Chapter 1: your hand, a tree in which
Tobio's six and nobody at school likes him. Grandma asks him every morning if she should pack more in his bento for his friends, but he always tells her no because none of the other kids want to sit with him for lunch—none of the other kids want to sit with him for anything. Grandma says he should make the first move, but the thought fills Tobio with a kind of white-hot panic. He doesn't know how to talk to the other kids at all. Tobio sometimes thinks that everyone else his age must've gone to some secret class that taught them how to talk to each other and he missed it, because he can never manage to talk the right way. Everything he says is too weird or too dumb or too intense and the other kids laugh at him or avoid him. He spends a lot of their free time at school on his own, and nobody ever wants to partner with him so he's always stuck with their teacher.
His face is so scary, the kids whisper behind his back. Isn't he really weird?
Tobio learns, through trial and error, to tune them out. As he grows older, he decides to avoid the others so that he doesn't have to go through the pain of seeing them avoid him—he doesn't offer to participate anymore, doesn't look around hopefully for a partner when the teacher tells them to split up. He's okay on his own, so he decides that if the other kids want nothing to do with him… well, then he wants nothing to do with them either.
And if he cries himself to sleep every once in a while, there's nobody who needs to know.
Tobio's loved volleyball since he was seven and saw a match on the television by accident—watching the ball go from side to side, saved or spiked by each player, is miles more exciting than the stuffy shogi matches Grandma watches. He gets her to buy him a volleyball for his birthday and practices as best he can by himself. The weight of the ball in his hand feels oddly right.
His elementary school doesn't have a team, but Kitagawa Daiichi does. Tobio joins on his first day, eager to actually play a game, but sits on the sidelines for most of his first year, watching as the third and second years play. They're okay, for senpai, but none of them really seem to know how to deal with him either. Oikawa-senpai tries, but Tobio doesn't really know what to say or do and Oikawa-senpai makes him really nervous so he's even worse than usual.
Tobio goes to class and practice, but always walks home alone, never has any of his classmates or teammates over for dinner or sleepovers. He hears his grandma despairing of his solitude over the phone, probably to one of her friends, so he tries to actually make friends for the first time since he was small. But the harder he tries, the more people seem to dislike him.
He's so intense, he hears a girl whisper to her friend as he passes. It's scary!
Tobio focuses on volleyball instead. His teammates may not care much about him, but they don't mind using him. Oikawa-senapi doesn't really seem happy about it, but he does say that Tobio has natural skill. Tobio finds that tossing the ball is calming, in a way—when he is in control of the court, nothing can touch him. He is the one who decides the plays, who to toss to and who not to toss to. No one can exclude him if he's at the center of the action. They need him.
Until they don't.
Tobio sometimes hears the thud of that untouched volleyball hitting the gym floor in his dreams.
He doesn't forget about the orange-haired shrimp, but it's not because of his frustrating natural abilities. Instead, he remembers the kind way the boy touched the elbows of his teammates when they missed, his shouts of encouragement, the way he would cover for their sloppy plays. His team's excitement and support as he made his impossible jumps. Kitagawa Daiichi may be a team, but their primary goal is victory, not comradeship. Few of them are true friends outside of the court.
During his last few months there, after that one disastrous game, Tobio becomes a pariah on his own team. He doesn't play in practice anymore—instead, he runs drills with the coach, on his own. His teammates give him ugly looks, some of his stuff "accidentally" goes missing, and that stupid nickname, the one Tobio used to regard with a resigned sort of pride, becomes a tool for mockery.
King of the Court, his teammates mutter. He's selfish. He only plays for himself.
He leaves middle school with a lingering bitterness and a nickname he can't hear without cringing.
So when he comes to Karasuno, Tobio expects more of the same. He won't make the same mistakes again, but he doubts anyone on the team will like him—Tobio's grown used to his solitary existence, to the point where he can't imagine what it's like to have people around all the time, people who actually want to spend time with him outside of school or practice. He's resigned himself to being alone, because no one in his life has ever decided they want to get to know him or spend time with him or even like him as more than a casual acquaintance. Tobio's tried time and time again to change that and failed over and over—he doubts it's going to change anytime soon.
But when he sees that orange-haired shrimp staring at him from the gym doors, eyes wide and betrayed, he feels a vague sense of premonition.
The thing is, Tobio's never had a friend before. He's had acquaintances, people he would work with in class, teammates. But never someone he could confide his deepest thoughts in, someone who would come over and hang out with him just because they wanted to see him. He's used to it, grew past the ache in his chest years ago. Then, just when he'd thought he'd gotten over it, Hinata blasts into his life.
Tobio doesn't really understand Hinata, who glares at him and calls him names but also shares lunches with him and walks home with him. Between their official and unofficial practices, they end up spending most of their day together—and Hinata doesn't seem to hate it. He makes fun of Tobio and calls him 'king of the court' too much and seems a little scared when Tobio smiles, but he comes back day after day.
Then he catches Tobio's toss. Tobio watches the smash of the ball, the old ghost of that untouched ball finally drifting free. No one at Kitagawa Daiichi could catch that toss, and it ended up being the wedge that drove him even further away from his teammates, just another thing for people to dislike him for. But Hinata caught it. He caught it and smiled at Tobio in a helplessly pleased way afterward, like Tobio was the reason for his happiness.
Tobio's heart stutters in his chest at that look. Nobody's ever looked at him like that. His grandmother smiles at him all the time, but she's supposed to love him so he doesn't think it counts—and anyway, her smiles are kind, sometimes proud. She never looks at him like he's a small sun to circle around.
"Toss to me more!" Hinata demands, still smiling.
Tobio flips the ball in his hands. Keep looking at me like that, he thinks, and I'll toss you the ball as much as you want.
Hinata shows up at his house one weekend, completely unannounced.
"Tobio?" his grandmother says, standing in the door to his room. She looks unaccountably pleased about something. "There's a young man here to see you. He says he's one of your teammates?"
Tobio frowns. Perhaps Sawamura-senpai needs to talk to him about something? He can't think why any of his teammates would need to come visit him on a weekend though—
"He's quite short to be a volleyball player, isn't he?"
"You can… let him in," he says.
Why is Hinata here? Maybe he just wants someone to practice with. If there's one thing Tobio's come to realize about Hinata in the past few weeks, it's that he is unable to stay still to the point of discomfort. He's always moving, always leaping around, always practicing and yelling and making a nuisance of himself. Tobio's found, to his dismay, that he doesn't mind it so much anymore. That when he's alone, the silence seems a little eerie instead of comforting.
"Pardon the intrusion!"
Hinata bounds into his room, ducking his head and bobbing back up again, bright eyes taking in everything with unabashed curiosity.
"Your grandma seems really nice!" he says as he plops down on the floor, cross-legged. "She said to tell you she's going to make us lunch!"
"You're staying for lunch?" Tobio asks, voice sharper than he means it to be.
Hinata doesn't flinch back, but he droops a little. "Is—that not okay? I figured we could practice a little more, maybe?"
Practice. Of course that's what Hinata wants. Tobio ignores the odd ache in his chest and gets up to retrieve his volleyball.
"Come on," he says, leading Hinata out of his room. "You still need to work on your receives."
And that might have been the end of it, except that Hinata's still there four hours later, talking happily with his grandmother in the kitchen as she prepares dinner. Tobio watches from the living room, brow furrowed. They've already practiced and eaten lunch—and then they practiced some more. Hinata should be gone by now. Unless he thinks they'll be practicing more after dinner? But unlike the school, Tobio's backyard isn't lighted up—just seeing the ball would be a struggle.
"You're getting that intense look again, Kageyama," Hinata says, plopping down near his shoulder. Tobio flinches back from the unexpected contact—Hinata, as always, is too close. "Are you going to get me back for hitting you in the face? I said I was sorry!"
"We're not going to able to practice anymore," Tobio says. "It's too dark."
Hinata gives him a look and Tobio braces himself. Here it comes. Without the promise of practice, there's no way Hinata will want to stay even longer with Tobio—
"Well, I was thinking we could maybe watch some movies after dinner?"
Tobio blinks. "What."
Hinata shifts a little. He looks a little—is he blushing?
"I thought—maybe I could stay the night? And we could watch movies or… or play video games or something? And then we could practice again tomorrow! Or do—something else."
Tobio stares. Hinata looks back at him from under his fringe, so oddly shy that it makes Tobio's heart thump hard against his ribs. He's never seen Hinata look like this before—like one bad word from Tobio could make him crumble. Tobio's pretty sure nobody's ever cared about his company enough that they'd be sad if he denied it to them.
"…What kind of movies did you want to watch?"
Hinata straightens, beaming as hard as he did the first time he hit one of Tobio's tosses. Tobio blinks back from the force of it, his face going warm. He's still not used to it, the way Hinata will smile at him. He doesn't know what to do with someone who's so obviously happy to be around him.
"Ghibli, ghibli!" Hinata chants, then pauses. "Or something else." He shivers a little. "But no horror, okay? I watched Psycho Pass for the first time last week and it was so scary—! They go all PWAH and POW and then their heads go SPLAAAAH—!"
Tobio glances over to see his grandmother standing in the door of the kitchen, watching them. When she sees Tobio looking, she winks.
They watched Spirited Away. Tobio likes this movie, but he's too preoccupied with his thoughts to really watch it. Instead, he keeps an eye on Hinata, who's as enthralled as a child—eyes wide, lips moving along with the dialogue, gasping and laughing in all the right places. Tobio should've guessed he wouldn't be able to sit still, even for a movie, but there's something oddly endearing about the way Hinata clutches the blanket to his chest when Sen battles with the old witch, or when Haku's in danger.
The credits roll and Tobio suddenly feels awkward. He's never done this sort of thing before, watched a movie with someone his age. Are they supposed to talk about it after or go right to sleep or—?
Hinata stretches, yawning. "Where am I going to sleep?" he asks, rubbing at one eye.
Tobio frowns. He hadn't thought of it before, but they don't have a spare futon—their tiny house never really needed one, and his grandmother preferred Western-style beds anyway. Until now, it's never been a problem because Tobio's never had someone over who needed a place to sleep.
"We don't have a spare futon," he says cautiously, testing the waters. Maybe Hinata will insist on leaving?
Hinata shrugs. "I'll just share with you," he says.
Tobio freezes. "Share—?"
"Well, yeah," Hinata says. "I share with Natsu all the time, it's no big deal. And it's cold in here, Kageyama! You won't really make me sleep on the floor, will you?!"
Tobio doesn't think it's any colder than normal in his house, but maybe he's just used to it. But isn't it weird, for the two of them to share a bed? Or maybe it's normal? Tobio wouldn't know—he's never had people over for the night. He realizes that this is his first sleepover and suddenly wants to watch another movie, wants to play a game, wants this to keep happening for as long as possible. Because when Hinata leaves tomorrow, who knows if he'll come back? This might be Tobio's only chance to have something like this, something that passes for an actual friendship.
