"It's so weird having a cultural fair without me having to track you down and bully you into participating," Yahaba says to Kyoutani. Along with Watari, they're sitting beneath one of the trees and eating lunch as Yahaba looks through the papers the club members had filled out with their talents so he can fill out the submission form correctly.
"Yeah, you can be pretty fucking annoying when you put your mind to it," Kyoutani says, but there's not much bite to it.
Yahaba flaps a hand at him anyway. "Please, you'll make me blush," he says, then glares at the paperwork. "Why do so many of our club members have such terrible handwriting? You'd think they'd have better coordination than this…"
Watari leans over to pluck the sheet Yahaba is trying to figure out from his hands and holds it up, tilting his head. "I think this says… wait, no, that wouldn't make any sense."
"I didn't know Kunimi can lick his own elbow," Yahaba remarks. "Although I don't think you can really make a competition out of- Kyoutani, stop that."
Kyoutani looks up from trying to lick his elbow. "What? I just wanted to see if I could."
"Worry about your own talent instead," Yahaba says. "I'm not letting you sign up with arm wrestling just because Iwaizumi-san did it."
Kyoutani glares at him. "Why not?"
"Because you never managed to beat him," Yahaba says. "It would just be a big let down for all our fans."
"Are you trying to pick a fight with me?" Kyoutani asks, rolling up his sleeves. "I'll beat you at arm wrestling right here, right now."
"Keep your shirt on, I'm not going to arm wrestle you," Yahaba says, taking the excuse to eye Kyoutani's forearms with pretend distaste. "I don't arm wrestle. Pick another talent. Even you have to have at least one other thing you're good at."
"Tough talk with the guy who still has a blank sheet," Kyoutani says. "It's too bad you can't put down being an asshole."
"Play nice, you two, or I'll have to get a spray bottle," Watari says absently. "I think this says juggling, by the way."
"That has potential," Yahaba says. "The juggling, not me being an asshole. I don't know how I'd turn that into a competition."
"And yet you two manage it every day," Watari says. Yahaba pokes him in the ribs. "Hey!"
"You're supposed to be on my side," Yahaba says.
"I don't take sides. I'm completely neutral at all times," Watari says with a wide-eyed expression of injured innocence that he must have picked up from Yahaba. "Though you should probably pick another talent, Kyoutani. And you need to think of one, Yahaba. Our captain and ace need to participate in a unique way."
"Ugh," Kyoutani says. "Am I allowed to do something physical, at least?"
"Don't worry, Kyoutani, none of us are holding our breath waiting for you to come up with any other type of talent," Yahaba drawls.
"I'm going to fucking hit you," Kyoutani says. "On the day you stop being captain and can't kick me out of the club, I'm just gonna to walk up to you and hit you."
"I'm terrified," Yahaba says, meeting Kyoutani's glare with a politely blank look. "Have you ever even been in an actual fight or are you all talk and no action?"
"I wasn't kidding about the spray bottle," Watari says, waving his hand between them to break their staring contest. "Kyoutani, how about you compete with people to see how many push ups you can do in a minute? I've seen people do that on TV."
"Yeah," Kyoutani says. "I can win at that."
"Excellent!" Watari turns to Yahaba. "And you, come up with something, okay? The festival needs to go well, Ai has put a lot of work into it."
"Ai?" Yahaba repeats and feels a grin spread across his face. "You call Nakata-san Ai now?"
Watari instantly goes red. "She said that I could," he says.
"That's adorable," Yahaba says. He pretends to wipe a tear from his eye. "I can't believe it, my little Watari is growing up and calling girls by their given names already. I remember when you couldn't even look at a girl, let alone talk to one."
"You do know that I'm older than you," Watari says.
"Don't complain," Yahaba says. "You're just lucky our upperclassmen have graduated and you only have to deal with me and not their idea of sex ed."
Kyoutani makes a choking noise. "What the fuck?"
"You really don't want to know," Yahaba assures him.
Other than that, Yahaba has very little to do with the prep for the festival, since he's busy running practices and getting the new regulars into shape. When the festival itself comes around, he's surprised and pleased by how well the underclassmen have done setting it up.
They don't pull as large a crowd as the last couple years, but Yahaba expected that. None of their members have as much drawing power as Oikawa and Iwaizumi had together, but they do alright. A significant number of people come to challenge Kyoutani, as if testing to see if his reputation is earned. Yahaba gets challenged himself fairly regularly, too, though generally by a very different type of person. They both end up ordered by the coaches to take frequent breaks to relieve the mental and physical strain.
In a turn that Yahaba can't decide between labeling fortunate or unfortunate, Watari doesn't usually join them on their mandated breaks, being too busy with Nakata. Yahaba is pleased for him, of course, but spending so much time alone with Kyoutani and no buffer is dangerous. He was half hoping, half dreading that Kyoutani might wander off to one of the isolated places he usually went to brood in, the library or by the dumpsters, but instead he sticks close to Yahaba throughout the morning. When they get a longer break in the afternoon, a chance for them to eat and explore the festival, Yahaba isn't surprised when Kyoutani follows him out.
"Is there anywhere you want to make sure to see?" Yahaba asks.
Kyoutani shrugs. "I don't really know what's around. I didn't spend time hanging out at the other ones."
"You just came for Iwaizumi-san?" Yahaba asks and smirks. "That's adorable. I'm sure he'd be flattered to know how much you admire him."
"Shut up," Kyoutani says. "I know you call Oikawa all the time. You say stuff sometimes that's obviously something he said. Its a different kind of annoying than the stuff you come up with on your own."
Yahaba can feel himself blush. "Let's go check out some of the games," he says quickly. "You're a competitive freak, you'll love them."
Of course, Yahaba can't help but compete against Kyoutani when challenged, so they both end up playing the games. Kyoutani is better at the shooting games, but Yahaba is better at all the club-themed scooping things out of water booths, earning him a wide collection of tiny sports equipment and musical notes he can dry off and put on a keychain. They're pretty evenly matched when it comes to ring toss, so they spend the most time there, challenging each other to best twelve out of twenty-three and so on until they are asked to move along and give someone else a turn.
