On a chilly evening towards the end of December, Tsukishima Kei returns to his tidy Sendai apartment, still slightly damp with sweat chilled from being outdoors and winded from volleyball practice, and drops his things in an even more-than-usually-out-of-place heap on the immaculate floor, and collapses face down on his bed. He is typically more fastidious about his own space - his usual routine is to eat first, shower, and then finish up any additional work, before even looking towards the bed - but after pushing himself especially hard today, he thinks he’s entitled to a bit of a break.
Even if, annoyingly, he’d just washed and changed these sheets that morning.
Especially because, also annoyingly, he had volleyball practice again the next day.
Though it occurs to him, even more annoyingly, that the reason why he’d spent extra time in practice today and the reason why he’d done laundry and cleaned his place so thoroughly were one and the same.
He huffs an amused/annoyed sigh - annoyance directed mostly at himself - and turns onto his back, staring up at the ceiling.
Graduating from college and starting work at the museum had gone mostly as he would have expected from any other life milestone. Now, almost a year in, he finds that he enjoys his assignments at the museum: sorting through both old and newly acquired objects in the museum’s vast collections, performing various archival tasks, negotiating and curating incoming and outgoing loans of materials for various exhibitions and special events. He even has the opportunity of a carefully measured level of interaction with the public, should the mood strike him, but otherwise his hours are extraordinarily flexible, and the work interesting without being too overwhelming (at least so far). It’s not the exact course that a junior high school age Kei would have imagined his life taking, but then, at that age, he hadn’t considered that he’d be looking for work that fit those criteria, so he could continue to play volleyball beyond his high school graduation. And playing seriously, at a semi-professional level, no less than a team in V.League Division 2, when for a time he’d thought he might want nothing to do with volleyball ever again.
And, as it turns out, part of the reason why that had changed was due to the exact same reason for all this aimless introspection in the first place.
He thinks he dozes off for about half an hour, but he eventually makes what feels like a herculean effort to push himself off the bed again and back onto his feet. He’d stretched thoroughly before leaving practice, but he preferred showering at home when the time allowed, in his own space. During the commute home, the sweat hadn’t quite dried under all the layers he had on for warmth, so without his outer coat, he was starting to feel cold and sticky, rather than warm and sticky. He glances at his phone briefly - several messages to a range of group chats, but nothing urgent or directed at him specifically - and finally goes to shower and get ready to sleep.
Feeling slightly more refreshed and far less introspective, he is towel-drying his hair - it really was getting longer - when his phone beeps with an incoming message notification not to a group chat (most of which he kept muted for his own sanity, choosing instead to browse at his own leisure, because if Kuroo and Bokuto ever caught wind that he was checking their messages in real time they would spam him relentlessly). Forgetting that he wasn’t even wearing his glasses yet, he jumps for it, and then has to pause and go fetch them, sliding them on one-handed so they sit a little crookedly on his nose. Just good enough to read the message, which says:
Bus arrvng 9 AM match start noon Free after?
Kei doesn’t bother resisting the urge to roll his eyes (not fondly); they’d talked through the arrangement months ago, but it wasn’t a bad thing that Tobio was checking in again. With one hand tangled in the towel in his hair, he one-handedly types back a businesslike:
and sends without thinking, tossing his phone onto the bed so he can finish getting ready to sleep.
It’s fifteen minutes later, as he’s flicking out his lights and burrowing under his blankets with his glasses already off, that the somewhat curt nature of the words settles in, and he reaches for his phone with the charger plugged in, squinting at the dimmed blue-light filtered screen to add:
Looking forward to it.
The reply comes back immediately, and he has to shut his eyes against the soppy warm feeling that engenders:
To the game?
A laugh bubbles up inside him, and he shakes his head before typing, almost pointedly:
To you. Idiot.
Then he flips the phone over to activate ‘Do not disturb’ and sets it on the far side of his nightstand; he really wanted to get enough rest for this weekend.
This game - and the others over the weekend - was part of the last set of V.League Division 1 games before the long break for the new year, and Kei spends his morning tidying up the remaining bit of mess from the night before (discarding the idea of doing laundry again in favor of being realistic with his free time) and repacking his gym bag with an extra change of clothes before sitting down to eat and scroll through and occasionally ‘like’ bits of Shouyou’s over-enthused and slightly blurry picture travelogue of the Jackals’ trip the previous evening to the stadium in Fukuoka, his morning in the hotel, and now his exploration of the local streets, exclamation-point laden captions and all, interspersed with pointed comments about how the Adlers better make a good showing for you guys today since we beat the Falcons last week!. It was both irritating, nostalgic, irritatingly nostalgic, and somehow heartwarming in a way that was way less annoying than he’d be willing to admit out loud. Of the usual five in their group, Tadashi and Hitoka had left some comments the night before while he’d been in practice, and were now both - probably - sleeping in like normal people early on a Saturday morning, and Tobio was - probably also sleeping like the dead on his own team’s bus, which was heading for Miyagi.
He frowns down at his nearly finished yogurt. He’d only just noticed that it wasn’t his usual strawberry, but one of the inferior flavors that he’d only bought because -
Going to start warm ups now, have LOTS OF FUN you two, he gets the notification for Shouyou's direct message, followed by a ridiculous number of winking and kissing emojis, interrupting Kei’s train of thought with an even worse train of thought.
He shoves his phone in his pocket with a little more force than was strictly needed, and collects his gym bag before heading out the door, ducking his face a little so that it is mostly hidden by the fabric of his carefully looped scarf, telling himself that any extra redness is due to the biting wind.