"No," he says. "I won't do that. Do you want to sleep?"
He watches as Hinata considers the question, barely daring to breathe. He's not sure what answer he wants, honestly.
"No," Hinata says, and something loosens in Tobio's chest. "Can we watch Ponyo?"
Tobio puts the movie in, but pauses it after ten minutes when his grandmother pops her head in.
"Goodnight, boys," she says, eyes warm. "Keep watching for as long as you like—I'm a heavy sleeper. Hinata-kun, any requests for breakfast?"
Hinata ducks his head, oddly shy. "No, Kageyama-san."
Tobio snorts. "He likes tamagoyaki," he says. "And make sure there's a lot of natto."
His grandmother just smiles at them, eyes crinkling at the corners. "I'll see what I can do, Tobio-chan."
Hinata shoves at Tobio's shoulder as soon as his grandmother has wandered off to her bedroom. "Don't say things like that! I don't want to inconvenience her!"
"She's happy you're here," Tobio says before he can stop himself. Hinata's irritation melts into confusion. "Shut up and watch the movie, dumbass."
He starts it again before Hinata can say anything, and though Hinata gives him a puzzled look, he resettles on the floor with little enough complaint. It's getting late—later than Tobio usually stays up, even on a weekend—so Tobio's not surprised when he starts to nod off a little, even though he likes this movie too. He doesn't realize he's fallen asleep until he jerks awake unexpectedly to a dark room, the sound of the credit screen music, and a warm weight across his lap.
Tobio looks down, still bleary with sleep, and freezes when he sees Hinata sprawled across his thighs, mouth open, snoring lightly. He's somehow tucked his arm around Tobio's leg, his hand curled around the bend of Tobio's knee. Tobio's too terrified to move, so he sits there for several minutes, listening to the soft music of the credits screen repeat itself over and over again. Should he wake Hinata up? Is that the protocol? He's never had someone fall asleep on him before.
But his leg is starting to go numb.
He reaches out and shakes at Hinata's shoulder. "Oi," he says. Hinata shifts, grumbling, but doesn't wake up. "Dumbass, get your head off my leg."
Tobio sighs. He reaches over and grabs the remote, shutting off the T.V. and ending the repetitive music. Then, carefully, he starts to inch his way out of Hinata's grip, a feat made more difficult by the way Hinata insists on trying to cling to his knees and ankles. Still, Tobio manages to get back on his feet, grimacing at the pins and needles racing up his legs. He surveys Hinata, still sprawled out on the floor, and wonders if it's polite just to leave him there.
It's cold in here, Kageyama!
If his grandmother found out, she'd scold him. Tobio squats down and, still cautious, scoops Hinata up by the shoulders and under his knees. For someone so short, Hinata's surprisingly heavy—compact with muscle, Tobio thinks, or maybe he just eats too many meat buns—but Tobio manages to get upright with little enough trouble. To his surprise, Hinata curls into him, burying his face in Tobio's collarbone.
"Dumbass," Tobio says as he crosses the living room. "You're like a little kid."
He passes his grandmother's bedroom, then enters his own. He doesn't bother turning on the lights—through his window, the full moon makes everything just bright enough—instead opting to just approach his bed and lower Hinata onto it. He figures Hinata will be uncomfortable, sleeping in his day clothes like that, but it seems easier than trying to wake him up to change.
Tobio quickly changes into his own pajamas, and when he turns back to the bed, he discovers that Hinata's tucked himself against the wall, leaving more than enough room for Tobio to slide in. Still, it's a bed made for one person, and even though Hinata's small, it's a tight fit. Tobio tries to keep to his side, lying as stiff and still as possible. He hears Hinata grumble, but he thinks it's a sleep noise until there's some shifting on the other side of the bed and Hinata is suddenly in his space, burrowing his head into Tobio's neck and tangling his legs with Tobio's. Tobio isn't sure he can remember how to breathe.
"Easier," Hinata mutters against Tobio's collarbone. "And less cold."
Tobio tentatively readjusts so his arm is draped over Hinata's side instead of pressed in at an awkward angle. Hinata's tiny feet are surprisingly cold where they're pressed against Tobio's calves, and the press of his nose is icy against Tobio's skin. His soft, fine hair tickles Tobio's chin.
"Why did you come over today?" Tobio whispers.
He nearly bites his tongue in consternation—he hadn't meant to ask that out loud. He hopes that Hinata's already fallen back asleep.
"I wanted to," Hinata says, just as quietly. He sounds half-asleep. "Wanted to see you."
Tobio's heart jumps, but he tries to ignore it. No one ever just wants to see him. Usually everyone tries to avoid him. Of course, Hinata's been an exception to that rule since the day they met, but Tobio's always thought of it as something linked to volleyball. Isn't it?
"To practice with me, right?" he asks, half dreading the answer.
He feels Hinata huff against his neck, a grouchy sound that makes his lip twitch despite his apprehension. Maybe it's because he's so tiny and trusting, but Hinata can be weirdly… cute sometimes.
"No," Hinata says. "I just… wanted to spend time with you. That's all." He bangs his head against Tobio's collarbone. "Can we stop talking about this? It's embarrassing, Kageyama."
Tobio can't talk about it anymore because Tobio's pretty sure he's lost the power of speech. He feels it when Hinata slips back into sleep, going limp and soft against Tobio's side, but he hardly registers it, too lost in his own astonishment. Hinata wanted to see him? Hinata wanted to spend time with him—not for practicing volleyball or as teammates, but just to hang out?
Does that mean they're… friends?
Stuck on that question, it takes Tobio hours to fall asleep.
Over tamagoyaki and rice with natto the next morning, Hinata seems normal. He talks cheerfully with Tobio's grandmother, entertaining her with stories about practice. He reels Tobio into the conversation by making him confirm facts or the actions of their teammates, and Tobio winds up talking more during breakfast than he has since he was a little kid. His grandmother smiles widely at him when he snaps at Hinata for remembering something Tanaka-senpai said wrong, and Tobio feels a flush building up his spine.
"Is it okay if I stay for a little while?" Hinata asks as he helps Tobio clean up the dishes. "My mom isn't expecting me back until the afternoon, I think.
"Practice?" Tobio asks, faux-casual.
Hinata shifts his weight from foot to foot. "Or we could play video games? Or—actually, did we have homework?"
Tobio frowns. "I don't think so."
"Then let's play video games!"
"Are you sure you don't want to practice?" Tobio asks.
Hinata sighs, the sound just as grumpy as it was last night. "Are you going on about this again? I told you, I came over to see you! I like practicing with you, but it's not the same as just hanging out, is it?"
Tobio's hand shakes as he finishes drying the last of the dishes. His throat feels dry.
Hinata puts a hand on his shoulder—Hinata has small palms and long fingers, callused from handling volleyballs. Tobio looks over his shoulder to find Hinata regarding him with serious eyes—that's the kind of intensity Tobio is used to on the court, but to see it here makes something warm curl in his stomach.
"Do you not want me around?" Hinata asks. "If I'm bothering you—"
"That's not it," Tobio says. To his embarrassment, his voice cracks mid-sentence, but the thought of Hinata leaving because he thinks Tobio doesn't want him around is—is— "I'm just… not used to it."
"Used to what?"
"Having people around."
Hinata stares at him. Hinata's never been very good at concealing what he feels on his face, so Tobio can read every emotion that crosses Hinata's features—confusion, realization, sadness…
"Hey, Kageyama—we're friends, aren't we?"
Tobio drops the spatula he was about to put in the nearby drawer. It clangs against the countertop, loud in the sudden quiet of the kitchen. He looks to see Hinata staring up at him, as steel-eyed and intense as he is during a hard game on the court. Tobio licks his lips.
"I—don't know," he says. God, this is going to be embarrassing— "I've never really had a friend before."
Hinata stares at him for a long, tense moment—and then his intensity gentles into a cheerful smile. "Ah! Well then, I'll just have to teach you what it's like, won't I?"
Tobio's throat is tight, but as he picks up the spatula he dropped, he says, "I'm not sure how I feel about you teaching me anything…"
"What did you say! Bakageyama, that's so mean!"
Tobio's careful to keep his back turned so that Hinata can't see his smile. He's already embarrassed himself enough for the day.
Tobio starts to get used to it, little by little. Having Hinata always around, at his shoulder during the day, at his house during the weekends. He learns little things about Hinata; that he likes fruity drinks and spicy foods, that he hums absently under his breath when he's concentrating on something, his favorite colors, that he likes manga more than literature. Tobio expects to hate being crowded like this, to have Hinata constantly demanding his attention, but finds instead that he… likes it, almost. That it makes something odd and warm twist in his stomach when Hinata smiles at him or seeks him out after school so they can walk home together. That every time Hinata shows up at his doorstep on Saturday afternoon, he has to duck into a bathroom so he can smile without scrutiny.
It's been about a month when their routine shifts inexplicably. First, Hinata's not waiting at the school gate so they can race to their classes as usual. Then, Hinata's not there to ask if Tobio wants to share lunch, not there to race him to the gym, not there during practice. Tobio feels his absence like a lost tooth.
"Where's Hinata?" he asks Sawamura-senpai when they're warming up.
It feels wrong to stretch without Hinata at his elbow, complaining even as he bends more easily than half of their team put together.
Sawamura-senpai frowns. "He texted Suga," he says. "He said it was a family thing and not to expect him for practice today. I'm sorry, but I don't know anything other than that."
"Besides," Tsukishima says, in that bored tone that sets Tobio's teeth on edge, "if anyone knows what's going on with that shrimp, shouldn't it be you?"
Tobio's hands clench into fists.
"Tsukishima, do laps," Sawamura-senpai snaps. Tsukishima gives Sawamura-senpai a venomous look—he hates doing laps—but takes off running without protest. Sawamura-senpai puts a gentle hand on Tobio's shoulder. "Listen, I'm sure it's nothing. He'll probably show up tomorrow and tell us all about it."
Tobio bites the inside of his cheek. "I'm going to finish stretching," he says and marches off.
He's distracted throughout practice, but he can't help it. Volleyball has somehow become less fun without Hinata around—Asahi-san can catch some of his faster tosses, but nobody can do it like Hinata can so Tobio constantly has to hold himself in check, even when part of him roars with impatience, the need to yell catch it faster! But then he remembers the sound of that untouched ball and he bites his tongue so hard he tastes blood. He doesn't want to be the 'king of the court' anymore, he wants to play with his teammates, but sometimes it's hard to remember.
If Hinata were here, he wouldn't have this feeling. Hinata can catch his tosses, all of them. Hinata grins at Tobio as they play, tries to teach him to high-five after a good toss—all of his teammates include him, but Hinata's the one who makes it feel like he's actually playing on a team.
By the time practice is over, Tobio is a jittering, anxious mess. Most of his teammates take a look at his face and leave him be, but Sugawara-senpai stops him in the changing room after everyone's left. Tobio's thinking about the long, lonely walk back to his house when Sugawara-senpai puts a hand on his elbow, so he jumps, startled at the unexpected touch.
