us…” He pauses thoughtfully, his embrace tightening. “Plus it takes focus away from volleyball and I don’t like it.”

His thoughts make sense; Hinata can recognize them in himself. Of course his volleyball idiot of a boyfriend would have them, too. The last of his stubborn resolve breaks and he turns around in Kageyama’s arms, leaning in to leave a light kiss on his jawline.

“Forget about it,” he says determinately and prays his words are true for once. “No harm done.”

 

**

 

The ball connects with Hinata’s hand, a snug fit in his palm. He smashes it to the other side of the court, where it barely grazes a block and hits the floor with a loud smack, securing the point that wins the set. He glances over his shoulder, catches Kageyama’s eye, and grins widely. He flashes him a thumbs-up before the coach signals for the teams to switch sides.

The main objective for the year’s first official training camp is to make sure the national team is running as smoothly as it should. A lot of things are at stake for the next Olympics.

It’s Hinata’s second time participating and he feels he has grown into his professionalism since then. He’s a little wiser and a little calmer now than he was four years prior. Kageyama on the other hand is already going for the third time and is more or less considered a veteran in the game, despite being only in his late twenties.

And still it’ll be a whole new experience for the both of them.

The last tournament was special and memorable in a way it will most likely never be again. Not only were they hosts and representatives of their country, but it was also the first time they played in the Olympics together, as partners. They came into it as underdogs, neither favorites nor expendables in the eyes of the bookmakers, but in the end they caught everyone by surprise and emerged victorious. For two weeks they stood side by side at one of the most defining milestones in their careers, and they were there as true equals, experiencing firsthand how perfectly everything lined up and came together.

It won’t be the same this time. They’re guests and reigning champions, they have to defend their spot, their gold. They’ll either keep their crown or be dethroned. It will be memorable for sure but in a much different way.

It goes without saying that they need to be even better this time around, but Hinata isn’t worried about his and Kageyama’s teamwork. They dedicated their high school careers to perfecting their plays and he’s always had faith, even from the very beginning when Kageyama didn’t. Finding back to their style and color after being apart was never an issue. What they needed was already there; it was only a matter of making it onto the same team.

Hinata stares at his palm, where his skin stings a warm and rosy pink. True, he was never worried… but this training camp has surprised him so far. For the first time in a long time he kind of feels like he’s sixteen years old again. Not in terms of lagging behind or the constant desire to catch up, but because of how he feels when he’s hitting Kageyama’s tosses.

It’s like he’s returning to his roots and it’s the best feeling.

Kageyama falls into step beside him as they cross the court and tugs at Hinata’s bib, holding him back. He leans down almost conspiratorially, like he’s about to tell him a secret.

“How was that toss?” he mutters, face set in a scowl. “Tell me honestly.”

“It was perfect!” Hinata replies, as honestly as it’s requested of him.

Kageyama’s frown only digs deeper into his forehead. “So… you didn’t notice anything different about it?”

“Was your approach different?”

“No, it was the same as usual.”

“Then what’s the problem?”

Confused, Kageyama straightens up and directs his glare at his hands instead, as if he’s expecting to find the answer written somewhere in his calloused palms. Then he shakes his head and shrugs.

“There’s no problem.”

Hinata grabs him by the elbow and yanks him down to his level. He nudges his forehead against his temple (maybe a little too hard) and whispers into his ear.

“Send the next ball to me.”

Kageyama doesn’t respond to that, only rubs at the spot where their skulls knocked together and blinks at him a little strangely. The most Hinata gets out of him before he stalks off is an offended huff, something that could possibly be interpreted as either ‘don’t tell me what to do’ or ‘that fucking hurt, dumbass’.

The whistle signals the start of the final set and it’s the other team’s ball. An arrow of a jump serve shoots across the net but is bumped cleanly by one of their middle blockers, who is currently rotated into defense. Kageyama leaps into position without signing anything but he doesn’t need to; there’s that feeling again and Hinata is drawn towards him like a magnet. His approach is way ahead of the others and the next thing he knows the ball leaves Kageyama’s hands, a pinpoint toss that hangs in the air just long enough for Hinata to hit it, like it’s waiting only for him.

Within the blink of an eye he’s back in the Karasuno gym, where Kageyama has just tossed to him for the first time, and he can clearly see the other side of the court, how the floor opens up, how the players disperse.

Again that weighted sting in his palm when he connects and a surge of victory rushes through him when the ball finds a free spot, completely undisturbed.