He spends a quiet, solitary hour doing his conditioning, which he goes through as methodically and thoroughly as possible, trying to keep his mind from going elsewhere, and then moves on to serve practice when that completely fails. There was a team practice in the afternoon (after the match), but he had left it open whether he would attend or not at the end of practice the night before. Koganegawa had grinned widely at him, eyes crinkling with knowing humor, and Kyoutani had actually been moved beyond just grunting in acknowledgement to say, “Sure,” with an almost friendly nod. By the time he’s done with his shower, during which he definitely did not let his mind stray, it’s the right time to go pick Hitoka and Tadashi up so they can get to the arena on time.
They both know better than to tease him too much (or at least, without the benefit of distance like Shouyou did, and while dependent on him for transport), so they mostly make polite, normal conversation on the drive, little stories to share from their respective weeks; Hitoka’s interesting new client, or a particularly clueless customer who’d kept Tadashi occupied for a whole half hour. When the conversation strays towards nostalgic stories from high school, or to what their respective plans might be for the rest of the weekend, the two exchange glances in the back seat and pointedly allow Kei to fall silent rather than force flustered or hasty words to spill out. It’s habitual, comfortable, and while he’s not going to openly admit to missing the two missing volleyball idiots right then, it’s easy to enjoy the company he does have, the familiar atmosphere and discussion carrying through the tedious processes of waiting in line, wading through people - which was both helped along and stymied by Kei’s height, with locals recognizing him from the Frogs and stopping them for greetings and even a signature - until they reach their seats.
“You guys are on track to be V.2 Champions this season, Tsukki,” Tadashi observes with a wide grin when Kei finally (mostly) politely extricates himself from a knot of conversation with a group of fans two rows behind them, settling back into his seat and grumbling incoherently under his breath. “People are going to be interested in how things might shake up at Kurowashiki next year.”
“It’s far from a sure thing,” he replies absently, peering down the stands at the courts, where a few officials are milling about, with no sign of the players just yet. Tobio wasn’t the best at responding, but even he’d remember to at least text or record a voice message if the bus ran into trouble, so he can only assume that they’d made it safely and on time for a refresh, rest, and warm-ups. The match was set to start in half an hour, so they should be out soon...
“Since Kyoutani-senshu joined, it’s been extra clear the Frogs are very strong contenders,” Hitoka says, knowledgeable and confident, as if quoting an article, waving her half-eaten skewer slightly, the flailing that she used to do compressed into more productive motion. “Plus your jump float serve is improving so much! You got three -"
"- four - "
"four no-touch aces in your last game! And everyone knows your blocks are always on point, but your back set in the fourth was just amazing. It looked way too stable and steady to be an out of system play!”
“Well, we weren’t able to convert it into a point,” he waves off her enthusiastic praise, but it’s touching all the same how closely she’s following his games, even when the two of them can’t attend in person. And it’s… a little frightening, how well she knows him, to comment specifically on that tricky emergency set he’d made, that he’d been practicing and refining for a while in hopes of silencing the harassment of a very persistent tangerine. He’d even resorted to asking Koganegawa for live demonstrations and Kyoutani for feedback after team practices. Despite the dismissal, her smile that he can see out of the corner of his eye is completely undimmed, even when the noise of the crowd around them crescendos as the first uniformed players step out onto the court.
“It was an amazing set. Trying to impress someone in particular?” Tadashi teases (he’d been waiting for that shoe to drop), nudging his other side. The two of them are sitting flanking him today, apparently to better torment him. He opens his mouth to respond - Shut up, Yamaguchi - coming to his lips as natural as breathing, but a familiar dark-haired figure in a white uniform is gazing out at the crowd, and the words never make it out as almost every bit of his focus shifts to the court.
“Sorry, Tsukki,” he hears Tadashi chortle in the background, despite him not even voicing the words, sounding not at all apologetic, while Hitoka hides a laugh behind her hand politely.
The match itself is as exciting as ever, each set incredibly close, going into deuce on the first, third and fourth sets. Ojiro Aran continues to be one of the most incredibly powerful and versatile spikers in the entire V.League and Hakuba Gao’s blocks combined with his incredible height have only gotten more formidable with time and experience, but in the end the Falcons team couldn’t quite match up against the full combined abilities of the Adlers team. Nicolas Romero had gone back to Brazil at the end of the last season, but Ushijima Wakatoshi and Hoshiumi Kourai had both stepped up to ably fill his large shoes, and they had a deep bench of promising young players who looked like they had great potential when subbed in at points during the second and third sets.
Tobio was entirely on point throughout the entire game and looked to be having the time of his life, making expert use of his wide variety of hitters, barely needing any time to adjust to the changes in the roster, sending steady, commanding, and imperiously expectant tosses even to the team captain, Hirugami Fukurou. It was clear the Adlers were intent on reminding everyone that they still had what it took to be the reigning champions of the Division 1 V.League for three straight years, even if they’d been unseated the previous season. His intent expression throughout the game made Kei’s palms itch, and he finds himself wanting to move. He bounces his feet restlessly in an attempt to bleed off the excess energy, once even accidentally jostling Tadashi, who raises an eyebrow, but refrains from saying anything.
The match was finally over all too soon, a score of 29-27 in the fourth set in favor of the Adlers. Kei shakes himself out of his daze to find that Tadashi had been waiting patiently for him to stand so they could file out of their seats, the benches around them halfway emptied, Hitoka having already left, likely to use the bathroom. It would somehow be more bearable if Tadashi looked even slightly annoyed, but the smiling, amused expression on his face and kind knowingness in his eyes made Kei flush with involuntary color.