Sugawara-senpai smiles at him. "I have Hinata's home address," he says, offering Tobio a slip of paper. "You should bring him his assignments and see what's wrong."
Tobio looks from the paper to Sugawara-senpai's face, then cautiously takes it. "It's fine," he says, even as he clutches the paper tight enough to crumple it. "He'll tell us tomorrow, like the captain said."
Sugawara-senpai's smile softens. "Daichi's usually right," he says. "But I don't think it would hurt to go out and see what's wrong, do you? And I'm sure Hinata would be happy to see you."
Tobio's swallows, hard. Would Hinata be happy to see him? Maybe he's happy to have a reprieve from Tobio's company. After all, even though he texted Sugawara, he didn't bother to send a message to Tobio about his absence.
Besides, if anyone knows what's going on with that shrimp, shouldn't it be you?
Tobio clenches his teeth and nearly gives the paper back to Sugawara-senpai. It's only the fact—odd as it is—that he wants to see Hinata that stays his hand.
"Go see him," Sugawara-senpai says, sensing his indecision.
Tobio tucks the paper into his pocket. "Okay," he says.
Hinata's house is smaller than Tobio's but, as he stands in front of the door, Tobio hands begin to sweat. But it took him nearly an hour to walk here and he got lost twice, so he'll be damned if he turns back without at least giving Hinata the sheaf of papers stuffed in his bag.
Hesitantly, he raps his knuckles against the door. There's a long silence—long enough that Tobio begins to wonder if nobody's home—and then the patter of feet. The door flings open to reveal a tiny (well, even tinier) female version of Hinata. The little girl stares up at him, eyes huge and accusing. Tobio half expects her to say, that's so mean, Bakageyama!
"Kageyama," Tobio says. "I'm from Hinata's school. Is he here?"
He really doesn't know how to talk to children—didn't even really know how to talk to them when he was a kid. They just seem so… odd.
"Nii-chan!" the little girl yells. "There's someone to see you!"
"Natsu!" someone says, drawing up behind the little girl. Tobio's beginning to think this is a house full of Hinata clones; here's what Hinata will look like in twenty years, if he was a girl. "What did I say about opening the door without me?"
"Don't do it, because strangers are bad," Natsu parrots, beaming up at her mother. "But it's nii-chan's friend, so it's okay, even if he does have a scary face!"
The woman, who can only be Hinata's mother, sighs, and then offers a sunny smile at Tobio. "You must be Kageyama-kun."
Tobio blinks, taken aback. "Aa. I… have Hinata's assignments from school."
Hinata-san's smile dims a little bit. "Right. Well, he's in his room right now, if you wouldn't mind giving them to him in person? I think it would do him some good to see you."
Tobio enters the house, toeing off his shoes and following Hinata-san as she leads him inside. Hinata-san stops in front of a closed door and surveys it for a moment before she turns to Kageyama. Her smile is completely gone—without it, she looks older, sadder.
"Kageyama-kun," she says, "normally I wouldn't tell you something like this, but you've been a good friend to Shouyou." Tobio feels a flush climbing up his face. Does Hinata talk about him with his mom? "Today—well. This is the day our family remembers an anniversary."
Tobio frowns. "An anniversary?"
"Yes. You see, five years ago, my husband passed away in a car accident."
Tobio stares at her. Her husband—that means that Hinata's father—
"Oh," he says uselessly.
Hinata-san smiles at him. "Shouyou took it very hard—he and his father were close, you see. So I want you to be… well, prepared, I suppose. The Shouyou you know might be a little different right now, but I wanted you to know he has a good reason."
"Yes," Tobio says, still numb with shock. Hinata's dad died? Hinata would've been… what, ten, eleven? "Yes, of course."
Hinata-san's smile widens. "You're a good boy, Kageyama-kun," she says, and reaches out to ruffle his hair. Maybe it's a Hinata thing, to be so physically affectionate? "I'm glad Shouyou met you."
Tobio thinks, guiltily, of the way he treated her son the first time they met—if she knew about that, surely she wouldn't be smiling at him like this now. But he allows it without a word before Hinata-san slips away. Tobio takes a deep breath, mentally collecting himself before he finally opens the door.
The room is dark, dark enough that Tobio can't make out much beyond the bed and desk. In the bed there's a person-sized lump covered with blankets.
"I told you I don't want any soup, mom," Hinata says as he sits up in bed, freezing when he sees Tobio.
Tobio stares back. Hinata looks—well, terrible. His hair is greasy and messy, there are purple bruises under his eyes, and he looks like he needs a good shower, a good nap, and a lot of food. Tobio stifles the completely insane urge to march into the kitchen and stuff whatever food he can find down Hinata's throat.
"Kageyama?" Hinata says. "Am I dreaming?"
"No, dumbass," Tobio says. "Excuse the intrusion."
He steps inside and reaches around to flick on the lights. Hinata's room is chaotic, messier than Tobio's. There are volleyballs and clothes scattered everywhere, textbooks and notes open on his desk, a video console sloppily put away.
"What're you doing here?" Hinata asks. His tone is oddly belligerent, almost defensive, a far cry from his normal cheerfulness. "Is this about practice? I told Suga-senpai I wouldn't be there—"
"I brought your homework," Tobio says, reaching into his bag and withdrawing the sheath of papers. Hinata groans dramatically, flopping back on his bed.
"I don't wanna," he says.
"I'll put it on your desk," Tobio decides, setting it down. "Sawamura-senpai says that if you don't do it, he'll make you practice receives all day tomorrow."
Sawamura-senpai hadn't said so, but Tobio figures there are worse things he can do than make Hinata do his homework. Maybe Tobio can copy off of him tomorrow, because he's probably not going to do his now.
"Why're you here?" Hinata asks.
It's not the question that puts Tobio on edge—it's the odd terseness to Hinata's voice that would be more suited to Tsukishima. He's never heard Hinata sound like that, even when he's confronting their opponents. He looks over to see Hinata staring at him, eyes narrow, a tense frown on his face.
"I wouldn't have been any good at practice today anyway!" Hinata snaps, as if Tobio's said something insulting. "I would've missed all your tosses and you would've yelled at me, so there's no point in scolding me for skipping!"
"You didn't have to come all this way! I won't do the homework anyway, so it was just a waste of time, and I don't want to see anyone so can you please just—"
Hinata freezes. "What?"
Tobio clears his throat. "About your dad," he says. "Your—your mom told me that he died today. I'm sorry."
A long silence stretches between them. Hinata's as still as a statue, which is so uncharacteristic that Tobio begins to fidget. Was that the right thing to say? Should he leave? Hinata was clear about not wanting to see anyone, but Tobio remembers when his grandfather died when he was barely six, the way his grandmother had found a place to be alone but hadn't protested when Tobio came to sit down by her.
So Tobio takes a deep breath, steels himself, and stomps over to sit down by Hinata. Hinata jumps.
"I won't talk to you," Tobio says, too-loud but unable to be quiet because he's so anxious. "I won't say a word. So you just… do what you need to do. Dumbass."
There's another long pause where Tobio waits, heart pounding, for Hinata to kick him out, to scream at him to leave. This is obviously a private day for Hinata and Tobio was insane to come over, insane to try and comfort him in this completely useless way, Hinata definitely isn't going to want to be friends with him anymore after this—
A soft weight at his shoulder. Tobio glances down, surprised, to see Hinata leaning against his side, head on his shoulder. For some reason, Tobio's heart rate picks up.
"He taught me how to play volleyball," Hinata says, so quiet that it's almost a whisper. "My dad, I mean. He knew I liked it, so he practiced with me almost every day. When he died… I almost didn't play again. But it felt like being able—to connect with him, you know? To make him proud."
Tobio's throat is oddly tight. He clears it, trying to get rid of that ache. What should he say? He tries to think of the right words, fighting against his rising panic.
"I think—I think he would be proud of you, Hinata. You've come a long way."
Hinata is pressed up against him, so Tobio can feel the way he shudders when Tobio says that, feels the fine tremors of his body as he begins to cry. Tobio doesn't look at him; he rarely cries, but he hates it when people watch, so he affords Hinata the same courtesy. Instead he stares at the wall, thinking about what it would be like, for your parent to love you so much that they would learn a game they don't even play just because you love it.
Hinata's trembling eases and Tobio risks a glance, only to find that Hinata fell asleep somewhere in the middle of crying, face soft and relaxed where it's pressed against Tobio's shoulder. Tobio shakes him off, catching him and easing him back so that he's lying down. Covers him up. Stares down at his sleeping face and, for no reason at all, finds that he's smiling.
"Sorry for being absent!" Hinata barks out, offering everyone in the gym a deep bow. "It won't happen again!"
Tanaka-senpai ruffles Hinata's hair. "Don't mind, don't mind!" he says, grinning. "But why were you gone? Suga-san just said it was a family thing…"
Hinata's eyes search out Tobio's, but Tobio just stares back. He won't say anything if Hinata doesn't want him to. Hinata searches his face and smiles.
"It was just some family drama," he says. "My mom needed me at home…"
Tobio watches as Hinata laughs with Tanaka-senpai and Nishinoya-senpai and bites the inside of his cheek. It's weirdly nice that Hinata is sharing this secret only with him. That he's the only one who knows that yesterday Hinata was a mess, that even laughing, cheerful Hinata can be miserable.
It feels, oddly enough, like friendship.
A few weeks later, Nekoma comes to visit them for a practice match.
"So this is Karasuno, huh…?" Kuroo says as they step into the gym. "Yo!"
Takeda-sensei bows low to them. "Thank you for agreeing to this practice match!"
Kuroo grins. "Well, you wouldn't stop calling so…"
Tobio's attention is diverted by Hinata, who runs up to Kozume and throws himself at him. "Kenma—!"
"Wait, Shouyou, my game—!"
Tobio frowns at them. He'd forgotten that Kozume and Hinata were so weirdly familiar with each other. Nishinoya-senpai and Tanaka-senpai call Hinata by his first name sometimes, but they're teammates. Isn't it weird, to be so close to a rival on another team that they didn't even see that often?
"—and you never respond to my emails, Kenma—!"
"It's too much work."
"Waah! So mean!!"
Tobio's eyes narrow. Emails?
"Oi, king," Tsukishima says at his elbow, smirking. "You're looking a little green."
Tobio stares at him. Can a person even look green? And what does his color have to do with anything…? Seeing his confusion, Tsukishima snorts.
"You really are an idiot, aren't you? Ah, well."
"Listen up!" Sawamura-senpai says and everyone snaps to attention. "Since Nekoma has been good enough to come all the way out here to practice with us, we want to take full advantage of the situation! So we won't only be playing our usual practice games, but also switching it up!"
Tobio's overcome by a sense of foreboding.
"In other words, we will be playing games with… mixed teams!"
A long pause. Then—
"What, you mean from both teams?"