"We were tied, too," Yahaba says sadly. "I really wanted to see your angry face when I beat you."
"As if," Kyoutani snorts. "I would have won."
"Now the world may never know," Yahaba says.
"We can play another shooting game to settle it," Kyoutani offers.
"Nice try, but no," Yahaba says. "Anyway, I'm hungry. Let's go find something to eat."
"Chicken," Kyoutani says and Yahaba chooses to take it as a suggestion, not an insult, so they head off.
The stall they end up at is manned by the boys and girls basketball clubs, who are all aflutter over the news of some scout coming to see their tournament next month. It's impossible not to overhear them talking about who might have a good chance to get offers from universities. Apparently, the ace from the girls team is a definite shoe-in at the best university in Miyagi but is holding out for offers from other prefectures.
"Must be nice," Yahaba comments as they find a quiet spot to eat. "Being able to trust in getting in to university like that."
"You're smart enough to get into any of the schools around here," Kyoutani says. "Weren't you planning to stay in Miyagi?"
"I…" Yahaba looks down. "I don't really know what I'm going to do. That's what my parents expect me to do, anyway."
"Screw them," Kyoutani says. "My dad wants me to stay and do construction like him but I'm not gonna. It's my life, the way I figure it, so as long as I find a way to make it work, it's none of his business."
"What do you want to do, then?" Yahaba asks, wondering how it must feel to be so sure.
"I want to be a vet," Kyoutani says. "My mom was one before she- well, she was one, is the point. So I want to go to veterinary school."
Yahaba isn't sure if it's okay to push. Kyoutani had never brought up his mom before, though Yahaba knows that she's not around in his life now. "That's impressive," he says. "I figured you'd say pro volleyball player or something."
"Eh," Kyoutani says. "That'd be fun but it's hardly forever, you know? And I love working with animals. My dad says I'm too stupid to get in, but he doesn't know how good my grades have been these last few years. I mean, that's why I chose to come here over the other schools that invited me. Because the school has such a good reputation academically, so I have a chance."
Yahaba stares at Kyoutani. He's not sure if he's ever heard him talk about anything that wasn't volleyball for so long without getting angry. There's color on his cheeks, but at least some of that is enthusiasm, not embarrassment, and his lips are twitching up into a tiny smile.
"Well?" Kyoutani says when Yahaba doesn't say anything, too caught up in how handsome Kyoutani looks. "I told you my embarrassing dream. Tell me yours."
Yahaba swallows. He'd only ever mentioned this idea to Watari, and even then not in detail. "My parents want me to be a programmer," he says. "That's what they do and if I stay in Miyagi, um, I don't know if I'd be able to have the self-confidence to stand up against them."
Kyoutani never stops getting that half-disbelieving, half-offended look whenever Yahaba talks about letting someone push him around. "But if you did?" he asks.
"Well, I've been thinking about how much the volleyball club has meant to me," Yahaba says, rubbing the back of his head. "In so many different ways. And I'd kind of like to give back to it, if I could. So I was thinking of becoming a teacher, of mathematics maybe, since I've always been good at that, and then become a club advisor."
"Huh," Kyoutani says. "Sounds like you'd enjoy it. You should go for it."
"It's not that easy," Yahaba says. "I told you, if I stay in Miyagi I probably will end up doing whatever my parents want me to, and I don't have the money to go to school somewhere else, even if I did get in. So really the only way I could do it would be if…"
"If you got a sports scholarship?" Kyoutani finishes for him.
"Yeah," Yahaba says.
"If we make it to Nationals, you'll definitely get one," Kyoutani says. "Being the captain and setter and all. And you still might even if we don't, if we play well. What's that look for?"
Yahaba was staring again. "Nothing," he says and looks down, fighting to keep the smile off his face. For a player as talented as Kyoutani to think he stood a chance of being scouted made it seem almost possible. "If you want help studying," he says impulsively. "I'm pretty good at it."
Kyoutani looks at him and Yahaba can't tell what he's thinking. "Thanks," he says finally. "That's nice of you."
"You don't have to sound so shocked," Yahaba says. "C'mon, our shift starts in less than ten minutes."
"Nothing," Kyoutani says, blushing harder and looking away. "Can we go home now?"
"You can't!" Nakata exclaims, looking up from where she's helping Watari fold up one of the large banners. "The rocketry club is going to do a fireworks show. You two should come with us!"
"A fireworks show?" Yahaba says. "Is that really safe?"
"I'm sure it's fine, if they got approved," Watari says. He's a more trusting guy than Yahaba, who still feels skeptical. "And it'll be really cool. You two should definitely stay to watch it, it'll only be another hour."
Yahaba glances at Kyoutani and shrugs. "It could be interesting," he says. "You don't get a lot of chances to see a school burn down, I guess."
"Are the food stalls still open?" Kyoutani asks. "I'll stay if they are."
The four of them end up spending the next hour wandering around the festival grounds, trying different foods and finding a place to watch from. Watari, thinking ahead, had brought towels for them to spread out and sit on, so they grab a spot on a hill overlooking most of the school grounds, far enough off that Yahaba is pretty sure that even if the rocketry club does set off an unplanned explosion, they should still be okay. They set up the towels, Watari and Nakata on one and Kyoutani and Yahaba on the other.
It's not until he sees Nakata shyly take hold of Watari's hand and has to clamp down on the snickers that bubble up at the resultant immense blush across Watari's entire head that Yahaba realizes the whole thing feels very double date-like. That makes his laughter die in his chest, replaced by the abrupt pounding of his heart. He glances over to Kyoutani to see if he's noticed, but of course Kyoutani is just focused on eating his food. Yahaba tells himself not to be stupid and looks up at the stars as they become visible in the growing darkness.
"It should be starting soon," he says, softly so as not to disturb Watari and Nakata, who are giggling about something together.
"Good," Kyoutani says. "I want to get home in time to have a bath before I go to sleep. My arms ache."