“Don’t forget we’re all getting lunch together tomorrow,” he instructs, his tone stern and steady, a remainder of the ‘Captain’ voice he’d cultivated during their third year. “We’ll meet you both at the restaurant, okay, Tsukki?” He glances at someone behind Kei, and lifts a hand to wave an acknowledgement. “Hitoka and I are going to share a ride home.” He tilts his head, waiting for confirmation.
It’s half on Kei’s mind to automatically protest - he’d driven them here, so of course he was going to drive them back - but the surety in Tadashi’s voice stops him from voicing it; that was likely Hitoka behind him, having located a car, or a friend, or some other form of transport. They were deliberately going out of their way to give him and Tobio privacy, having somehow heard all the embarrassing things he would never actually say out loud in the spaces between his words; he’s not actually sure which is worse. “En,” he nods, shifting to give Tadashi room to move past him; his best friend pats him encouragingly on the shoulder before he squeezes past Kei and disappears off into the crowd.
His feet direct him, almost without thought, as he walks through the lingering knots of people and down the steps of the arena to the side of the court where the Adlers are getting their end-of-game briefing from Coach Suzaku. He stays quiet, off to the side, eavesdropping somewhat without being obtrusive. Hoshiumi catches sight of him first (was it his preternatural short person sense for the presence of additional tall people?) and pointedly nudges both Tobio and Ushiwaka at the same time; the latter’s expression does not change, though he dips his head almost imperceptibly, visibly acknowledging him out of respectful and friendly politeness (which was, Kei had to admit, very flattering) without interrupting the coach’s words as he is winding things up.
Tobio, on the other hand, suddenly squeezes his water bottle too hard, spilling it all down his front, and then goes into a coughing fit that does, unfortunately, interrupt the coach. Luckily, it wasn’t a pivotal moment, and he apologizes in a choking tone while Ushijima pats him pointedly (and very hard) on the back as the coach resumes speaking. It’s a weirdly gratifying exchange, and watching Tobio avoid his eyes while awkwardly wiping at the spilled water with the already sweat-soaked collar of his jersey until one of the team assistants hands him a towel gives Kei a warm, smug feeling of assurance, a relief that he hadn’t realized he was looking for washing over him.
The silence in his car, when he finally extricates Tobio from everyone else after greeting his teammates, waving off a combined horde of fans for both the Adlers and the Frogs (a surprising number of the latter, really), and collecting his belongings from the locker room, is both welcome and unexpected. If he’d had to voice it, he had probably been thinking that, after a few weeks apart, they’d have a lot to say to each other, but somehow it’s enough just to be in the same physical space again, without the need for text or speech to feel connected, to be able to see and hear without the constraint and distance of a screen, and even to smell and touch, if they were so inclined.
Kei isn't exactly inclined to touch while they are sitting in traffic waiting for the cars in front of them to clear, but he can look his fill of Tobio out of the corner of his left eye, as he sits with his hands pressed together and tucked between his knees, the passenger seat pushed back just a bit more to accommodate his legs, a focused expression on his face (that was equal parts likely to be incisive analysis of the match or thoughts about a stray cat he'd tried to approach the other day), sense the soft sounds of another person's breathing and stray thoughts in the same small shared space, inhale the mingled scents of the default body-wash and shampoo from the arena locker room and hair damp from a post-match shower.
As they finally make it out of the parking lot and onto the road, he has vague thoughts revolving around trying to be a good host, but the itchy restlessness he'd felt during the match, watching the man sitting beside him play at such a high level on the court, is back in full force, and there are exactly no socially acceptable outlets for that feeling available to him while they're both crammed in a car and driving down the mostly well-kept streets of Sendai. "Do you want - ?" to get something to eat? to go back to my place? He has no idea how he intends to finish that sentence, but there’s a high likelihood of it being incredibly embarrassing if he's left to continue.
"When does your team practice start today?" Tobio (fortunately) preempts him and then looks briefly apologetic for interrupting until Kei waves for him to continue. "Around four thirty, right? We should go."
Kei had been prepared to protest, out of habit, the bad manners of dragging a guest along on what was essentially a very involved personal errand. He’d made his excuses already, and was he really that much of a volleyball idiot now, that he couldn’t even miss just one team practice, when he had a visitor from out of town as a perfectly reasonable excuse? But this was really beyond the pale.
"You still have energy after that match, King?" Kei asks incredulously, covering for the part of himself that melted a little at the convergence of unspoken thought between the two of them, though if he were in his right mind, he'd definitely consider that a horrifying conclusion. "You went into deuce three times! The first match went into the mid-thirties!"
"I could play another two matches,” Tobio says, airily, which was endearing and infuriating at the same time. “I miss seeing you play up close,” he adds, completely genuine and just a little defensive, “It's been so long."
First off, they'd both (all) been at the Kurowashiki All-Japan tournament in May, his first after graduating and before he’d started working, and in completely different brackets with no overlap so they could view each other’s games, which wasn't that long ago, to wrap up last year’s season (with the Jackals following up on their Division 1 season championship with another win here while the Frogs were only the runner up in Division 2).
Secondly, they'd decided to make a full trip of it, with Shouyou dragging all of them around Osaka to show them the sights in between and after the official matches had ended (even though both of them had already been before, Tobio for the Adlers and Kei with both his university team and the Frogs) and, Shouyou being Shouyou, “showing them the sights” also involved pulling them into a game or five with his teammates on the Black Jackals and other associated visitors at every possible opportunity, so they’d even played together a few times that week.