"Uwahh, so cool!"
"But how's that even going to help?"
"Won't that make it harder?"
Sawamura-senpai clears his throat. "Kuroo and I both agree that working with strangers can only help heighten our sense of our own teammates, as it will force all of us to work in new positions and use new tactics. The teams will be split up randomly, and evenly between Karasuno and Nekoma."
Kuroo grins at them all. "I know it will be odd at first, but please bear with it and try your best! Now, for the first teams…"
They read off a list. Tobio's only half-listening, his attention caught again on the way that Hinata's hanging off Kozume's shoulder, chattering in his ear. He's still distracted as everyone moves off to their respective sides, so it isn't until he's settling into position and looks for Hinata out of instinct that he realizes Hinata hasn't joined him at all. In fact, Hinata's on the other side of the net… with Kozume.
Something hot and dark settles in Tobio's stomach. He tries to ignore it. Of course they'd pit him and Hinata against each other—their reliance on each other is both a great asset and a great weakness for Karasuno, and Sawamura-senpai probably wants to see how they'll do when they're split apart. But being on the opposite side of the net brings back too many bad memories for Tobio; the last time they were like this, he was a setter that his entire team didn't need, he had no one who could capture his passes, and Hinata hated him.
"Begin!" Takeda-sensei calls out.
It is odd to play with the others. For one, Tobio's not used to being one of the shorter members; Nekoma runs a little bit taller than Karasuno, and he has Tsukishima and Asahi-san on his team too. And he's beginning to see why his teammates are so amazing—Nishinoya-senpai, on the opposite side, catches so many of their spikes that Tobio begins to admire him all over again. Still, his team has Sugawara-senpai too, and the Nekoma guys aren't bad either, though Tobio can't really remember any of their names.
Tobio's team wins the first set, but he's not as happy about that as he should be, because he can sense something happening on the opposite court. Hinata's play throughout the first set was much more passive than Tobio's ever seen—he blocked a lot, but never went for a spike. Tobio could tell that he wasn't happy about it though—hell, even as they break and switch sides, Hinata practically vibrates with impatience. But then Kozume says something to him and Hinata's eyes firm in the way they do when he's about to get serious on the court, his restless energy calming.
Tobio's restlessness heightens when he sees that.
He can tell immediately that something's different in the second set. The ball goes free on Hinata's side of the court. Tobio calculates that Kozume will send it to one of his own teammates, and gets ready to block. Then, he catches a flash of orange out of the corner of his eye. He turns just in time to see Kozume send a perfect toss to Hinata, who smashes it into the opening between Sugawara-san and Tsukishima without even pausing.
For a moment, there's silence on the court.
"Whoo-hoo!" Nishinoya-senpai says, leaping on Hinata's back. "That was so cool, Shouyou!"
"Nice spike!" the tall Russian kid yells, giving Hinata a thumbs-up.
"…Wasn't that minus zero tempo?" Sawamura-senpai mutters at Tobio's elbow.
"Yeah," Tsukishima says. He looks at Tobio. "Looks like the shrimp can do it with other people than just you, king."
Tobio hears them as if he's standing at the bottom of a lake. All he can see is Hinata's helplessly pleased smile, the one he wears whenever he catches one of Tobio's tosses—the one Tobio had begun to assume was just meant for him, and him alone. But no, Hinata's directing it at Kozume now, as their teams fall back into position. Tobio's hands curl into fists. He'd never had it before—someone who cared for him first, before anyone else. He'd thought—he'd thought—
"Oi," Tsukishima says. "You gonna cry?"
"Let's just play," Tobio snaps, getting back into position.
Hinata smiles at him over the net, but Tobio glares back so harshly that Hinata's smile is replaced by a puzzled frown. What's wrong? he mouths as they begin the next play, but Tobio can't answer. He watches the ball, calculates the trajectory, and realizes too late as he tosses to Asahi-san that it's his old toss, the one that went too fast and too sharp for anyone to catch. It blows by Asahi-san entirely, hits the wall with a hard smack. There's silence on the court again as everyone turns to stare at Tobio.
Tobio can feel a flush building up his neck. Without looking at anyone, he stomps off the court, out of the gym, ignoring the voices he can hear calling his name. There's an odd, fluttering feeling in his chest, like he's not getting in enough air—all he can see, over and over, is Hinata's smile as he catches Kozume's tosses. The sight of his own toss flashing past Asahi-san's outstretched hand. Hinata doesn't understand, Tobio thinks. Hinata's always thought he's the weak one, for needing Tobio to toss to him, but Tobio thinks it's the other way around. Hinata can catch tosses from anyone—but Tobio only has Hinata. If Hinata can really do that volleyball with anyone, won't he stop being friends with Tobio, sooner or later?
Tobio stops running and slides down into a sitting position, legs tight against his chest. The panicked feeling isn't going away. If Hinata leaves…
Tobio's never really cared about other people before. None of them really cared about him, and that had been fine with him; he preferred his own company. Why, then, does the thought of Hinata not hanging out with him anymore, not coming over to his house to eat dinner and watch movies, not cuddling up close to Tobio in his bed anymore… Why does that make him want to cry?
He looks up, stunned to see Hinata standing over him, red-faced and out of breath.
"What are you doing?" he demands.
Hinata puts his hands on his hips, glaring down at Tobio. "You just ran off!" he says. "I mean, it was a little embarrassing, but it's not like anyone would have laughed at you! Asahi-san feels really bad, but he says that toss was just too quick… he said you must've forgotten that he wasn't me or something!"
Tobio's ears burn. "You can go back," he mutters, burying his face in his knees. "I just need a minute."
There isn't any sound of footsteps, so Tobio looks up and jumps when he sees that Hinata's crouched down so they're face to face, studying Tobio critically.
"Are you sick?" he asks.
"Well… I haven't seen you make a toss like that since our first week! So I figured you must be—"
Hinata leans back on his heels. "Well, what is it then?"
"It doesn't matter. It's stupid."
"But it made you—"
"It doesn't matter."
"But you're so—!"
"Why do you even care?!"
Tobio bites the inside of his cheek as Hinata blinks at him. Damn, damn, damn, he hadn't meant to say that!
"Why wouldn't I care?" Hinata asks, nonplussed. "You're my best friend and you're acting weird."
"I… I am?"
"Your best friend."
Hinata stares at him, then bursts out laughing. Tobio's heart tightens and he's halfway through standing up to leave when Hinata grabs on to his elbow, pulling him back down.
"It was just a question, dumbass!" Tobio snaps, flushing. How stupid of him to ask. Obviously he wasn't Hinata's best friend, Hinata had loads of friends, it was probably just a slip of the tongue or something—
"No, that's not why—I'm laughing because duh you're my best friend!" Hinata says. Tobio stares at him. "I mean, I thought it was obvious?"
Hinata blinks at him. He's still got tears in his eyes from laughing so hard, and he's flushed. Tobio reaches out to touch his cheek before he realizes what he's doing and Hinata's flush deepens.
"You did minus zero with the cat setter."
"Are you talking about Kenma?" Hinata frowns. "Well, Kenma's pretty good! He's sort of like Oikawa, y'know, he knows his teammates really well and matches his tosses to them. He said it took him a while to figure out what would work for me, but when he did it was—! Y'know, POW and GWAH and…!!" Tobio's heart sinks. "But with you—" Hinata stops. He's so red now that he pretty much matches his hair. "I mean… you tailored that toss to me too, didn't you? And you can only do it with me. I—I sort of like that. And the ball felt different in my hand, when it was with Kenma. I like doing it with you better."
The only thing Tobio can hear is the thud of his heart, which beats abnormally fast. He's probably as red as Hinata.
"…Oh," he says.
Hinata droops. "I'm sorry, that's so weird—"
"No," Tobio says, because he doesn't want Hinata to take it back. I like doing it with you better. No one's ever said that to him before, about anything. "No, it wasn't weird. I like doing it with you better, too."
Hinata stares at him. His eyes, already abnormally huge, grow until they take over half his face. Without warning, he tackles Kageyama, and even though he's tiny, he's heavy, so he sends both of them crashing to the ground.
"Kageyama-kun~!" he says, rubbing his face into Tobio's neck. "You're such a good guy!"
"Hinata—! Dumbass, stop it!"
"You'll send me lots of tosses now, right? Right??!"
Tobio ends up going back with Hinata and apologizing to the senpai and Nekoma. Tsukishima smirks, but the others seem to take in stride, even the Nekoma players; Kuroo even ruffles Tobio's hair, to his disgruntlement.
He notices Hinata having a whispered conversation with Sawamura-senpai, but he doesn't think too much of it until Hinata settles in on his team for the next three games. When Tobio gives Sawamura-senpai a confused look as they start their final game for the night, Sawamura-senpai gives him a gentle wink.
Tobio blames his flush on the exercise and leaves it at that.
Chapter 2: my wren body nested. settled.
i realized i had way less to write to finish this off then i originally thought, so i managed to cobble up the ending in a day instead of the two or three i'd expected.
in the last chapter, i used honorifics consistently in tobio's narration, but in this one they drop off. this is more because of laziness than anything else - writing oikawa-senpai six thousand times in a single scene got really old. sorry for the inconsistency!!
shoujo manga (for those who are unfamiliar) is a manga genre that usually involves a lot of heavy, dramatic romance between a girl and guy. all shoujo manga titles were made up, so if they actually ARE a manga, it's by accident not intentional. it gives me great joy to imagine tanaka as a shoujo manga enthusiast.
there's some very very light tsukishima/yamaguchi and sugawara/daichi. as in, blink and you'll miss it.
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
Tobio's parents call and say that they're going to come over and visit the next weekend. Tobio spends the week quietly collecting stress—between upcoming exams, the preparation for the spring tournament, and this surprise visit, it's more surprising that he doesn't collapse than anything else.
Saturday morning, Tobio wakes up early—too early, considering the sun has barely risen and he can hear soft snoring from his grandmother's room. He pads out quietly to the kitchen and begins breakfast, since he can't sleep. He's not as good of a cook as his grandmother, but he knows how to make rice as well as any other person, and it's not like he'd be able to eat much today anyway.
His grandmother pads out about an hour after he's woken up, still in her dressing gown. When she sees him sitting on the couch, trying to make some headway in his English textbook, she freezes in place.
"Tobio-chan," she says. "Did you get any sleep last night?"
"A few hours," Tobio admits, turning a page that he hasn't even read. "The sun woke me up."
Her face says she knows that's a lie, but she doesn't push him. Instead, she goes into the kitchen, only to pop back out and thank him for making breakfast. They spend the next hour or so in silence. Tobio reads at least a chapter of his textbook without absorbing anything at all, the knot in the pit of his stomach tightening with every minute that passes. His parents should be here soon. He hasn't seen either of them in over six months. When was the last time they visited? His birthday, maybe. Or for the new year. He can't even remember.