"I'm not surprised," Yahaba says. "You must have done thousands of push ups today. You shouldn't have done so many against the people you were already obviously beating."
"If you don't try your hardest, it's disrespecting your opponents," Kyoutani says, rubbing his arm. "Iwaizumi-san told me that."
"Did Iwaizumi-san also tell you that spikers are useless if their arms are too sore to hit the ball right?" Yahaba says and absolutely blames Oikawa putting weird ideas in his head for the fact that the next words out of his mouth are "Here, let me." He nudges Kyoutani's hands out of the way and replaces them with his own, fingers digging deep into the muscles there, pressing against any tension he can find.
"I'd never be useless," Kyoutani says but doesn't complain about Yahaba touching him. In fact, he leans in to the contact, closing his eyes. "You're good at this," he says after a minute, voice tight.
"Oh?" Yahaba's voice isn't much better. He shifts to switch arms and hopes the darkness is already enough to hide how red his face must be. "Well, that's good, I guess. I need my ace in working condition, after all."
"Calling me your ace makes it sound weird," Kyoutani says, eyes still closed.
"But you are, aren't you?" Yahaba says, using the opportunity to take a closer look at Kyoutani's face than he usually gets a chance to. He really is good looking, Yahaba thinks. If he didn't put off such an intimidating aura, more people would probably have noticed. "I'm the captain and the setter, so that makes you my ace."
"Weird," Kyoutani repeats. "You're a weird guy." He suddenly opens his eyes, catching Yahaba off guard, no time to spring back or look away. Kyoutani's face is close, far too close to his own, he can see the way his eyelashes flutter as his eyes widen and feel his surprised exhale against his cheek.
"Um," Yahaba says, an automatic reaction to fill the silence that's gone tense and electric. He can't seem to make himself move or come up with a quip, some insult to defuse the situation. He bites his lip and watches Kyoutani's gaze snap down to follow the movement.
"Look, it's starting!" Watari's excited voice cuts through whatever was holding them in place and they both spring back as the first firework explodes overhead, casting Kyoutani's reddening cheeks in blues and greens.
Yahaba wrenches his eyes away and forces himself to look up, to watch the fireworks show, but the booms of the explosions seem quiet next to the thuds of his own heart and all he can focus on is the inescapable warmth of Kyoutani's body next to his, no longer quite close enough to touch but hardly out of reach.
"That was so cool," Nakata says after the last colors have drained from the sky. "I can't believe students put that together."
"Yeah," Yahaba says, his voice thin and high in the night air. "I need to catch my train," he says and beats a hasty retreat without even saying a polite goodbye to Nakata. His cheeks are burning the whole way home.
It makes for a lot of heart pounding false alarms, but Yahaba considers it a worthy sacrifice. No matter how he tries to spin it in his mind, he can't imagine anyone, even Kyoutani, not being able to figure out exactly what Yahaba had been thinking about in that moment. And if Kyoutani knows he has a crush on him, that means, that means-
I don't think we should hang out anymore, Nagao had texted. Hadn't even managed to say it to his face, hadn't managed to say anything to his face, and that had hurt, had hurt enough that somewhere along the way Yahaba had managed to wring up some manner of anger on his own behalf like Watari was always saying he ought to, and he doesn't think Kyoutani would ever be that cowardly, to not say it in person, at least, but if he felt that way-
They were supposed to be on the same team-
A team that needs them to be able to work together-
Kyoutani might leave again, he'd done it before-
But because of him-
Who was supposed to be the captain, who has supposed to be the one everyone could rely on-
A team that had given him everything-
That had decided to stand behind him, even if he wasn't the strongest or the most talented, had decided to believe in him, believe he could lead them to victory-
And he might have destroyed all of it.
Hw could he have been so stupid?
By the time he makes it home, Yahaba might be even more tired than if he'd actually exercised that day. He can't concentrate on his homework at all. After spending half an hour on a problem that he belatedly realizes is from last week's homework, Yahaba gives up.
He decides to go for a run, hoping that will settle his churning mind, grateful his father is gone all week for some business trip and not around to ask him what he's doing. He pulls on his running shoes and is putting on a playlist that he hopes he can play loud enough to drown out any unwanted thoughts when his phone rings.
The name on the caller ID gives him pause.
"Oikawa-san?" he says as he picks up. Oikawa usually doesn't call him if they haven't been texting first.
"…Yahaba," Oikawa says and even with the technological distortion Yahaba can tell something is wrong. "I told him. I told Iwa-chan."
"Oh," Yahaba breathes. If Oikawa is calling him, sounding like this, he doesn't need to ask how it went. "Are you… okay?"
"I'm on a train home," Oikawa says. "I was… I was wondering if you…"
"I'm on my way," Yahaba says and changes course for the train station.
"Do you want to talk about it?" he asks tentatively as Oikawa unwraps a gummy candy shaped like a fish and bites its head off listlessly. "Um, it's not that I mind- you can stay here as long as you want, but is there a particular reason you aren't going to your house?"
"Iwa-chan probably already called there," Oikawa says. "My parents would definitely tell him and then he'd come and I just… I can't do that. Not yet."
So that means their friendship isn't over, at least, Yahaba thinks and breathes an internal sigh of relief. "Okay," he says as gently as he can manage. "Do you want some hot chocolate?"
Oikawa nods and Yahaba goes to the kitchen to make some, trying to think of what to do that could help and coming up blank. He settles for giving Oikawa the hot chocolate and settling down beside him, quietly trying to do homework while Oikawa sits staring into his mug. When it gets late enough, he sets Oikawa up in the bathroom with a toothbrush, then puts down the futon. He lets Oikawa have the bed.
"He really did have no idea," Oikawa says into the darkness after Yahaba's turned off the lights, as subdued as Yahaba has ever heard him, even counting all the times they'd lost. "What an idiot." Yahaba isn't sure if he's talking about Iwaizumi or himself.
"I'm sorry," Yahaba says. "Did he… did he say anything?"
"He didn't need to," Oikawa says.