Though, since then, while they'd definitely seen each other in person, over the summer off season, and once the season had started, they’d managed to meet up for a weekend here or there as schedules allowed, no matter how busy they were, there really hadn’t been many opportunities for games at all.
Huh. Maybe it had been a while…
"Besides," Tobio adds, glancing sideways at Kei, the corners of his mouth turned up ever so slightly in the smile that he wore just for him. "You want to go."
It's still on his lips to deny it, those earlier justifications springing to mind - why would he want to go when he had a visitor, he'd done his conditioning and drills earlier in the morning, and he wanted to spend as much time alone with Tobio as possible (ugh, he really was getting sappy) - but he was right.
"Tch," he concedes with ill-grace, taking the turn at the intersection that would lead them to the gym instead of his apartment, unable to keep his own mouth from forming an answering smile. "As his majesty wishes."
Unsurprisingly, bringing a socially awkward Olympic athlete to team practice was a little bit disruptive, but since they all shared the same language - so to speak - after a flurry of initial curious questions (and requests for signatures), things were quickly smoothed over. Koganegawa’s signature oblivious enthusiasm was a great help there, dragging the Frogs’ backup setter into an intense technical discussion with Tobio during the individual practice drills, which he was only too happy to oblige since it saved him from having to make stilted small talk about any other subject.
They wrapped up with a rotation of three-on-three practice games scattered through the gym’s multiple courts, and he could practically feel Tobio’s gaze on his court wherever he ended up. The trios weren’t set groupings since the Frogs deliberately exploited position-switching strategies wherever possible, so there was a lot of shuffling around of people as they moved through the exercise, playing to ten points each round. Maybe whatever Tobio had said to the backup setter had helped something click for him; by the end of the first rotation they had managed to sync up, and on two subsequent rallies each they managed to pull off a quick set, which had been eluding them for the past few weeks. So practice ended on a high note, with Koganegawa loudly declaring that he wasn’t going to give up his starter spot that easily, to laughter and teasing from the rest of the team as they finish their stretches and cool down.
Kei packs as quickly as he can without feeling like he’s rushing, not even changing out of his practice t-shirt, thoughts racing ahead to the remainder of the day; while they didn’t have dinner plans per se, it was well past time for both of them to eat something a little more substantial than protein bars, and there was a restaurant that both of them liked well enough on the way home...
Tobio is waiting for him by the door, coat already on, and glaring down at his phone. “Ready to go?” Kei asks, slinging his bag over his shoulder as he walks closer; Tobio had a really odd look on his face, but he shakes himself out of it when he looks up and sees Kei.
“Not going to shower?” He responds while nodding, awkwardly pocketing his phone and tucking his hands back into his coat pockets in advance of the winter chill outside.
“I’ll shower when we get back,” Kei shrugs, shouldering the door open and hissing at the temperature. It’s not cold enough for snow, but it’s still a stark contrast to the climate controlled air of the gym, and the sweat-damp t-shirt is definitely not helping. “So you’ll just have to put up with the smell for a bit,” ignoring Tobio’s disgruntled noise of protest.
As they near the car, he mock-bows, opening the passenger side door with a melodramatic, “Your chariot awaits, my liege,” automatically dodging a half-hearted swipe of annoyance and laughing as he walks around to the other side of the car, sitting down before adding, “I thought we’d pick up dinner on the way home, from the same place as last time?”
“So we can stay in? Sounds good. I can place our order?” Tobio has a thoughtful look on his face as he buckles his seatbelt, though any mood his off-hand words might have inadvertently set is immediately shaken as he matter-of-factly pulls up the online ordering app on his phone, reading down the menu, starting from the appetizers. Kei’s not entirely sure why he is bothering to do so, letting the words mostly wash over him as he starts the car; there weren’t that many options that wouldn’t be at least a little disruptive to their mid-season dietary restrictions, and they were conversant enough in each others’ preferences to be able to order without consultation. Case in point - he hums and nods at the particularly appetizing description of one dessert item, and Tobio actually stops mid-word and turns to look at him in mingled confusion and scandalized horror.
“I already put -”
“The sashimi dinner set with salad is what I wanted,” Kei finishes for him, his assumption confirmed and rewarded by a little blink of pleased surprise, and the sight of a faint flush in Tobio’s cheeks at the implicit praise. “Just wondering why you’re reading me the entire menu, King. Not that I’m complaining.” And he wasn’t. He was just trying to figure out what was on Tobio’s mind. But Tobio doesn’t oblige just yet, simply tapping the confirmation but not putting his phone away, still apparently lost in thought.
Another round of silence settles in the car now that the order is placed, a not uncommon occurrence when it was just the two of them, and one that had cropped up more and more ever since they’d started getting more comfortable with spending time together normally, rather than just in situations where they were likely to butt heads. It’s part of the way Tobio naturally reacts to things, and Kei is completely fine with the prospect of not running his mouth all the time if he didn’t have to. In any other situation, he’d likely put some music on for the drive, but he’s not lacking in any distractions at the moment. The quiet carries through the drive to the restaurant as Tobio steps out to pick up their order, and they are already walking up to Kei’s apartment when Tobio finally takes a deep breath, squaring his shoulders with the same conviction he’d use in preparation for a serve-toss.
“You’ve...improved your vertical again,” he observes, apparently apropos of nothing, but Kei is conversant enough in Kageyama-speak after years of exposure to be able to follow the seeming shift in topic and start trying to decipher the meaning.