There's a knock on the door and Tobio tenses. His grandmother, now fully dressed in the traditional kimono she always wears when they visit, goes to answer it. Tobio doesn't get up. He listens to their soft chatter at the front door and waits, setting his textbook aside. Once he hears footsteps, he stands and turns around to bow low.
"Ah, Tobio-kun," his father says. "It's good to see you."
"He's grown, hasn't he?"
Tobio takes careful stock. His father seems the same; tall, dark-haired, stern-mouthed. Tobio gets most of his looks from him, even managed to learn a bit of the way he keeps his expression hard and cool and even. His mother looks older—she has grey streaks in her dark hair now and crow's feet around her eyes. They're the same color as Tobio's, her only gift to him in terms of looks. Still, even though Tobio can see aspects of himself in them, they are as strange and distant to him as ever.
"Thank you for visiting," he says in formal Japanese.
They smile at him, but their expressions are cool, distant. There's no real warmth in them.
"Shall we have some tea?" his grandmother asks. Her own friendliness has chilled over as well, though Tobio knows by now that it's because of his parents being here, not because of him. "I just started a fresh pot of jasmine…"
They all go into the kitchen and sit around the table. His grandmother pours them all tea and then chats with his parents about superficial things—the weather, baseball games, the economy. Tobio listens and takes sip after sip of scalding water. His tongue has that raspy, numb feeling that means it's burnt, but Tobio doesn't really care that his food is going to taste odd for the next day or so.
"And how is Tobio doing in school?" his mother asks after a half-hour of small talk. She doesn't sound particularly interested. "He's still on that sports team, isn't he?"
"Volleyball," his grandmother agrees. "Yes, his team did rather well during their Inter-High. They'll be participating in the spring tournament in a few weeks… Grades-wise, Tobio could be doing better, but he's seen improvement since he started Karasuno. His senpai on the team take his education very seriously—they often come over to tutor him."
"Is that so," his father says. "Well, he must improve his grades to get into a good college."
His grandmother looks at Tobio from the corner of her eye and takes another sip of tea. "Yes, of course."
Tobio carefully doesn't think about the bitterness swelling up in his stomach, doesn't ask why they can't talk to him about these things directly. He's sitting in this room, isn't he? Why even visit if they're just going to ignore him the entire time? But he knows from experience that saying these things aloud only brings frustration and anger on both sides, so he bites his tongue and keeps quiet. Sugawara would be thrilled to learn he can do that.
There's a knock at the door.
"Is that your door?" his father asks. "Were you expecting someone else to join us?"
Tobio frowns. He feels like he might have forgotten something…
The knock again, this time louder and more insistent. Familiar. Like a knocking version of Kageyama, send me more tosses! Tobio's eyes widen and his heart sinks. He forgot to tell Hinata that he couldn't visit this weekend and now—
"That must be Hinata-kun," his grandmother says with Buddha-like serenity. "Tobio, would you go get it before he knocks down the door?"
"Hinata-kun?" he hears his mother ask as he stands and half-runs to get to the door.
"Yes, he's Tobio's friend from school…"
Tobio doesn't hear the rest, because he's at the front door, wrenching it open to reveal Hinata on the other side, already smiling up at him. When he sees Tobio's face, the smile drops like a stone.
"What—? What is it?"
"You can't be here today," Tobio hisses. Hinata's confused expression becomes hurt, but even though Tobio's heart clenches at the sight, he stays firm. "You have to go—"
"Tobio-kun? Aren't you going to invite your friend inside?"
Tobio's eyes close as he curses at every known deity. Hinata looks from him to where his mother stands in the kitchen door.
"It's alright," Hinata says, obviously hesitant. "I don't mean to intrude…"
"Oh no," his mother says, smiling one of her smiles that add no warmth to her eyes. "I'd love to meet one of Tobio-kun's friends. Come in, come in."
Hinata spares another look for Tobio, but does as she says, stepping around Tobio to toe off his shoes and mutter, "Pardon the intrusion."
Tobio follows them back to the kitchen in grim silence. How the hell had he forgotten to tell Hinata? He'd been so distracted by all of his troubles that it completely slipped his mind that Hinata visited most Saturdays—he'd never had this problem before, because he'd never had to worry about anyone dropping by unannounced before.
"Pleased to meet you," Hinata says, offering a bow. "I'm Hinata Shouyou, Kageyama's friend and teammate. Please treat me kindly."
"Hinata-kun, these are Tobio-chan's parents," his grandmother says.
Hinata grins. "I guessed!" he says. "He looks a lot like you," he says to Tobio's father, "but with a way scarier face."
There's silence in the kitchen for a long moment as Tobio does his best not to die of embarrassment, his grandmother tries and fails to look unamused, and his parents both stare. Hinata looks between all of them, brow furrowing.
"You know—? When I go POW and he goes GRAHH and it's OWWW but in the end we go GWAH?"
"Is that even Japanese?" Tobio mutters.
"Nishinoya-senpai would get it!" Hinata says. "Why can't you be cool and understanding like Nishinoya-senpai?"
"Maybe it's a language only shrimps can understand."
"You're so mean, Bakageyama. You're supposed to be my best friend! Aren't best friends supposed to be super nice to each other?"
"I toss to you."
"That's not good enough! Tell me how cool I am and admire me and call me nicknames and stuff!"
"Dumbass. Do you want a best friend or a girlfriend?"
Tobio's startled by his grandmother's laughter—it isn't until he looks at her that he realizes they're still sitting with his parents in the kitchen and his face begins to burn. Hinata has some irritating way of arresting all of Tobio's attention, to the point where he forgets that anyone else exists—on and off the court. His parents both look really confused and Tobio's heart drops into his stomach. He can't remember the last time he talked normally in front of them.
"They're good friends," his grandmother says, wiping tears from the corner of her eyes. "Hinata-kun comes over almost every weekend, isn't that right?"
Hinata nods, decisive. "Kageyama's kind of like a plant," he explains to Tobio's bemused parents. "He needs a lot of love and attention every day or he starts to wilt and then he won't toss the good tosses anymore."
"Please shut up," Tobio mutters.
"I… see," his mother says. "I suppose you must be making good friends on that team of yours, Tobio-kun."
Tobio opens his mouth, closes it again. Hinata aside, he is making friends at Karasuno, in a way. He knows everyone on the team respects his skills, but they also go out of their way to include him in things. Sugawara and Daichi-san look out for him, Tanaka-senpai and Nishinoya-senpai tease and scold him… Even Tsukishima and Yamaguchi chat with him. It's odd to think that he doesn't just have a team—he has friends.
He looks over to see Hinata watching him, an oddly soft smile on his face. "Yeah," Tobio says, though he doesn't look away from Hinata. "I guess I am."
Hinata stays for the rest of the visit, so he says goodbye to Tobio's parents with them, witnesses the way neither of them offer Tobio anything more than a bow on their way out.
"Would you like to stay for dinner, Hinata-kun?" Tobio's grandmother asks.
"Yes, ma'am!" Hinata says, bowing to her. "Also, the night, if it's not too much of a bother."
"You're always a bother," Tobio mutters under his breath.
His grandmother gives him a speaking look. "It's no trouble, Hinata-kun. I'm always happy to see Tobio-chan with friends, after all these years worrying over him being alone."
Tobio's face heats up, but his grandmother leaves it at that, saying something about needing to change out of her stuffy kimono and disappearing. Tobio expects the questions to come rolling in—it's Hinata, he's been braced for questions since his mother told him it was okay to intrude—but to his surprise, Hinata turns to him and smiles.
"Video games?" he says.
They play video games and practice and eat dinner and throughout it all, Hinata doesn't ask a single question about Tobio's parents. It goes against everything Tobio knows about Hinata, to the point where Hinata not asking anything is making him more jumpy than if Hinata were to interrogate him.
They watch a few movies—a couple of his grandmother's old English dramas, with subtitles—and get ready for bed. Over the past few weeks, Tobio's slowly gotten used to sharing his bed with another person; sometimes, during the week, he even wakes up and reaches for Hinata's warm, small body without realizing what he's doing.
Hinata, as is his habit, slides in first so that he's against the wall. Tobio's not sure if he just normally sleeps on that side or if he somehow enjoys being bracketed in—every time Tobio thinks about sleeping in between the wall and another body, he starts to get mildly claustrophobic. Hinata must like it, though, because he claims that spot every time he stays over. As Tobio slides in next to him, mentally preparing for Hinata's icy feet and nose before he warms up under the covers, he hears Hinata cough—a ruder, more obnoxious version of the way Sugawara-senpai coughs when he thinks he needs to talk about something 'delicate.'
Ah. Here it comes.
"Your parents seemed… nice?" Hinata says.
"We don't have to talk about it," Tobio says, as if he hasn't been anxiously waiting for Hinata to bring the subject up.
"It's just… I knew you lived with your grandma, but you never said so I thought—I thought—!"
"You thought they were dead," Tobio finishes for him.
Hinata stares at him. As they are, Hinata's face is below his own, but they're still close enough to share breath in his small bed.
"Why don't you live with them?" Hinata asks. Tobio's pretty sure he's been holding onto the questions all day, because they come spilling out of him now, tripping over each other so fast he can't even make them out. "Why did they treat you like that? They didn't even hug you goodbye! Do you have siblings that I don't know about too? Why didn't you tell me—?"
"Their work is overseas," Tobio says, tearing his eyes away from Hinata's upset face so he can stare at the wall instead and hopefully say this as calmly as possible. "They divorced when I was three and sent me to live with grandmother. Neither of them wanted me to live with them, since it would make their work harder."
He hears a quiet hiccup and glances down, stiffening when he sees Hinata's eyes are getting wet.
"What are you—?"
"They sent you away?" Hinata asks, and he sounds so miserable you'd think it happened to him, not Tobio.
"I was an accident," Tobio says. "My mother got pregnant without planning for it, and my father married her because he felt it was his duty. Neither of them had… any real desire for a child, but my mother comes from a traditional family so any… alternative methods weren't something she could do."
Hinata's eyes are huge in his face. "Did they tell you that?" he asks.
"No," Tobio says. "When I was twelve, my grandmother told me the whole thing. She phrased it very kindly, but I'd met with them several times and I could see that neither of them had much interest in me. Once I turn eighteen, I doubt I'll see them again." They only visited once a year as it was, maybe twice if they were feeling particularly guilty or parental. Anything more than that was beyond them, so Tobio had stopped hoping a long time ago.
Hinata buries his face in Tobio's collarbone. His cheeks are wet enough that they soak through the fabric of Tobio's pajama shirt in moments, but Tobio is more concerned by the way Hinata's entire body trembles. It reminds him of the last time they were like this, when Tobio went to visit Hinata on the day of his father's death. And though something in him shrivels to see Hinata so upset, he can't stop the small voice in the back of his head that wonders at the fact that Hinata is just as upset about Tobio's unfortunate relationship with his parents as he was about his beloved father's death.