"I'm sorry," Yahaba says again.
"Yeah," Oikawa says, voice choked. "Me too."
He usually early, so the coaches don't yell at him the way they would Kyoutani or Kunimi, but Watari keeps shooting him worried looks he tries to ignore. He jumps into drilling with the first years, giving Watari and Kyoutani practice on receive formations together. With Watari babysitting Kyoutani, Yahaba figures he'll be too busy to poke at Yahaba. His plan works and he's able to escape from practice without any questioning.
Lunch will be tricky, he knows. He's leaving his classroom, trying to decide if it would be too suspicious to drop in on the second years under the excuse of making sure Kindaichi is eating enough for his most recent growth spurt, when he's grabbed by Kyoutani.
"Let go!" he snaps as Kyoutani drags him to a deserted hallway. "What's your problem?"
"What's your problem?" Kyoutani says, though he drops Yahaba's arm and steps away. "Stop avoiding me!"
"I'm not avoiding you," Yahaba says, which is almost kind of true, because he'd forgotten that he was supposed to be avoiding Kyoutani. With looking after Oikawa, all of his own problems had flown out of his mind.
Kyoutani doesn't look impressed. He continues to glare up at Yahaba, eyes steely. "Don't fucking avoid me," he says. "You're the one who gave me the whole fucking speech on teamwork so just, whatever it is, just forget it, and stop avoiding me, okay?"
"Okay," Yahaba says, raising his hands as his mind reels. "Okay."
"Good," Kyoutani says and turns away, leaving Yahaba to follow him out to their usual lunch spot as he tries to figure out exactly what he just agreed to.
"Iwaizumi-san," he says as he picks up. "It's unusual for you to call."
"Yeah," Iwaizumi says. Yahaba doesn't know Iwaizumi as well as he does Oikawa, but he thinks his voice sounds strained. Then, because Iwaizumi is nothing if not polite, "I hope you're doing well."
"I am, thank you," Yahaba says.
"I was wondering if you'd heard from Oikawa?" Now Yahaba is sure Iwaizumi sounds off, tense in a way he hasn't heard before.
"I talked to him last week about who to speak to for practice matches," Yahaba says. That was the last time he spoke to Oikawa before he'd gotten the call the night before.
"Oh," Iwaizumi says. "Hey, um, if you hear from him, can you let me know?"
Hmm, how would he react if he didn't know what was going on? "Is everything alright, Iwaizumi-san?"
"Everything is, it's…" Iwaizumi's sigh is turned into a hiss by the static of their connection. "Just, if you hear from him, can you tell him I need to talk to him?"
"Of course," Yahaba says though he's not nearly so sure if it is a good idea to pass on that message. In the end, though, he figures it isn't his call to make and tells Oikawa when he gets home. Oikawa says nothing in response, though he accepts the milkbread Yahaba bought him at the train station and tears into it right away. Yahaba thinks he'll have to remember to pick up more sweets when he has a chance after school. It's obvious Oikawa needs them.
Frankly, it's enough to make Yahaba scream and as hard as he tries, he knows his teammates have picked up that something is going on with him. The fact that there's almost no way they'd guess that he's helping Oikawa hide out in his room like some love confession fugitive is little consolation because without that context, he's aware his behavior just looks fucking weird.
He manages not to show up late again but it's close, he turns down invitations to hang out after school, he's always checking his phone in case Oikawa has texted him with some minor emergency, he's distracted during class and lunch. Kyoutani keeps glaring at him and Watari sends him these concerned, confused looks, open invitations to talk if only he had something he was allowed to talk about.
At least things with Kyoutani have gone back to normal for the most part. Yahaba's taunts are perhaps a touch slower and Kyoutani seems to be avoiding looking at him for too long all at once, but he hasn't made any move to quit the team, still comes to lunch with him and Watari, still makes fun of Yahaba and grunts or snorts when Yahaba makes fun of him back. It would be a relief if Yahaba could take the time to think about it, but he's too concerned with Oikawa to focus on anything else for more than a few minutes.
The only time he's not distracted is during practice, where years of experience clearing his mind to focus on the game comes in handy. Everything else melts away, all his concerns about Oikawa, Iwaizumi, the state of his kitchen and the relative safety of his music library all drift to the back of his mind so he can immerse himself in the task at hand.
That's what finally gives him an idea of what he can do to help. It's not a perfect idea - it means going against one of the few specific things that Oikawa has asked of him - but after careful consideration, he decides the pros outweigh the cons.
He'll need help to pull it off. Getting Kyoutani and Watari involved is easy. All he has to do is say that he has a volleyball-related problem and they should meet him that Sunday at their gym, adding that they should keep it quiet for now. The second part of his plan is a little more tricky. He needs two more people, but he isn't as sure about the secret keeping abilities of the other team members.
In the end, he takes a chance and calls Hanamaki and Matsukawa. Unlike Iwaizumi and Oikawa, they had stayed local after graduation, living together in an apartment not too far off from Yahaba's train line. They've come to help with practices a time or two before, so Yahaba could have gotten them there on that excuse, but the idea of trying to lie so boldly to either one of them gives him the shivers.
"Oikawa-san is here and needs to do something to get his mind off of things," he tells Hanamaki.
"Oikawa is with you?" Hanamaki asks.
"That's right," Yahaba says.
"Iwaizumi's been looking for him, you know," Hanamaki remarks conversationally. "He mentioned that he asked you and you said you hadn't heard from him."
"That's right," Yahaba repeats.
"I always knew Oikawa would get you in the divorce," Hanamaki says and Yahaba is glad he can't see him wince. "Do you know what they're fighting about?"
"They aren't fighting, exactly. Anyway, I think playing volleyball will help Oikawa-san, so I'm trying to put together a 3-on-3 game. Would you and Matsukawa-san be able to come play?"
"Lemme check," Hanamaki says and there's a few moments of muffled conversation. "Sure," he says. "We love kicking Oikawa's ass back into gear."