"Coach suggested a new jump-training regimen," he explains with a shrug. "It seemed logical to try it out." Even if it meant putting extra time in, staying late after evening team practice sessions, and working on his own on top of the individual training he was already doing.
(Kei’s definition of logical had definitely undergone some shifting over the years…)
He wants to just leave it at that, but the troubled wrinkle between Tobio’s eyebrows is still there; Kei has a feeling he knows why. They would have to get into it eventually, but for now, he ducks his head, hunching his shoulders slightly and turns slightly away (not avoiding Tobio), reaching into his coat pocket for his keys. He has a designated spot for them, so it’s an easy task, but it is tempting in the moment to pretend he didn’t, so he could fumble for them and have a reasonable
excuse justification to keep from meeting Tobio’s eyes for that much longer, but he’d definitely call Kei out if he did that, so the door swings open smoothly and Kei has to gesture for Tobio, who’d insisted on holding all the food while Kei hefted both his overnight bag and his own gym bag, to proceed him into the apartment with the hand that isn’t on the doorknob.
Once in the apartment, things revert to typical habits, habits both of them had developed in traveling together and visiting each other in the years since high school. Kei heads to finally shower off after practice, and Tobio makes himself at home without much issue, by now used to Kei’s methods of organization despite this being only his second (or was it third?) visit to this particular apartment. When Kei comes out of the bathroom - he’d deliberately searched for a larger size than was typical, considering his height and the probable heights of likely guests he might host - he finds all the food unwrapped and laid out with utensils on the small table for both of them, and Tobio, sitting on the couch dressed in more comfortable clothes, absently filing down his nails while reading something on his phone, trimming them back into shape after the rigors of the match that afternoon, one of his habitual calming rituals. He glances up immediately (Kei hesitates to say guiltily, but if the shoe fit...) when he hears Kei’s footsteps, setting his things aside and standing smoothly to his feet.
Dinner is a mostly restrained affair - without certain other parties involved, things stay relatively calm, with both of them focusing almost solely on eating as a practical matter of refueling from the long day of activity. Kei’s appetite had grown significantly since their shared high school days, but it still paled in comparison to Tobio’s. Even so, both of them manage to finish at about the same time, with Kei getting up first to clear things up. He tidies around the apartment as Tobio does the same with his own belongings, tucking his things back into his bag to avoid making a mess, a foible of his that Kei had been (pleasantly) surprised to learn about.
It’s only when they’re both settling in for the evening, in the mode of unwinding together on the couch after taking care of all their required tasks - Kei finally finishing a chapter of a book he was reading and Tobio frowning balefully at his phone screen again - that Kei finally feels himself ready to broach the subject of what was bothering his...guest.
“Well? Spill, your highness,” he demands, keeping his tone even as he deliberately breaks the silence; Tobio startles anyway, fumbling his phone, a surprisingly clumsy movement when his fingers usually move with such precise, calculated gracefulness on the court. “Something’s been bothering you all afternoon, and I’m tired of dancing around it.”
Kei has a few private guesses for what it might be. Tobio could just be cranky about not getting to play more volleyball during the match against the Red Falcons, or annoyed about having to sit mainly on the sidelines during the Frogs’ practice. Kei immediately dismisses out of hand the idea that Tobio had been annoyed about having to detour to Kei’s team’s practice in the first place. But what was most likely was that something had come up during the practice that bothered him, and rather than speaking up like a normal person - he deliberately ignores the voice that sounds like Tadashi in the back of his head calling him a hypocrite - he’d just bottled it up rather than struggle to express it out loud in words. And in that arena, there were only a few options, really, and given his earlier comment about Kei’s increased jump height, he assumes at least part of it is annoyed, irrational jealousy about Kei practicing with other setters, making an effort for other setters, and he feels the same swoop of satisfaction that he felt when he’d unintentionally caused Tobio to make a scene during the Adlers’ team debrief.
He allows the silence to drag, his gaze expectant. He knows what he wants to say (and do) in response to at least some of those thoughts, wants to reassure Tobio, even, if that’s what’s needed, but rushing through things based solely on his own assumptions wasn’t going to help. One of them had to be the more mature one here and it wasn’t going to be Kageyama Tobio, so Kei was stuck with that thankless task.
“I...got an overseas offer,” Tobio mutters eventually, glaring down at the floor, his shoulders hunched over. “From one of the teams in the… the LAM. In France.” It’s clear from his entire posture that there’s more he wants to say, but Kei can’t help laughing, just a little, and Tobio’s head snaps up, startled.
“What, they’ve given up on getting their revenge on you for five service aces in a row already? Trying to recruit you instead?” It’s completely unsurprising that Tobio would be courted by international leagues; what’s strange is how worried he seems to be by the prospect. His mouth twitches at Kei’s words, and he relaxes minutely, his shoulders coming down from up around his ears as he straightens up in his chair.
“You’re not mad?” He asks, a hint of familiar and affectionate irritation with Kei starting to creep into his otherwise wondering tone.
“About what?” Kei says, without thinking, but before he’s even finished speaking, he knows. The two of them had fallen together as simply as breathing, drifting in and out of each others’ lives without any real thought until they’d realized one day that they had somehow settled into binary orbit. They’d never really had any kind of conversation to define things explicitly, just subtle and unsubtle direct negotiation of wants and needs and major expectations as they’d become relevant. That had suited Kei just fine, since examining things any deeper, thinking any more on how organically and irreplaceably Tobio’s regard had become something he expected and looked for in his life, would force him to confront exactly how many decisions he had made, and continued to make each and every day, with him in mind. But it did mean that they’d never had specific conversations around their relationship, or associated rules and expectations, just dealing with things as they came up.