Elated, Hinata turns to look at Kageyama and for a moment he sees the briefest glimpse of the high school boy he first fell in love with, his rival and partner and best friend, and on instinct he rushes to his side. Kageyama raises an arm, opting for a high five, but instead Hinata wraps his arms tightly around his waist, crashing into him so hard his setter lets out a startled grunt.

He knows he felt that connection too, that extraordinary flashback.

“Oi,” Kageyama’s voice rumbles above him. “What –”

Hinata only grips him tighter and grins up at him. “Give me the next one, too!” he exclaims loudly, effectively shutting him up and sending their teammates into scattered fits of laughter.

Kageyama’s ears light up an embarrassed red. The corner of his mouth twitches in what looks like the start of a smile, before he reaches out and traps the top of Hinata’s head in a squeeze.

“Don’t be greedy, you idiot,” he murmurs. “You’re not the only hitter on this team.”

He says that but still tosses a lot to Hinata’s side for the remainder of practice. Their team wins in the end.

 

**

 

If Hinata has learned anything about Kageyama over the years it’s the fact that he’s quiet in different ways.

Sometimes he’s quiet because they both know he doesn’t have to speak in order for them to be comfortable. The silence keeps them grounded and safe and they’re happy just spending time together. Sometimes he’s quiet because of an argument or a disagreement, resulting in a silence that’s both loud and brooding until one of them snaps and they end up apologizing. Scattered in between are other quiet moments of different shades and nuances – like the way his glare speaks for him when he’s jealous, or his lack of words when he’s confused, or how quickly he shuts up when he’s flustered.

Kageyama speaks his own language of silence that only Hinata understands.

But the way he’s been quiet ever since they returned from training camp is different somehow. He’s been oddly quiet, and Hinata isn’t sure where this falls on the boyfriend scale. He hopes that he’s preoccupied with volleyball as usual and that he’s just focusing, but Hinata can’t tell what he’s actually thinking. He could obviously ask but he knows in his heart of hearts that he’s not going to do that.

Whatever the reason, he decides to pretend that nothing is wrong and that nothing has changed. He won’t be able to stand the silence otherwise.

He carries a week’s worth of unread paper mail into the kitchen, where Kageyama is currently hunched over the dishes. The apron looks small on his broad figure, only tied loosely around his waist, and he’s up to his elbows in soapy water. Hinata admires the nape of his neck and the slope of his shoulders and ignores the sting of uncertain affection in his chest.

“Coach seemed pleased with the team, didn’t he?” He sits down at the table and starts sorting important-looking letters from flyers and advertisements. “Pleased and maybe a bit nervous, too.”

“He should be,” Kageyama hums. “We’ve had good results ever since Tokyo.”

“Yeah, we’ve built a reputation! Everyone knows we’re actually strong so no pressure, right?”

There’s a light clatter as Kageyama lines up another plate on the drying rack and once again he only hums in agreement. It seems like he’s falling back into that odd quiet of his and it tugs at Hinata’s anxiety, which again makes him ramble on. He’d rather keep talking than listen to nothing.

“I wonder if we’ll win the gold again. Other teams have had consecutive wins before so why not us? Personally, I believe –”

“Shouyou, I’ve been thinking…”

The interruption almost sounds like an afterthought, the words barely drifting across the room, but it shuts Hinata up immediately.

Kageyama doesn’t turn around. His hands are still submerged in the sudsy water but they’re not moving, not washing anything. He’s just standing there with white foam up to his bare elbows and his face hidden away.

So is this it? Hinata holds his breath, his heartbeat picking up. He doesn’t like this pause at all. His boyfriend is rarely that soft-spoken, he doesn’t often stop to make sure his words are eloquent and well thought-out, and when he does Hinata can’t help but expect bad news. Kageyama is going to pull the ‘we need to talk’ on him and it will be terrible, it will be heartbreaking, it will –

“Why don’t we just get married?”

Hinata is too busy bracing himself for whatever is to come that the question doesn’t even register with him at first. When it sinks in a whole second later he does a double take so hard he nearly topples right off his chair.

He stares up at Kageyama’s unmoving back in numb bewilderment. He’s convinced he must have hallucinated that question. He could’ve sworn on it – if only the tips of Kageyama’s ears hadn’t turned so completely crimson in the meantime.

“Uh…” he begins stupidly. “You mean… to each other?”

“Obviously.” Kageyama breathes out a shaky laugh. “Unless you had someone else in mind.”