Finally, it's Sunday morning and all he has left to do is get Oikawa to the gym. He waits until Oikawa has finished eating breakfast while watching some documentary on Yahaba's computer and has started making considering glances at Yahaba's bookshelves like he's preparing to reorganize them. Then Yahaba strikes, tossing some extra practice clothes at Oikawa's head.
"Get changed," he says, holding up the key to the gym. "You're going to help me with my serve."
Oikawa makes a face. "I don't know if I really feel up to that right now."
"Too bad," Yahaba says, putting on his toughest captain face. "The Interhigh is coming up and if we're going to crush Karasuno and Shiratorizawa, we need every weapon possible."
Oikawa turns the shirt over in his hands, still looking undecided.
"Don't you want to see the look on Kageyama's face when he can't receive the serve you taught me how to do?" Yahaba wheedles, appealing to Oikawa's petty side. "Please, Oikawa-san… It's going to be a battle of your two setter kouhai, don't you want me to win?"
"I do really want you to destroy him," Oikawa admits. "Fine, fine, I guess I can help you for a little bit. But when you win, you have to tell Tobio it's because of my wonderful mentor abilities, understand?"
Despite his protests, Oikawa is clearly excited on the train ride over. He has his hood pulled up and thick sunglasses on to hide his identity from Iwa-chan's spies, Yahaba, obviously, making Yahaba a little embarrassed to be sitting next to him, but he wriggles in his seat happily and has a bounce in his step as they make it through the deserted school grounds to the gym. The others are already there, hanging out by the steps as they wait.
Oikawa tries to run as soon as he sees them, only for Hanamaki to catch him.
"You tricked me," he says, struggling against Hanamaki's hold. He takes a longer look at the gathered players. "Is this some kind of intervention?"
"This isn't an intervention, this is a 3-on-3 game," Yahaba says. "And it's for your own good. Think of it as me returning the favor from my first year."
"Which way should we divide up teams?" Watari says, apparently taking everything that had just happened in stride. Kyoutani doesn't look nearly so calm, he's practically beaming confusion at Yahaba. "Third years versus alumni?"
"No way," Hanamaki says. "We were promised a chance to beat Oikawa. We'll take Yahaba as our side's setter."
"Yahaba and I need to work on our coordination," Kyoutani says, glare ratcheting up a few levels on the intimidation scale. "So we need to be playing on the same team."
Yahaba smiles at that despite himself. "Let's choose randomly," he says.
In the end, Kyoutani gets his wish. He, Yahaba and Hanamaki make up one team while Oikawa, Watari and Matsukawa make up the other. They don't have anyone to keep score for them, so they have to flip the boards themselves, and no referee to help with tough calls, but that's alright.
"It's too bad we're on the same side, really," Yahaba says quietly to Kyoutani as Oikawa's team squabbles over who should serve first. "We could have restarted our competition from before, finally broken the tie." It's a bit risky, he knows, to bring up the day of the festival, but-
"Don't be stupid," Kyoutani says immediately. "I would obviously win."
Yahaba purses his lips. "You really think so, do you?"
"Of course," Kyoutani says, cracking his knuckles in a way Yahaba is positive he's told him is disgusting. "I'm the ace, after all."
"Well then, ace," Yahaba says, widening his eyes and smiling sweetly. "I'm sure you wouldn't mind running a little side competition of our own, would you?"
Kyoutani narrows his eyes and leans in. "Like what? Obviously you can't plan to score more points than me. You're a setter."
"I'm a setter?" Yahaba says with pretend amazement. "Thanks for clearing that up for me, Kyoutani, I was never sure. "
"Shut up and tell me what you have in mind, asshole," Kyoutani says.
"Which is it, shut up or tell you?" Yahaba asks.
"You fu- tell me." Now Kyoutani's ears have turned that lovely pink shade Yahaba likes so much.
He ducks his head to hide his smirk. "Mm, I was thinking we could compete over receiving Oikawa's serves," he says. "It's okay for me to receive, since Hanamaki-san has a pretty good toss. Whoever makes a clean receive of more of his serves wins. Sending it back as a free ball doesn't count."
"What does the winner get?" Kyoutani says. "We never came up with something last week."
Yahaba blinks. "You're right," he says and tries to think of something they could compete over. Maybe he could offer to convince Hanamaki to arm wrestle Kyoutani if he won?
"How about the same thing as before?" Kyoutani says, looking away. "Whoever wins can ask a question and the other one has to answer it honestly."
Yahaba stares at Kyoutani for a second. "Sure," he says. "I don't see why not."
"If you two are done flirting," Hanamaki says, making them both jump. "Can we start the match?"
"O-of course," Yahaba says and goes to his point in the receive formation. He's sure if he had even an iota less self control, his face would be as red as Kyoutani's seems to be. He takes a long, slow breath to steady himself, push any thoughts on how mortifying it is to be called out on flirting with his probably straight crush by his snarkiest upperclassman, focus only on preparing to receive Matsukawa's serve.
By the time they take a time out after the first set to drink water and wipe their faces, Yahaba is sure his plan is working. Oikawa is livelier than he's been since he arrived on Monday, eyes more focused and a flush on his cheeks. Hanamaki and Matsukawa are a big help, poking at him until he can't help but react as he normally would, getting him to laugh and joke in a way Yahaba couldn't manage to do, but it's really the game that seems to be working the most magic.
"We're out of water," Matsukawa says. "And no first years to order to get us more…"
"I'll refill them," Yahaba says. "I'm the one who brought everyone here, after all."
"I'll come with you," Oikawa says.
Yahaba eyes him skeptically. "If you try to run again, I'll trip you," he warns.
"So untrusting!" Oikawa says and follows him out. He waits until they've gotten to the fountain before he speaks again. "You and Mad Dog-chan certainly seem to be working together well."
"Oikawa-san," Yahaba says warningly, beginning to fill the bottles up.
"I saw you flirting with him earlier," Oikawa says. "I never realized you could be so bold and obvious about it, Yahaba! I'm impressed!"