And now Tobio was looking to him, at a crossroads in his life, confiding in Kei that he actually felt torn, that he valued Kei’s opinion on the same level that he valued pursuing excellence in the sport he loved almost as much as life itself.
So Kei chooses his next words carefully. “You didn’t say you’d accepted.”
“Um. I just got forwarded the email today, when you were changing after your practice.” Tobio bites his lip, and glances off to the side, which is just as well because Kei has to work really hard not to let his jaw drop at that particular revelation. “They’re mainly looking for a backup setter, though. But since they asked… Kudo-san wants to start looking more seriously after the new year.”
“You can definitely do better than backup setter,” Kei dismisses derisively, feeling offended on Tobio’s behalf. “Don’t just take the first offer that comes around. Be glad your agent has better sense than you.” The man had managed to push through the Power Curry sponsorship, after all; for that alone, Kei was going to have to assume either genius or possession of some truly damaging blackmail material.
For the first time all day, he reaches out for Tobio’s hands, meeting with no resistance and active, eager cooperation as he twines their fingers together, Tobio turning and tilting his head to look at him as he does so, gazing up at Kei through his surprisingly long eyelashes. “You’re really not mad,” he observes, the earlier surprise drained out of his voice, replaced with something that made Kei’s heart race, the stray thoughts of the entire day built up into prickles of anticipation everywhere they are not currently touching.
“I already knew you were...more...than I was, from before we even met.” Kei says, and ignores his own reservations to push thoughtlessly forward when he sees Tobio opening his mouth to interrupt him (though whether in protest or agreement, he really couldn’t say). “More naturally talented, more dedicated to the game, more of an idiot for volleyball. And none of that is any different now, with you constantly plunging recklessly ahead.
“I’m the one that’s changed. I had my moment, and you helped get me there, and I can’t imagine the game without you in it. I don’t want to imagine it without you in it, because that would mean something was seriously wrong. But that doesn’t mean you holding yourself back if you can go on ahead. You’ve never done that for anyone and I would never expect that of you.
“I may not have all the same ambitions as you when it comes to achieving success in the game. I’m not going to get recruitment requests from fancy foreign leagues. But I’m dedicated now, today, to continuing to pursue excellence in volleyball, to matching up against strong opponents in all the ways I can, extra jump training included, along with whatever else comes up.
“The entire V.League’s full of monsters. And not just genius idiot monsters like you and short adaptable idiot monsters like Shouyou. There are also people like Hakuba Gao, or Hyakuzawa Yuudai, who have trained and learned even more about how to really use their height and reach. I -” need to be able to keep up. No. He shakes his head, forces himself to say what he means. “No matter what, I’m not going to stop.”
Tobio is staring at him, his bright eyes burning blue as he takes in Kei’s words. It’s as flattering and unsettling as it has ever been, having the skilled setter’s full attention, both on and off the court. On the court, when they played together, that attention translated into beautiful, preternaturally consistent sets, tailor-made to his stated preferences and his needs of that exact moment; when they faced each other across the net, it was the serious respect afforded to a formidable opponent regardless of formal ranking and the deep-seated expectation that they would continuously challenge each other, push each other further.
And off the court… Kei waits, with the patience that came only with long practice, as Tobio struggles visibly to come up with actual words, to respond in kind to Kei's overture.
"I was already jealous," Tobio mumbles, admits, after a long moment, a hard-won confession. "I am jealous. Of all the sets you're getting - are going to get, from people other than me. Of other people watching you get even better, jumping even higher, and faster, and farther, trying to keep up with you. Of all the amazing blocks you're going to set up, while I'm not there to try to get around you, or get to use myself in the middle of a rally. I got to see even more of it during your practice today. And then the email came and I…" He trails off, looking frustrated.
Well that was altogether too much honest, clearly expressed emotion out of Tobio for a good while; that was probably his quota for the entire next year. Kei laughs, and gently tugs on their joined hands, bends down to press their foreheads together. "Hey, King?"
Predictably, Tobio instinctively bristles - just a little - at that, but doesn't pull away, leaning up into the contact.
"I still like your sets best of all."
He lets those words sink in, watches Tobio’s eyes go wide and soft and warm, and then sits back without letting go of Tobio's hands, smirking. "Even if you're a huge jerk about it."
"You-!" Kei feels Tobio's fingers twitching in his hold as his face flushes pink, instinctively trying to pull away out of embarrassment, but not putting any real effort into it.
"'To use myself'," he quotes. "We haven't managed to play more than pickup games together since Nationals in 3rd year, and I'm still just a lowly peasant for the King of the Court to make use of when he feels like it?"
"That's not- Kei-" Tobio actually looks a little distressed by the teasing, and Kei takes pity on him, standing up from the couch and tugging him up after him, ignoring the startled squawk of protest.
"You’ll just have to make it up to me, hm?"
As cliche as it was, Kei couldn’t help but be fascinated by Tobio’s hands.
Their fingers stay linked as Tobio follows him through the sliding door that separates the bedroom from the rest of the living space. The apartment wasn’t big, but it was a newer construction, with sturdy walls thick enough for privacy, which had not been the case with either the Tohoku University student housing or the Adlers team dorms. Kei takes full advantage, pressing against Tobio, pinning their joined hands up against one wall, and leaning down for a kiss. Even when caught off guard, Tobio was always quick on the uptake when it came to physical things, and he throws himself whole-heartedly into the kiss with a fervor that wasn’t at all unexpected but still very flattering.