“N-no! No… But –” Hinata has literally no idea what he’s supposed to say. He’s just blank. In shock, really. “Where… where did this come from?”

Kageyama’s hands start moving again and he resumes cleaning a glass that already looks spotless and shiny.

“Like I said, I’ve been thinking. So I guess I’m just… well, thinking out loud.” He pauses, aimlessly squeezes the water out of the sponge before he soaks it again. “And I’m realizing right now that I don’t actually have anything prepared… Sorry,” he adds with an embarrassed mutter. “Didn’t think that far.”

“Okay…? What have you been thinking, then?”

Kageyama shrugs, continuing to clean the same glass, his hands noticeably trembling.

“I thought… that maybe all the attention would ruin volleyball for us. Our relationship, too, in the end. It seemed like it was escalating, you know? I was wondering what to do about it, if I could do something to stop it so it wouldn’t affect us. But everything felt so good at this training camp. Nothing about the way we play together has changed. Maybe it’s even better now. That must mean things are fine, no matter what people might say about us. So I figured… why not go all in?”

Hinata thinks his response is a laugh but it tears from his throat like a sob. Kageyama has been a part of his life for more than a decade but he’s never blindsided him so thoroughly like this before. He really is a king who insists on handling things alone and believes he can say whatever he wants and Hinata doesn’t know if he should be relieved or happy or furious because what the hell.

“I… I thought you were the one who was bothered by all the attention.”

“I am, a little,” Kageyama admits. “I mostly just think it’s weird. I had no idea people could be like that. But I guess it can’t be helped.”

Hinata fidgets with a flyer announcing the opening of a new sports shop in Suginami, repeatedly folding and unfolding one of the corners. He’s going to actually bring it up, for the very first time since it became an issue. He can’t let it go yet, not before it’s been addressed and chased out in the open.

“I was afraid that anonymous comment gave you ideas. Or… second thoughts.”

“Second thoughts?”

“Yeah, about us.”

The glass Kageyama has been working on so meticulously falls back into the sink with a splash. He finally turns around to look at him, eyes wide.

“Why would it?”

“They said you could do better than me, remember…”

“And that didn’t even cross my mind, not even after you explained what they meant! Why would I want to do better when you already are my ‘better’? You don’t know that?”

Kageyama stops on a furious inhale, about to launch into a panicky rant, but then his expression crumples into mortified realization. His deep breath ends on a defeated sigh, his shoulders slumping.

“I’m sorry I made you worry. You always get me, even when I’m being difficult or stupid. So I forget that there are times when you actually don’t.”

“Well... If you remember to use your words next time then I will, too,” Hinata replies softly and smiles. “It’s fine, Tobio. It was partly my fault.”

Kageyama joins him at the table, takes his hands in both of his, cradling them in his lap – and Hinata remembers with sudden renewed shock that he literally asked him if they should get married just minutes ago.

“I think I got way ahead of myself with this,” Kageyama begins awkwardly. “Marriage is a huge step to take and we don’t even need a dumb formal thing like a wedding anyway.”

“So… you’re taking the proposal back?”

“No!” he replies quickly. “But it was shitty. You deserve at least a nice ring. I just… I hope you know there’s no one else I’d rather settle down with. I wanna spend the rest of my life with you.”

Hinata studies their linked hands, his heart growing so many sizes it makes his throat tight with emotion. He was proposed to in his own kitchen, on a regular weekday, over the freaking dishes, but it couldn’t be more perfect and memorable. He couldn’t be any happier.

“A proposal is a proposal, no matter how terrible it is. You don’t get to take it back.” He manages a grin, tears springing to his eyes. “I’m just mad you beat me to it!”

There aren’t enough existing words to express how deeply he loves his stupid partner. So before Kageyama can ask whether that’s a yes or a no, Hinata closes the space between them and covers the final distance with a kiss.

 

**

 

Their first surprise live stream together ends up receiving so many hearts and comments that the network starts lagging and eventually seizes up, forcing them to disconnect without warning.

“That’ll blow the Internet up for sure,” Hinata mutters and stares at his useless phone. “Wonder what they’ll say to that sudden disappearance…”

“Yeah, I wonder,” Kageyama repeats flatly. “Too bad I don’t actually give a shit.”

He pulls him into his lap, kisses the brand new silver band on his ring finger, and Hinata realizes he’s right after all. He’d much rather spend the evening making out with his fiancé than go back online anyway.