"Oikawa-san," Yahaba hisses. "People can- he- can't we talk about this later?" Like when we are home and he can't potentially overhear us?
Oikawa sighs. "Okaaaaaay," he says, drawing the word out. He leans in to whisper in Yahaba's ear, "He was flirting back, though." He laughs and jumps back, clearly enjoying Yahaba's attempts to keep control over his expression.
"You must be feeling better if you are teasing me," Yahaba says, trying to ignore the content of said teasing for now.
"I am," Oikawa says and rubs the back of his head. "I guess I just… I was sort of running away, wasn't I? From all of it."
"It's understandable," Yahaba says. "But, well, yeah. You can't live in my bedroom for the rest of your life, Oikawa-san. For one thing, I would murder you."
"Scary," Oikawa says. He takes the water bottles they've filled and heads back in.
Yahaba watches him go and has a moment of indecision. Oikawa's doing better, but it still isn't enough. He can't figure out what would be enough. Only one person probably could.
He pulls his phone out and sends a new text to Iwaizumi.
If you could say anything to Oikawa-san now, do you know what you would say?
He gets an answer almost immediately. Iwaizumi's text is short, desperate.
Have you heard from him???
Please answer my question, Iwaizumi-san, Yahaba writes back. I'm going to be busy for a while, so take your time. He shuts off his phone and heads back in.
They finally decide to break for good well past noon and lie panting on the gym floor.
"I need food," Watari says, putting a hand over his eyes. "University-level play is really terrifying, isn't it?"
"You did well," Matsukawa says. "All three of you."
"I'm so proud I could cry," Oikawa says. "Or maybe that's the pain from when Mag Dog-chan spiked right into my face?"
"Which of us won?" Kyoutani asks Yahaba. "I lost count in the last few sets."
Yahaba, the only one other than Hanamaki to still be sitting, looks down at Kyoutani next to him and pauses in stretching out his fingers. "I don't know," he admits. "I was never keeping count."
Kyoutani sits up, suddenly furious. "What? Why would you propose a competition and then not even-"
"I wanted you to be playing full force on receives from the beginning," Yahaba says. "We'll be going into the Interhigh soon and the underclassmen will be relying on us for defense. If you're able to receive Oikawa-san's serves that well, you should be able to handle whatever gets thrown at us there."
"You manipulative piece of shit," Kyoutani says, though he doesn't actually sound angry. Maybe he's just too tired to get truly fired up, but Yahaba thinks he sounds almost amused. "I can't fucking believe you."
"Well, it worked, didn't it?" Yahaba says. He had also wanted Oikawa to feel pressured by Kyoutani, so he'd be sure to concentrate on the match, but he decides not to mention that for now. "And I figured you would keep track, anyway."
"What are you two talking about?" Watari asks.
"They were running a side competition," Hanamaki explains. "I overheard them setting it up. Something about who could receive more of Oikawa's serves properly." He shakes his head. "Kids these days. I would never make a bet related to Oikawa's serves."
"So immature," Matsukawa agrees. "That reminds me, we should all get ramen together again sometime soon."
"I just want to know who won," Kyoutani says sullenly.
"Well, if it's just my serves, I can tell you," Oikawa says. "I always pay attention to stuff like that!" He raises a finger and wags it at them. "Both of you did pretty well, though I noticed several areas you could improve on that I'll be discussing with Yahaba later-"
"Get to the point," Kyoutani says.
"Get to the point, please," Yahaba amends for him, because Oikawa did used to be the captain.
"No sense of dramatic timing," Oikawa says sadly. "Fine, fine. It was close, but Mad Dog-chan received three more of my serves than Yahaba did!"
"Hah!" Kyoutani says.
"I want a rematch," Yahaba says instantly.
"I thought you didn't care who won," Kyoutani says.
"Just because I had an ulterior motive doesn't mean I don't care," Yahaba says, wiping sweaty bangs off his forehead.
"So what did Kyoutani win?" Matsukawa asks.
Yahaba is about to answer when he glances over at Kyoutani and stops. Something about the way Kyoutani is looking down makes him think twice about telling everyone what they were actually wagering. "Bragging rights," he says in a light tone, suddenly concerned about what Kyoutani might be planning to ask him.
Hanamaki slaps Kyoutani on the back. "See, you still have room to grow, kid. You have to extort your captain into buying you things, not just getting a sense of superiority over him. You should already have that!'
"Don't listen to him, Mad Dog-chan," Oikawa says. "People who don't treat their captains with love and respect are just small and jealous types!"
"Leave me out of this," Kyoutani says.
"I'm still hungry," Watari says. "We should go get food somewhere."
They end up deciding to go to the food court at the nearby mall. On such a nice weekend, it's busy with groups of friends and couples on dates, so their group doesn't stand out much as they grab food and sit at one of the outside tables.
Yahaba turns his phone back on as they eat. When he sees the number of messages, he can't help but raise his eyebrows.
"I'll be right back," he says and steps away, turning a corner so he can read Iwaizumi's messages without having to worry about his expression in front of the others.
(1) You do know where he is
(2) Please tell me where he is Yahaba its really important
(3) Is he in Miyagi with you???
(4) You werent kidding were you
(5) Did you know? I guess you did
(6) I don't know what Id say. I dont know what the right thing to say would be
(7) Hes my best friend
(8) That doesnt seem like enough
(9) Im coming to Miyagi
(10) I need to talk to him
(11) I need to know hes ok
(12) Its all so confusing
Yahaba stops reading the messages there, though there are dozens left in his inbox. He leans against a pillar and hits the call button.
"Tooru?" Iwaizumi's voice is thick with hope as he picks up.
"Just me," Yahaba says. "Iwaizumi-san, I didn't say you had to tell me what you'd say to him. It's not really my business. I just want to know if you know what you want to say to him."
He can hear soft sounds that he recognizes as the announcements on a train as Iwaizumi is silent for a moment. From what Yahaba can make out, he's not far off. "I… I do, yeah."
"Alright," Yahaba says. "And… as Oikawa-san' s friend, do you think I should tell you where he is?"