Tobio makes a disappointed noise when Kei pulls away, and then a startled one when he is tugged towards the bed by their still-joined hands, resisting for only a moment as the backs of his shins brush up against the mattress before he obediently sits down on the bed. Kei follows him down, sinking to his knees on the rug that covers the hardwood floor, pulling both of Tobio’s hands forward and just holding them still.
“Kei?” Tobio sounds breathless already, peering at him. “Do you want me to…?” He makes a gesture, half a shrug as he nods at his t-shirt, his sweatpants, not making any real effort to get Kei to let go.
“Mm, not yet,” Kei says, and bends his head; Tobio twitches his legs open wider automatically, but Kei’s lips press against the tips of the fingers of his right hand, one by one, and then again on his left. He can practically feel the individual calluses of each one, worked into the skin in infinitesimal increments from a mere split-second of contact, repeated over and over and over again, flavored by the spiritual impress of practice, and victory, and defeat. He takes his time and indulges himself, traces his tongue down over the long lines of each individual finger, nipping lightly at the joins at each knuckle, the softer skin between the long, graceful digits, the natural dip in the center of each palm. He can feel the shiver of muscles tensing against the gentle cage of his hands, Tobio complying perfectly with his unspoken request, as though he really did have something to make up for, and he huffs, warm air ghosting across dampened skin, lifting his head slightly to look up.
Tobio looks overwhelmed, the blue of his eyes almost completely swallowed by the darkness of his pupils, wide with anticipation. He can’t hide at all while Kei is lavishing attention on his hands, and he is flushed red down past the collar of his soft, dark blue t-shirt, but he doesn’t seem inclined to turn away. The sweatpants do nothing to disguise his other physical reactions to this treatment, his entire body rocking with the slightest of movements, restrained by Kei’s proximity and the weight of his elbows resting across his knees, but Tobio doesn’t draw any attention to it himself, just waiting for his cue from Kei.
“Lie back on the bed,” Kei orders, after looking his fill. “Bring your hands up above your head, and keep them there for me.” Tobio complies slowly, though less from resistance, and more as if he’s struggling to remember how his own body moves again. Kei doesn’t shift at all, the very picture of patience outwardly as Tobio settles his head back on the pillow at the head of the bed and inhales deeply through his nose to calm himself before raising his arms up over his head and holding on to the frame of Kei’s bed, looking to Kei for approval.
Well, that wouldn’t do. “Don’t hold on,” he corrects, and Tobio releases them immediately, though his mouth twists into a brief moue that makes Kei want to laugh. There it was.
“Be good, your highness,” he teases, not even bothering to hide the soft chuckle of amusement, and before Tobio can protest, he slides his fingers, blood-warm already from the earlier extended contact, under the mussed hem of Tobio’s t-shirt, curling them to efficiently catch the waistbands of both his sweatpants and underwear, and strips them both off Tobio’s legs in one smooth motion, leaving them completely bare.
Kei takes a moment to enjoy the glorious sight of his substantial erection standing at attention, bobbing unrestrained, the sturdy and gracefully muscular leanness of his long legs, with the accompaniment of the near-offended yelp that the gesture elicits. It’s not cold enough in the room for the reaction to be any more than mere surprise (Kei tended to run colder than Tobio and adjusted his thermostat accordingly), and Kei immediately assures himself of it, resting his palms on Tobio’s thighs, just above his knees, and pressing them open wider, thumbs rubbing absent circles against the softer skin there. Tobio moans for him obligingly, spread legs trembling beneath his fingers.
Kei can feel faint imprints still, the skin rubbed smoother by the kneepads Tobio habitually wears during practice and matches, scratches on his shins from colliding with hardwood and PVC flooring for receives and saves. He knows even without looking closely that there will be marks all up and down his arms too, the remainders of bruises from receives and skin scraped raw from a last desperate slide, chasing every single ball, no matter how futile. Volleyball is written practically into Tobio’s bones, his body moulded around it.
Kei presses a trail of kisses up from the back of Tobio’s left knee and along the defined musculature in his thighs, then back down his other leg. He repeats this a few times, to breathy, pleading moans, as his hands knead deliberately up along each calf, now and again tracing along the curvature of each arch, his hands and lips always stopping just short of contact with Tobio’s cock. It’s a familiar rhythm for both of them, even if never done in quite this way before. He is just contemplating shifting his position when he realizes that Tobio’s moans are muffled, stifled by something, and he looks up. Maybe the position had been too much to ask?
But when he glances up, his fingers sliding up to hold Tobio’s hips as he does so, he is surprised to see him with his arms still obediently pressed above his head, but with his face and upper body turned to the side, pressed against Kei’s pillow, his chest shifting with each shuddering breath and deep inhalation. Kei almost regrets interrupting him.
“Tobio?” It’s a request for attention and permission in one, and Tobio immediately blinks out of his seeming daze, turning and raising himself up slightly so he can slightly less awkwardly meet Kei’s eyes across the expanse of his body. Kei has to stifle a groan of reaction; in deference to his earlier request, Tobio still had his hands obediently pressed against the pillow above his head, so he wasn’t even pushing himself up on an elbow or anything...
“What?” He says, a hint of protest in his tone as he braces himself, his hands flexing, but still waiting for his cue.
“Just... checking you haven’t fallen asleep,” Kei replies inanely, internally screaming. With absolutely no regard for Kei’s sanity, Tobio lowers himself slowly back to the bed again with a sigh that resolves itself in a pout.