Tobio puts an arm over Hinata's shoulder and tucks him close. His body, once to unfamiliar and awkward, has become comfortable to Tobio now—he no longer feels that strange about hugging Hinata or maneuvering him around. Eventually, Hinata's breathing evens out and his shaking stops.
"'m sorry," Hinata mutters against Tobio's collarbones. "Should be comforting you."
Tobio exhales, loud and strong enough that it ruffles Hinata's hair. "I came to terms with it a long time ago, Hinata," he says. "I have my grandmother. I don't need them."
He doesn't say anything about the years he spent as a small child daydreaming about what it would be like to have two parents—even though he loved his grandmother, he looked around and saw all the kids with their parents and ached to have that. By the time he was twelve, he'd already figured out most of what his grandmother told him—by fourteen, the ache had mostly gone away. Now, when he sees them, it's more of a tired kind of resigned sadness. They won't care. Nothing Tobio does can change that.
"That doesn't matter," Hinata says, and he head butts Tobio's chin. "They should be there for you anyway. That's what parents do!"
"Stop that," Tobio mutters, tightening his hold on Hinata's squirmy body. "I told you, it doesn't matter. I only see them once or twice a year anyway. It's stupid. We don't have to talk about this, Hinata."
Hinata head butts him again, because he's a little brat, but thankfully he drops the subject. "You know, you should call me Shouyou."
Tobio lets go of Hinata, scooting back a little so he can look him in the face. Hinata's face is still a little blotchy from crying, but he looks serious.
Hinata pouts at him. "Well, we're friends, aren't we? Best friends. So you should call me Shouyou!"
Tobio has no idea what to do. He can count on one hand the number of people who call him by his first name—he knows that Hinata doesn't seem to really care who does it, but…
"Shouyou," he tries out, and Hinata beams.
"See! But no nicknames."
"Well, lame ones. My little sister calls me Shou-chan sometimes and it's embarrassing."
Tobio snickers and Hinata pokes him in the cheek. "Shut up! My point is, if you're going to give me a nickname it should be something cool."
"I'm not going to give you a cool nickname, dumbass," Tobio mutters.
Hinata gives him an expectant look. When Tobio just stares back at him, he starts to pout again.
"Well? Aren't you going to say I can call you Tobio?"
Tobio stiffens. Nobody his age has ever called him by first name before, but it's—well, there's something even more odd about Hinata doing it. It makes something weird frisson up Tobio's spine—heat, like he's getting a fever.
"Awww, c'mon! It's not fair if you can call me Shouyou, but I can't call you—"
"Life isn't fair, dumbass."
Hinata wiggles until he's half-draped over Tobio, his pointy little chin digging into Tobio's collarbone as he looks up with huge, pleading eyes. Tobio's seen puppies who used eyes like that less effectively.
Tobio frowns at him, but Hinata's undeterred. If anything, his eyes get even bigger. Tobio sighs.
"Fine," he mutters. "But no weird nicknames. And don't call me -chan."
"I'll make you sleep on the floor."
"Whaa!! How rude—!"
"Tobio! Tobio! Toss to me more!"
Tobio sighs when he hears Tanaka start laughing and Sugawara drop the volleyball he's holding. Across the gym floor, Hinata beams at him, like a puppy waiting for a treat.
"Tch," Tsukishima mutters at his shoulder. "That's just gross."
Tobio glares at him. "Shouyou," he says, clear and loud, "shut your stupid mouth."
Hinata, proving that he has brains the size of a pea, just grins.
Tobio and Hinata turn in-sync. It's lunch break, and Hinata spent the entire time complaining to Tobio that they won't get to practice with Nekoma for weeks and the senpai are being stingy and keep making them do receive practice. It's not like Tobio likes receive practice anymore than Hinata does, but there's only so much whining he can really take.
The girl who called Hinata's name is taller than him, but shorter than Tobio—which means she's probably normal-sized, for a person—and she's blushing. Tobio's hand tightens around his juice box.
"Aa, Yamada-san," Hinata says, smiling at her. "What is it?"
Yamada looks from Hinata to Tobio to Hinata again. Her blush deepens. Tobio only has a moment to feel a creeping sense of foreboding when she thrusts out her hands, offering Hinata the envelope she's clutching in her fingers.
"Hinata-kun!" she says. "I really like you, will you please go out with me!"
Tobio watches, knuckles white on his juice box, as Hinata stares at Yamada, eyes wide. He doesn't look like he has any idea what's going on, but that's pretty much the status quo for Hinata. He looks from the envelope to her face to Tobio and back to her.
"Uh," he says.
"You—you don't have to answer right away!" Yamada says, perhaps sensing Hinata's confusion. "Please read the letter! I just wanted to let you know my feelings!"
Hinata takes the envelope dazedly and Yamada flees, so fast that Tobio wonders if she's on the girl's track team or something. He watches her disappearing figure and turns to Hinata.
"Huh," he says, keeping his voice deceptively light. It feels like he's got bugs crawling around in his stomach.
Hinata's blushing. Tobio abruptly wishes he had some volleyballs he could smash—he has a sudden, burning desire to hit something.
"She's in my class," Hinata says. "I don't think I've ever talked to her before today though…" He holds up the envelope, examining it. "D'you think I should read it?"
"No," Tobio says.
Hinata frowns at him. "But that'd be rude, Tobio! She went through all the trouble of writing out her feelings!"
"If you've never talked to her before, I doubt she has much to say," Tobio says.
Hinata slaps him on the arm. He does it with the envelope, so Tobio doesn't feel any pain, but he jumps from the surprise, frowns at the way Hinata's pouting at him.
"What're you saying, huh?" Hinata asks. "Girls can like me! I'm really cool! Plenty of girls probably like me!"
Hinata's more right than he knows—Tobio notices, even if Hinata doesn't, the way some of the girls giggle over him or watch him. Tobio thinks it's more because he's so tiny and has nice hair than because he's 'cool' but—
Not the point.
"She barely knows you," Tobio says. "You can't like someone if you don't know them at all."
"But…" Hinata asks, eyes drifting back to the envelope. It has his full name written on the front in tight, neat kanji. "I can't just ignore it! They're her feelings, so I can't just say that what she's feeling can't be true and write it off! That's not polite, Bakageyama!"
Tobio frowns. That bug-crawling feeling in his stomach gets worse as he thinks about Hinata actually agreeing to going out with that girl, about Hinata spending all his free time with her. Tobio gets confessed to all the time, but he always turns them down point-blank; he doesn't have time for anything outside of volleyball and his team anyway. He thought Hinata felt the same, but apparently Hinata wants a girlfriend.
If Hinata has a girlfriend, won't he stop spending time with Tobio?
"Whatever," Tobio mutters, tossing his juice box. "I'll see you at practice."
"Wait—Oi, Tobio! Hey!"
Tobio doesn't stop and he doesn't look back.
The thought chases him for the rest of the day. He should be happy for Hinata; he knows that Hinata likes it when people recognize him, and having a nice girl say they like him probably made his day. And it's not like Yamada seems like a bad person—her kind notice of Hinata's dumbfounded confusion is indictive of that—but Tobio still gets all shivery and tense when he thinks about them starting to date. It's an oddly familar feeling, but it isn't until he's walking home that he realizes it's like when Hinata played with the cat setter when Nekoma came to visit.
But it's not like Hinata will play volleyball with Yamada. Speed aside, she isn't on the girls volleyball team…
Tobio spends the rest of the evening thinking about it, mind going in circles. By the time the sun sets, he's made up his mind; he needs another opinion. And there's only one person he can think of to ask, even if they haven't really spoken to each other for years. He picks up his phone, takes a deep breath, and dials the number that he's had since his first year of junior high.
There's a crackle-pop on the other end as if someone's dropped the phone. Tobio waits, patient, for the sound to even out.
A long silence.
"Why the fuck are you calling me??"
"I need your advice Iwaizumi-senpai."
"…You. Need my advice."
"Yes. About a personal matter."
"… You have a personal matter?"
"Are you just going to repeat everything I say, Iwaizumi-senpai?"
Tobio hears Iwaizumi sigh. "You're still a little shit, Kageyama. What is it? Couldn't you have gone to Oikawa for this sort of thing? How do you even have my number?"
"I still have it in my phone," Tobio says. "And I can't ask Oikawa-senpai because it involves him, in an indirect way."
"Oh? Don't tell me you want to know his secrets or something for volleyball research…"
"Iwaizumi-senpai," Tobio says, gearing himself up. "Do you ever get jealous when girls confess to Oikawa-senpai?"
There's a long, tense silence.
"You little shit, I'm gonna—!"
"Iwaizumi-senpai! Calm down!"
"—don't care about his hoard of fans—!"
"—why would I be jealous of that shitty setter, huh—?!"
"Not of him! Of the girls!"
Tobio's beginning to worry a little about Iwaizumi's mental health as the line goes silent again. He doesn't remember Iwaizumi being this volatile in junior high…
"Of the girls?" Iwaizumi says, in an oddly dangerous tone. "What're you trying to say, Kageyama? Huh?"
"Well," Tobio says, deciding to lay it all on the table so Iwaizumi doesn't get confused again. He's got early practice tomorrow, he can't afford to take all night on this phone call. "Hinata got confessed to today, but I didn't like it. So I was wondering if it was normal, to not like it, and you're the only person I know who's close friends with someone who gets confessed to a lot so…"
Tobio frowns at another silence. Maybe Iwaizumi got hit in the head with a volleyball? Hinata gets all woozy and confused when that happens.
Then Iwazumi sighs, long and loud over the line. "You're a really big idiot, aren't you?"
Tobio bristles. "Iwaizumi-senpai—!"
"Look. Did it make you feel all irritable? Did you kinda want to punch someone in the face, maybe even Hinata? Did you not like the girl, even if she seemed like a perfectly nice girl?"
"Kid, you like Hinata."
Tobio frowns at his wall. "Well, of course I like Hinata. He's my best friend."
Another sigh, this one even deeper, even more resigned. "No. You like Hinata. You want to date him."
Tobio's mind shuts down. For a long moment, all he can hear is a rush of white noise in his ears, like TV static played too loud.
"—yama? Kid, did I break you—?"
"I'm sorry Iwaizumi-senpai," he says without really hearing what he's saying. "I have to go to bed now. Thanks for your help."
He hangs up the phone and drops it on the ground, where it lands with a small thud. He stares down at its black case, mind reeling.
Kid, you like Hinata.
No, is his automatic response, because Tobio's spent years not really understanding why everyone was so obsessed with romance. But—but—
He likes Hinata's smile and his tiny hands, his soft, fine hair. The arch of his back as he jumps to spike, the smack of his hands against a ball Tobio put there for him. His guileless, open smiles, his eerie intensity, the way he jumps when he's excited. And he doesn't like it when other setters or other people try to take Hinata away from him.
"I like Hinata," he says out loud. No— "I like Shouyou."