This time he doesn't hesitate. "Yes," Iwaizumi says.
"We're at the mall closest to Aobajousai," Yahaba says. "In the food court by the South entrance."
"I'll be there soon," Iwaizumi says.
"Don't make me regret telling you," Yahaba says and hangs up. He heads back to the group, smile fixed in place and quickly slips back in to their conversation on a recent scandal about a pro volleyball player.
"What's up with you?" Kyoutani asks him quietly, jabbing him with his knee under the table.
"Is that your reward question?" Yahaba asks just as quietly.
"No, dick, it's just a normal question," Kyoutani says. "You really go out of your way to be impossible, don't you?"
"Only when it comes to you," Yahaba says and, okay, he guesses he can't really claim Oikawa had nothing backing up his claim that his flirting is kind of obvious at this point. But Kyoutani doesn't really seem to mind, and Oikawa had said he was flirting back, and Oikawa usually wasn't wrong about these kind of things.
Yahaba decides to take a chance for once and jabs Kyoutani back with his own knee, only instead of pulling away, he just… leaves it there.
"Gross," Kyoutani huffs. But he doesn't pull away either.
Time stretches on and Yahaba is starting to worry that Iwaizumi won't show up before people start talking about leaving when Oikawa looks up in the middle of a story and freezes. His eyes go doe-wide and face pale.
"Iwa-chan," he says softly.
"H-hey," Iwaizumi says. He's standing a few meters away, a duffel bag in hand and too-big jacket falling off his shoulder, his expression about as wretched as Oikawa's had looked just that morning, maybe even worse.
"Wow, I suddenly remembered that thing I need to be doing," Hanamaki remarks to the sudden silence. "Right, guys?"
"Yup, that thing," Matsukawa says, getting up. "Let's get right on that."
"Uh-huh," Watari says and makes a break for it.
"What?" Kyoutani asks with a frown. "What's going on?"
"C'mon," Yahaba says, getting up and pulling on Kyoutani's arm. Remembering that Kyoutani doesn't like crowds, he leads him out of the mall and down a few streets until they are at a park, now deserted with the sun going down. He sits on one of the stone slab benches, the backless type made more to look pretty than feel comfortable, drawing up his knees to sit cross-legged.
Kyoutani sits down next to him, a little closer than he has to given the size of the stone. "Any chance you'll explain what the hell is going on to me?"
"Ask me again when I know how their conversation went," Yahaba says. He rubs his eyes and sighs, suddenly feeling very tired. "I hope I did the right thing… I just needed Oikawa-san out of my house."
"Oikawa was in your house?" Kyoutani says, forehead crumpling as he traces patterns over the rough stone.
"It's a long story," Yahaba says. He lightly pokes at Kyoutani's thigh with his foot. "You still haven't asked your question. You worked so hard for it, you shouldn't let your prize go to waste."
Kyoutani goes still for a moment before his fingers resume their movement over the bench. He stays quiet, frown deepening, and when Yahaba leans in to see him better in the softening light, he realizes Kyoutani is wearing the particular expression of stubborn annoyance that actually means he's nervous.
"Hey, no need to look so serious about it," Yahaba says, a curl of strange, sweet anxiety shuddering through him. "It's not like I'm in the habit of lying to you constantly and this is your only chance to make me answer honestly, you know."
Kyoutani snorts at that but looks up, eyes meeting Yahaba's, close enough that Yahaba can see the shadows his eyelashes cast on his cheeks. "Is it true that you were flirting with me?"
Yahaba swallows, reigns in his natural instinct to pull back. "Yes," he says quietly. "I was."
Kyoutani takes a moment. He doesn't pull back, either. "You do that a lot," he says, somewhere between a statement and a question.
"Yes," he says. "I do."
"You have for a while," Kyoutani says and this time it's definitely a statement. "Why?"
"At first it was to annoy you," Yahaba admits, because, hey, honesty.
Kyoutani doesn't look surprised by that. "And now?" he asks when Yahaba goes quiet.
"Do you mind it?" Yahaba asks, because having a clue about what Kyoutani is aiming for in this conversation would be a great help, and Yahaba is wary of trusting his instincts when his heart is pounding so hard in his chest and his mouth has gone so dry.
Kyoutani doesn't answer, just waits. When had he become the patient one?
"I still do it to annoy you sometimes," Yahaba says, trying to speak as slowly as he can to maintain some illusion of control. Still, he can't help but turn away, neck warming, as he says, "You're cute when you're annoyed."
Kyoutani's exhale is loud against the cooling night air and Yahaba's fingers clench against his knees as he desperately, desperately tries not to draw parallels between this and the last time he told someone he liked them.
"You think I'm cute," Kyoutani says, like he's not sure he understands.
"When you're annoyed," Yahaba says and bites his lip because if he's going to do this, he shouldn't be disingenuous about it. "And other times. Most of the time. All of the time."
"Oh," Kyoutani says. "That's…" He trails off, the silence twisting tight and cold around Yahaba, making him want to shake.
"Can you finish that thought maybe?" he asks and can't help the hard edge in his voice. "Before I throw up?"
"What?" Kyoutani says and has the gall to sound more shocked in that one word than he has the whole rest of the conversation. "Why would you do that?"
Yahaba gapes at Kyoutani, forgetting that he didn't want to look at him. "Because?" he says, voice high. "I just told you I have a crush on you and you might- you might get angry, or be disgusted, or quit the team, or avoid me, or-"
There's a flurry of motion and a burst of pain on Yahaba's right cheek, sending him reeling backwards and he thinks Kyoutani has headbutted him for a moment before he realizes no, Kyoutani just tried to kiss him-
And really, really misjudged the angle, apparently, because Yahaba's cheek will definitely have a bruise on it tomorrow and he's falling off the stupid backless bench. He grabs at Kyoutani to try to catch himself but only succeeds in pulling Kyoutani down with him. They fall in an extremely undignified pile of joints and limbs, though Kyoutani does manage to catch himself on his forearms so he doesn't crush Yahaba beneath him.