“Who could sleep?” And indeed, he does not look at all tired, his eyes bright with want, his cheeks still flushed pink, his shirt rumpled up around his armpits from his movements. “Kei, please?” He appeals, unwontedly sweet, arching his hips against Kei’s hold and groaning again at not being able to break it.
Well, there went all his original plans right out the window.
He stands up and whips his shirt off one handed, tossing it to the side without looking where it falls. He can feel Tobio’s eyes on him again - just like in practice, just like on the court, in just the way he knew he watched him in return - but he has absolutely no patience to decipher meaning at the moment; he can make a reasonable guess. His sweatpants go next, leaving him completely naked in front of Tobio, who is visibly struggling to hold the requested position, his fingers curled tightly around the bedframe again. The idea that it was because of seeing Kei, that he was torn between wanting to play along and the desire to touch him back...
“Hey,” he greets shortly, robbed of eloquence in the moment, climbing onto the bed and straddling Tobio’s thighs, his shins braced flat against the cover sheet on the bed. He leans forward, their erections touching briefly as he unwinds Tobio’s fingers from around the metal bar and tugs him to sit up on the bed. Tobio obliges eagerly, meeting him in the middle more quickly than he could have imagined from such an awkward initial position, a thought that really should not feel more arousing than the actual press of bare skin against bare skin. But what was Kageyama Tobio, really, if not an Olympic-level athlete at the peak of physical perfection, who had still decided that Tsukishima Kei was also someone he could meaningfully strive against, someone whose opinions, and thoughts, and desires he truly valued, enough to listen, and ask, and meet them wherever he could?
He slides the first two fingers of Tobio’s right hand into his mouth, licking past the initial coolness from the contact with the metal frame until they are warm and wet in his mouth, grateful for their presence muffling his own moans. Tobio seems to have at least some idea of what he wants; he blindly throws out his other hand for Kei’s nightstand, awkwardly yanking open the top drawer where he usually kept condoms and lubricant.
“Can you prep me?” Kei asks, almost breathless, letting go of Tobio’s hand. “Quickly, please?” He had anticipated at least some of this earlier, and had prepared accordingly, but this was a really unusual moment of unplanned urgency for both of them.
Tobio nods fervently, and they move in synchronicity, Kei braced on his elbows over Tobio’s hips as he deepthroats his cock, while Tobio slides his nimble fingers into Kei, stretching him out even more.
They pull apart by mutual agreement, Kei sliding the condom over Tobio, and Tobio sits up more fully as Kei puts one on himself, pushing the pillow at the head of the bed aside and bracing his hands at Kei’s hips to help steady him as he finally lowers himself down on Tobio’s cock, considerately forcing him to take it in slowly despite Kei’s own eagerness; it seems to take far too long, and almost no time at all; both of them groan in unison when Kei finally settles in the cradle of Tobio’s hips, taking him in to the hilt.
This was far from the first time they had done this. There wasn’t anything about this that could be considered particularly adventurous or out of the ordinary. And whatever else had happened that day, it couldn’t be said to be particularly special or filled with any kind of personally life-changing revelation on either side. In the end, Tobio would go on ahead first to the world stage, where he’d always said he would go; Kei would keep going with volleyball, as he’d determined he would continue to do.
What had changed was the acknowledgement of the exact nature of the space between them - the difference between a set of optical double or bound binary stars.
Kei rocks experimentally, and then leans in to kiss Tobio, urging him to move. It’s really fortunate that so much of his height was in his legs, he thinks to himself incoherently as Tobio obliges him readily, thrusting up into him with an instinctive rhythm - it makes it a lot easier for them to match up like this. They barely part to breathe, taking it in turns to silence each other with repeated kisses. Orgasm is almost an afterthought to the physical closeness, and Kei clings more tightly to Tobio than he could ever be induced to admit to anyone when he does finally come; his only solace is that Tobio is just the same, tucking his head against Kei’s shoulder and breathing hard until they’ve both returned to their own heads enough to reluctantly part.
Their post-coital routine is familiar and comforting, each used (maybe too used) to fitting around the other in this context as well. Tobio disposes of the usual detritus of sex; Kei fetches them both water and some damp towels to use as washcloths as Tobio starts to drift off.
Once Kei finishes wiping them both down - showers could wait until the morning - he starts rearranging the bedding out of habit, reaching for the pillows to give Tobio the clean one he kept for guests, the one that he hadn’t slept on already the night before, but unexpectedly runs into a problem.
“Nuh-uh.” Tobio frowns once he realizes what Kei is trying to do, grabbing onto one corner of the pillowcase.
“But this is the clean one.” He feels absolutely idiotic arguing about this. “You’re the guest.”
“Wan’ this one,” Tobio demands, not all that coherently, clinging to the pillow stubbornly.
“Fine, suit yourself, your highness,” Kei relinquishes the pillow and puts the guest one on his side of the bed before climbing in under the covers.
Tobio makes a satisfied noise and wraps his arms around it, lying on his side, pressed up against Kei and facing the wall.
“What are you even doing?” Kei asks with a fond smile he knew was disgustingly besotted, secure in the fact that Tobio couldn’t see it, facing away from him, taking in the sight of a sleepy, sated Tobio burrowing his face as deeply into the stolen pillow as possible, before taking his glasses off - he was definitely going to have to clean them again in the morning - and putting them on the nightstand.
“It really smells like you this time,” Tobio mumbles, completely guilelessly, words muffled by the bedding. “Usually it just smells like your detergent.”
He falls entirely asleep before Kei can even think of a reply.