Tobio doesn't go to school the next day. He fakes sick, which actually isn't really that hard because all he has to do is think about Hinata getting disgusted with him for his weird feelings and he's overtaken by nausea. His grandmother clucks over his temperature, but makes him some tea and soup and lets him be. Tobio spends the morning lying in his bed, staring at his ceiling, mind running in circles. He has to find a way out of this, somehow because if Hinata finds out—and Hinata will, it's not like Tobio is any good at hiding how he feels—then Hinata will probably hate him. Tobio has to fight off blinding panic at the thought of Hinata never coming over on weekends, never walking home with him after school, never playing volleyball with him again.
He has to find a way out of this.
He still hasn't found an answer when his grandmother pops her head in later in the afternoon.
"Tobio-chan, Hinata-kun is here to see you."
Tobio's heart seizes up, but he doesn't have a chance to tell his grandmother to make some excuse to send Hinata away before the door opens and Hinata ducks inside. Tobio's entire body tingles at the sight of him—how did he miss this? He really is as big of an idiot as Tsukishima always says. And holy shit, everything Tsukishima's been saying for months suddenly makes so much more sense—
"Kageyama-baa-san says you're sick!" Hinata says, bending over to examine Tobio. He's too close— "I guess you do look a little red. I didn't think you'd be struck down by a fever, Tobio!"
"Why're you here?" Tobio manages to choke out.
Hinata pouts at him and holds out the plastic bag that Tobio didn't notice dangling from one hand. "I brought snacks! And meat buns, but don't tell baa-san!"
Tobio can smell the food, now that Hinata's away from his personal space. "You didn't have to. Dumbass."
"Well!" Hinata says, plopping the bag on Tobio's chest. "You came to see me when I missed school!"
Oh. Tobio looks from the bag to Hinata's blushing face and wonders if Hinata was worried about him. For some reason, he never even considered that happening. Warmth unfurls in his chest and Tobio realizes that he might be in over his head when it comes to these kinds of feelings. He has no idea what to do with them.
"…Thanks," he says. It comes out kind of squeaky, so he clears his throat, hoping he isn't blushing.
Hinata beams at him and Tobio's entire body shivers. He accepts the meat bun Hinata holds out to him and eats it more grimly than any meat bun really needs to be eaten.
"You could've said something," he mutters to Tsukishima as they wait their turn for receive practice. They're watching as Hinata and Yamaguchi get one-on-one time with Sawamura and Nishinoya.
Tsukishima doesn't react. "Said something about what?" he asks.
Tobio steels himself. "About me. And Shouyou."
Tsukishima's head whips around. Tobio endures the long, head-to-toe look Tsukishima gives him with as little squirming as possible, but he still scowls when Tsukishima's mouth curls in a wide, satisfied smirk.
"You finally figured it out?" he asks, with the sort of delighted glee of a kid opening his long-awaited gift on Christmas morning. "You know?"
Tobio glares at him. "Yes," he grinds out. He doesn't add the asshole because he's trying to be a better person, but it's really hard.
Tsukishima laughs. "It's about damn time," he says. "I mean, I knew you were an idiot, but it was starting to get sad."
"That's why," Tobio says, through gritted teeth, "you could've said something."
"And miss my favorite after-school soap opera?" Tsukishima asks, waving a hand. "Nah."
This is why Tobio always wants to punch Tsukishima in the face.
"Well, as long as you two keep your gross lovey-dovey shit out of practice, I guess I won't be too grossed out," Tsukishima says.
Tobio frowns. "We won't be," he says.
"Ugh. We get enough of that with the captain and Suga-senpai, honestly—"
"No," Tobio says, deciding to ignore whatever delusions Tsukishima has about their senpai. "I mean, we won't be lovey-dovey."
Tsukishima pauses and gives him a suspicious look. "You're telling me Hinata—flowers and sunshine child Hinata, who practically vomits rainbows and kittens—isn't the lovey-dovey type?"
"I'm saying, we aren't going out," Tobio says. "Hinata doesn't know."
Tsukishima stares at him. If he were the type, his mouth probably would've dropped open.
"You're kidding," he says in disbelief. "I thought you knew!"
"Yes," Tobio says. "But he doesn't."
Tsukishima groans. "It really is a soap opera," he mutters. "Why the hell haven't you told him? Huh?"
Tobio looks away, back at Hinata and Yamaguchi. Hinata's laughing at something Nishinoya-senpai is saying, his grin as wide and bright as the sun. Tobio's overcome with the desire to touch—but he thinks of that smile disappearing, perhaps never being turned toward him again, and he feels like he wants to throw up.
"He'll hate me," he says.
"He'll hate—Kageyama." Tobio tears his gaze away from Hinata to see Tsukishima looking down at him, more serious than Tobio's ever seen him. "Listen up, because I never want to have to have this conversation with you again. Shit, I can't believe I'm having it with you now, but honestly your little drama is starting to get on my nerves. You like Hinata, right?"
"Yes," Tobio says.
Tsukishima grimaces. "Well…" He sighs. "Hinata likes you too, dumbass."
Tobio frowns up at him. "No he doesn't."
Tsukishima throws his hands up in the air. "Oh my god, I deserve to be knighted for this! Hinata likes you, dumbass! He blushes when you get near him! He pants after you every minute of every hour! When you were sick last week, he couldn't hit a goddamn toss he was so worried! How can you be this fucking stupid?!"
"But he's—and I'm—"
"You're an anti-social selfish little baby," Tsukishima says. "But for some reason that idiot likes you anyway. Don't ask me how, because the only reason I can think of is that he's just too dumb to know better."
Tobio looks from Tsukishima to Hinata to Tsukishima. He can't imagine it being true, but Tsukishima isn't the type to tell him a lie, especially if he knows it's one Tobio really wants to hear.
"You think I should tell him?" he asks.
Tsukishima raises his eyes to the sky. "I think you need to grow a pair and talk about your goddamn feelings like a man."
"What do you mean how? Just go up to him and say 'Hinata, I like you.' It's not that difficult!"
Tobio frowns at him. "Then why don't you just tell Yamaguchi?" he asks, tetchy now.
Tsukishima's jaw does drop this time. Then, to Tobio's satisfaction, he goes the brightest red Tobio's ever seen on another person.
"You're not as cool as you think you are," Tobio says and, because he knows if he give Tsukishima time to recover he'll regret it, he flounces off.
Just tell him, huh? he thinks as he leaves.
Well. How hard could it be?
"I like you," he says to Hinata the next day after practice.
It took him all practice to get up the courage to actually say it to Hinata's face, and even though his heart is thundering against his ribs and his palms are sweaty, his voice comes out even, so Tobio's pretty proud of himself. Almost everyone has already left the gym to go change and go home—the only reason he and Hinata are still there is to put away the volleyballs and lock up.
Hinata looks up from the volleyballs he's collecting. His brow wrinkles. Tobio braces himself.
"I… like you too?" he says, head tilting to the side. "Didn't we already have this conversation, Tobio?"
Tobio frowns. He's cautiously hopeful that there hasn't been any screaming or running away yet, but this isn't exactly the response he'd been expecting.
"No," he says, deciding to try again. Hinata's so thick he probably has to hammer it home. "I mean, you're important to me."
Hinata's head tilts even further until it's at an almost impossible angle. Tobio's reminded of a wary cat.
"You… too…? You're my best friend, of course you're important to me."
Tobio's beginning to wonder if Hinata is actually the densest human being alive. Surely any normal person would suspect what Tobio's trying to say? Or is he so far off Hinata's radar when it comes to romance that it doesn't even register for him that Tobio might think of him that way?
"I like spending time with you and you're good at volleyball," he says, his calm disappearing in the face of his desperation to make Hinata understand.
Hinata straightens, eyes going wide. For a moment, Tobio thinks he finally got it, but then—
"You're dying, aren't you?"
"Oh my God, the only reason Tobio would say I'm good at volleyball if is he's dying, I have to get—Sugawara-senpai will know what to do—Don't move, Tobio! And don't you dare die! You're not allowed to die until you get me to the Olympics!"
Hinata scuttles off, leaving Tobio to stare at his disappearing back in frustrated consternation. Wasn't this supposed to be easy? How the hell does anyone get dates and romantic partners if it's this hard? He considers bashing his head against the wall, but decides that Hinata will probably be even more freaked out if he comes back to find Tobio unconscious.
Sugawara's already changed, but he only looks as good-natured as ever when Hinata tugs him back into the gym, chattering the entire time. Hinata hovers as Sugawara checks Tobio over, but Sugawara manages to reassure Hinata that Tobio's not dying and sends him off to finish clean-up duty. Hinata leaves, but looks over his shoulder several times as if to reassure himself that Tobio's not going to suddenly drop dead. Tobio would find it endearing if he wasn't so frustrated.
As soon as Hinata's out of earshot, Sugawara turns to Tobio with mirth in his eyes.
"You're good at volleyball'?" he asks.
Tobio scowls. "If you get it, why didn't he?" he asks.
Sugawara laughs. "Hinata's never been very smart about most things, but especially this kind of thing. Before that girl, I doubt anyone's even confessed to him before. He must not know what it sounds like."
Tobio's scowl deepens. "What am I supposed to do?" he asks. "I tried, but he didn't even understand! How am I supposed to let him know how I feel if he won't even hear me when I say it?"
If anyone on the team is capable of guiding him through this, it's Sugawara, so Tobio leans in and watches intently as Sugawara thinks it over, tapping at his chin.
"Well," Sugawara says, "you're not very good at expressing yourself, but if you don't say it clearly, then Hinata's never going to know what you mean. So the best way would be to research it and make sure you know what to say."
"Research?" Tobio asks, confused. "Like, ask people how to do it? I suppose I could ask Oikawa-senpai…" Even though the thought of asking that guy for help makes Tobio bristle on instinct.
Sugawara laughs. "No, nothing so difficult. Do you read a lot of manga, Kageyama?"
"Aa. Well, there's a genre called shoujo, which is tailored for girls. It has a lot of confession scenes in it, so it might be helpful for you to read some and get an idea of what's required. Maybe it will give you a better way to tell Hinata, so that he'll understand."
Tobio's brow wrinkles. It's as good a plan as any. "But where am I supposed to find any?" he asks, perplexed. "I don't have enough money to buy a lot of manga and I wouldn't even begin to know where to look…"
Sugawara's grin is actually a little alarming—Tobio leans back on instinct, wondering if it really was the best idea to involve him.
"Oh, don't worry," Sugawara says. "I know just the person to help us out."
Asahi shifts nervously from one foot to the other. Tobio doesn't really blame him; he's been on this team long enough to distrust the sweet smile that Sugawara's wearing right now, and Sawamura's glower is not really much better. They're gathered in the changing room, which is empty except for Tanaka, who is otherwise occupied. Tobio's relieved Hinata's already left, though Hinata seemed confused when Tobio insisted he head home alone.
"You… want my help… to confess to Hinata?" Asahi says, glancing at each of them. "But, why…?"
"I'm in the same class as you," Sugawara says. "You think I don't notice that you read Kiss, Kiss, Rain behind your textbook during maths?"