"Uh," Kyoutani says as he stares down at Yahaba, face completely red.
"Well, this is off to an excellent start," Yahaba says and grabs the front of Kyoutani's shirt so he can wrench him down into a proper kiss. Kyoutani is tense against him at first, but when Yahaba presses up more insistently he responds, lips opening as a soft gasp ghosts across Yahaba's mouth.
Yahaba can't decide if he wants to try to go slowly or quickly or what, but Kyoutani makes the decision for him, deepening the kiss with tiny frustrated sound that would make Yahaba giggle at how cute it was if it didn't seem so hot to him right now. Yahaba's more than willing to match his pace, loosing his hold on Kyoutani's shirt so he can reach up and tug on the hair at the back of his neck, yanking Kyoutani down even as he pushes his body up against him, scraping his teeth against Kyoutani's lower lip the way he's been dreaming of doing for months, loving how he can feel the reverberations of the groan that earns him.
Kyoutani eventually pulls away, panting. He offers Yahaba a hand to help him sit up, though neither moves to get back on the bench.
"So," Yahaba says. "I win that one, then."
Kyoutani glares at him. "What?"
"Our first kiss," Yahaba explains patiently. "I won it."
"You can't win at kissing," Kyoutani says.
"You hit me in the face," Yahaba says, poking his cheek where it still is tender. "I'm pretty sure that means I win."
"I want a rematch," Kyoutani says instantly.
"Are you asking me out, Kyoutani?" Yahaba asks in what he might as well admit is his most flirtatiously annoying manner.
"Why are you making it sound like an insult when that's clearly what I'm trying to do?" Kyoutani snaps.
Yahaba grins and shrugs. "I told you," he says. "You're cute when you're annoyed."
"You have twigs in your hair," Kyoutani tells him. "You look ridiculous."
"You probably think I look adorable," Yahaba says even as he hurries to brush his fingers through his hair to clean it. "You probably think I'm the most adorable person you've ever seen."
"You're the most annoying person I've ever seen," Kyoutani says and kisses him again, just as deeply but more confidently, sucking gently on Yahaba's lip as he pulls away and surprising Yahaba into making the most embarrassing noise he's ever uttered where someone else could hear him.
"I won that one, right?" Kyoutani asks as he pulls away, breathing heavily.
"Yeah," Yahaba says, trying to figure out where he left his usual composure. "You- yeah. Yup. Definitely, yes."
"You like kissing me," Kyoutani says and Yahaba thinks he's chosen a very weird moment to brag when he sees the confusion in Kyoutani's eyes.
"Yes," he says.
"You like me."
"Yes, Kyoutani, obviously I-"
"Then why did you run away?" Kyoutani asks, vexation clawing its way into his voice. "On the night of the festival, I thought we were- but then you left and were avoiding me and I thought I got it wrong but now- you're so confusing!"
"I don't mean to be," Yahaba says, licking his lips. "I just… I got scared. Like I said before, I thought you might be upset or not want to be around me anymore or, or something like that."
"Why would you think that?" Kyoutani asks.
Yahaba looks down. "Other people-"
"Fuck 'other people', then," Kyoutani says and grabs Yahaba's arm, hard enough that it almost hurts, and, bizarrely, it makes him think back to the first time they'd met, when Yahaba had grabbed Kyoutani almost the same way. He looks up. "I've never been like other people, and neither have you, so just, don't compare us to them, alright? Just be you. Can you do that?"
Yahaba blinks at him and looks down at Kyoutani's hand on his arm. He tugs lightly until Kyoutani loosens his grip enough that Yahaba can slide his arm back, Kyoutani's fingers running down his skin to his palm.
"Yeah," Yahaba says as he tangles their fingers together and leans in to rest his forehead against Kyoutani's, closing his eyes and breathing in the dizzying, comforting smell of his skin. "I think I can manage that."
"Yahoo, Yahaba!" Oikawa calls as Yahaba makes his way over. "Surprised to see us?"
"Not really," Yahaba says. They had been in town for a few days for the first birthday of Oikawa's newest nephew. They'd said they wouldn't have time to make it to the team's practice before their train left, but Yahaba knows that Oikawa wouldn't let a last opportunity to see the team off before the Interhigh go to waste.
"Everyone's looking really good," Iwaizumi says, nodding at different team members around the gym. He spots Kindaichi looking over with barely contained excitement and chuckles, extracting his hand from Oikawa's grip. "I should go say hi," he says apologetically and with a momentary blushing glance at Yahaba, he leans in and kisses Oikawa's cheek before jogging over.
"Aw," Yahaba says.
"Don't aw at me," Oikawa says, still wearing a shit-eating grin. "I haven't forgiven you for interfering yet."
"Of course you have," Yahaba says. "You're disgustingly happy now."
"It's true," Oikawa says and slings an arm around Yahaba as he glances around. "So, captain," he says, squeezing Yahaba's shoulders. "The Interhigh is just around the corner. Your first chance to lead the team. Are you going to make me proud?"
Yahaba surveys the team. The new regulars, all finally getting comfortable in their positions, are doing defensive drills, their sweat gleaming under the gym lights. Kindaichi bounces on the balls of his feet as he explains a new spiking formation they've been working on to Iwaizumi as Kunimi nods along, turning a ball over in his hands. Watari, steady and sure, is setting to Kyoutani. He catches Yahaba watching and winks before getting back to business.
Kyoutani doesn't look over, too intent on the drill he's working on to notice any distractions. He's been like this the last several practices, infectious intensity spreading to the rest of the team, making them all play harder than ever in preparation for the tournament ahead. Kyoutani would snort and say that everyone should have been working like that anyway, but Yahaba knows the difference having a dependable ace can make to anyone feeling unsure of their own abilities. He knows for all of Kyoutani's talk, he'll be that dependable ace, for the team, and for him.
They're a good team. The best team, maybe, and Yahaba is willing to fight to the end proving that.
He turns back to Oikawa with a smile. "Yes," he says. "I'm sure of it."