Asahi flushes a deep red. "But—!"
"You did the same thing when we were first years," Sawamura says, rolling his eyes. "You're terrible at keeping secrets, Asahi."
Tobio takes pity on his senpai. "I just don't really know what to say," he says. "I tried telling him straight out, but he didn't get it."
Asahi smiles. "Did he misunderstand?" he asks. "That's classic."
"Aa. In shoujo, the heroine almost always misunderstands when the hero confesses to her. It heightens the dramatic tension."
Tobio's wondering if Sugawara hasn't made a mistake. "Dramatic… tension…?" What the hell is that?
"Well, if you already tried the direct route…" Asahi, his embarrassment apparently forgotten in the face of his interest. "Perhaps you could be romantic instead. The classic way is to give them a lot of gifts, serenade them, hold their hand tenderly and look into their eyes…" Asahi's starting to sound a little dreamy.
"Oh hell no."
They all look to see Tanaka surveying them, hands on his hips. He's glaring at Asahi. "That lovey-dovey shit won't work! This is Hinata! He'll probably just think Kageyama's being a good friend!"
Asahi droops. "That's true…"
"No, he needs to go the other way! They already argue, so next time they fight, he can just grab Hinata and lay one on him. Or make him jealous with a pretend girlfriend! Or wait for a rainy day and…" Tanaka trails off when he realizes they're all staring at him. He goes beet-red. "What? So I like shoujo? It's a classic genre with a lot of interesting story-lines! You got something to say? Huh? Huh??!"
Sugawara's probably laughing in his head and Sawamura's clearly doing his best to hold it in, though his mouth is twitching.
"I had no idea we had two experts on the team, that's all," Sugawara says gravely.
Tanaka glares at him. "Hmm!! The point is that Kageyama can't just go for the direct route—he has to go for the hit-you-in-the-face route!"
They continue to talk, but Tobio tunes them out as he considers his options. Hinata is the type to think any nice gestures or gifts are just signs of friendship, so he doesn't think Asahi's suggestions are going to work. But he doesn't like the thought of pretending to have a girlfriend or grabbing Hinata in the middle of an argument either…
"What would you recommend so I can get an idea of what to say?" he asks, interrupting their conversation.
He actually takes a step back when Tanaka and Asahi's eyes light up. "What do you think?" Asahi says to Tanaka. "Kiss Me Gently? Or maybe Love in the Rain?"
"How about Love, Love, Paradise?" Tanaka-senpai says. His eyes might even be glittering. "Can You Be Mine? is a classic too, huh…"
"You might want to make a run for it," Sawamura says to Tobio. "Otherwise we'll be here all night."
Tobio's still mulling over his options when he arrives at the gym the next afternoon and finds Oikawa lying in wait.
"Tobio!" Oikawa says, putting a casual arm around his shoulders. Tobio shrugs him off. "My lovely kouhai! So this is Karasuno's gym, huh? It's pretty small isn't—"
"What are you doing here."
Oikawa laughs. Tobio grits his teeth and tells himself that punching someone on school grounds is forbidden and will suspend him from the volleyball team.
"I just had the most interesting chat with Iwa-chan the other day," he says. Tobio's stomach sinks to his toes. "He'd been acting weird all week and I was so curious, you see? But then he told me had a call from you, our beloved kouhai. He wouldn't tell me what it was about, though…"
Tobio knew there was a reason he'd always liked Iwaizumi better than Oikawa.
"I'm not going to tell you either," he says, trying to push his way around Oikawa so he can go inside and have some peace. Oikawa, though, doesn't let him pass.
"Really? Because whatever it was has made Iwa-chan very weird this week. And much more irritable than normal. In fact, if I so much even look at a girl… So, you see, I must know what you talked about."
Oikawa tries a smile. Tobio scowls at him.
"None of your business," he says.
Oikawa drops the smile and glowers instead.
"Tell me, you brat!"
"I need to know! It's driving me insane! How did you even have his number, anyway?!"
"From middle school! And it's not important, so can you just—!"
Tobio freezes. From the gym doorway, Hinata cocks his head, watching the both of them.
"Go back inside, Shouyou," he grumbles. "Oikawa-senpai just came on some… personal business."
To his surprise, Hinata's eyes narrow as he surveys Oikawa from head to foot. Then, without another word, he turns on his heel and stomps off. Tobio waits until he's sure he's gone before turning back to Oikawa who, damn him, has a considering look on his face. Oikawa's always been too perceptive.
"You and the shrimp, huh?" Oikawa says, proving it. "Guess I saw that one coming. Is that what you were talking to Iwa-chan about?"
"Yeah," Tobio mutters. No point in hiding it now. "I was asking his advice."
Oikawa puts a hand to his chest. "And you didn't come to me?! Tobio, I'm so—!"
"What do you know anyway?" Tobio says, still irritated. "You always turn the girls down, it's not like you've ever had to confess to anyone."
Oikawa grins. "Well, no," he says. "Are you saying you don't want my advice?"
Tobio thinks it over. On one hand, Oikawa has given him good advice in the past, even if it was volleyball related. On the other hand, Oikawa is a giant jerk and will probably hold this over him for the rest of Tobio's life. Tobio sighs. Ah, well.
"Sure," he says, resigned to his fate.
"Weeell," Oikawa drawls. "Say it in a way he'll understand. And be sincere. The best confessions are the ones that clearly come from the heart."
"In a way he'll understand?" Tobio asks, brow wrinkling. "But how—?"
"Ah, ah, ah!" Oikawa says, wagging his finger in front of Tobio's face. "I can't tell you that. You're the one that's closest to him, aren't you? Figure it out. Nobody said love was easy, and all that. And now that I've got my information and my work as your unfortunate senpai is over…"
He starts to swagger off. "Oikawa-senpai!" Tobio yells. Oikawa stops, but doesn't turn around. "…Thanks."
Oikawa waves a hand in acknowledgement and saunters off. Tobio waits until he's completely gone before taking a deep breath. He'll think it over, he decides. Read the manga that Tanaka and Asahi are getting for him today, make a careful plan, and then he'll tell Hinata how he feels. He doesn't want to fail again.
"What did he want?" Hinata asks as they clean up the gym again.
Normally, the first years switch off, but Sugawara had a quiet talk with Yamaguchi and Tsukishima and gave Tobio a wink as they sauntered out of the door, so Tobio knows it's to give him another chance at a confession. He still doesn't know what to say, though. Say it in a way he'll understand, but what's going to get through Hinata's rock-hard head?
"Tobio!! What did he want!!"
Tobio startles. "…Nothing."
Hinata's frowning, but Tobio has no idea why. "He wasn't trying to recruit you, was he?"
Tobio frowns. "No! Why would he—?"
"Because he knows how awesome you are!" Hinata says, and Tobio does his best not to blush. He still has no idea how to react to Hinata's sincere compliments. "He wants to win, so he's trying to steal you from us!"
"But he didn't—"
"You absolutely can't be reeled in, Tobio!" Hinata says. He sounds frantic. "He's just a big—a big—old bully! He's not as friendly as we are and his team's uniforms are ugly! Don't fall for his lies!"
"Hinata, will you please listen—"
"And I know I still can't get half of the receives and my blocking needs work, but you're my partner, so you can't just leave—"
Tobio karate-chops Hinata's head. "Dumbass!" he roars. "The only one who decided I'm leaving is you! Of course I'm not leaving! I'm going to play volleyball with you for the rest of my life!"
Hinata goes absolutely still. His eyes, already ridiculously huge, grow to swallow up most of his face. Tobio shifts from one foot to the other, uncomfortable under that stare. It's the truth, isn't it? Why is Hinata looking at him like that?
"You mean it?" Hinata asks, voice trembling. "You—you really—?"
"Of course, dumbass," Tobio says. What the fuck is happening—?
Hinata flings himself at Tobio, half-climbing him and, before Tobio even realizes what's happening, kissing him square on the mouth. Tobio's lips soften in surprise, but Hinata pulls away before he can react or reciprocate.
"Right??" he asks, eyes shining. "You like me! Oh my god!! You actually like me!"
"Yes," Tobio says, dazed from the kiss and having Hinata so close. "Of course I do, idiot."
Hinata beams at him. "Why didn't you just say so before, huh?? You're so slow, Tobio!"
Tobio glowers. "I did say so before, you were just too thick to get it!"
"What? No! You never said that thing about volleyball before!"
Hinata's face gets dreamy. "You want to play volleyball with me for the rest of your life!"
Tobio's face grows warm. Had he really said that?
"Well!! Yes," he blusters.
"It's love!" Hinata says, nodding several times as if to confirm it to himself. "Right?"
Tobio considers his shining eyes and wide, silly smile and feels his mouth twitch. Say it in a way he'll understand, huh, Oikawa-senpai?
"Yeah, dumbass," he says, and pulls Hinata in to kiss him again. "It's love."
"Honestly, there should be a limit to how much of a volleyball idiot a person can be," Tsukishima mutters as Hinata darts around, regaling their teammates with a play-by-play reenactment of the confession.
"Does this mean you don't want to read Love Me By Midnight?" Asahi asks, looking crestfallen.
"Who'd want to read that, Asahi-san! Catch Me If You Can is so much better!" Tanaka says, poking Asahi in the chest.
Nishinoya gives Tobio a suspicious look. "You'd better not take advantage of Shouyou!" he says, putting his hands on his hips. "He's a delicate soul! A blossoming flower! A hatchling who hasn't yet taken flight!"
"Noya-san! So cool!"
Someone ruffles Tobio's hair. Tobio bats them away and then looks over to see Sugawara smiling down at him.
"Good work," he says.
Tobio smiles and looks over at Hinata, who's chattering at a long-suffering Sawamura. Hinata, perhaps sensing his gaze, looks over and meets his eyes. His smile is huge, face flushed, eyes glittering. Tobio's chest swells with warmth just looking at him.
"Gross," Tsukishima mutters at Tobio's elbow. Tobio glares up at him and Tsukishima shifts his glasses. "…But congratulations, I guess. It's impressive when two idiots finally manage to get their heads out of their asses."
Tsukishima saunters away before Tobio can comment on how nice that sounded, for him. As Tobio watches him go, he's struck by the realization that all of the people in this room have helped him and supported him—and will continue to help and support him in the future. That he can count on any one of them, even outside of the gym or the classroom. Somewhere along the line, between all the practicing and the hard work and the blood, sweat, and tears, they've become his friends—maybe even more than his friends. A family, of sorts.
Tobio watches as Nishinoya tackles Hinata from behind, as Sugawara stops by Sawamura's elbow to talk about something and makes Sawamura laugh, as Asahi and Tanaka fight over what's the better manga, as Ennoshita ruffles Yamaguchi's hair, only to back off when Tsukishima glares at him.
Slowly, he smiles.
and that's the end folks! thanks for the comments and kudos so far and i hope you enjoyed this final part!