It’s a rainy Thursday afternoon when Yahaba runs straight into Oikawa after making his way out of class and turning the corner of the corridor. Yahaba’s senses are on high alert, which may be related to the fact that 1. it’s the third years’ official last day in the club tomorrow, and 2. Oikawa’s about to pass down his title of Captain to - well, to one of the club members. The point is, their meeting can’t possibly be a mere coincidence.
‘Yahaba!’ Oikawa says with an easy smile on his face, but for the most part his expression is unreadable. ‘What a surprise, I just ended my class too. Are you going home now? Shall we go home together?’
Yahaba refrains from commenting on the fact that the third years’ classrooms are two entire blocks away from Yahaba’s, and therefore a chance meeting is a rather unlikely occurrence. He nods woodenly. ‘Sure, Oikawa.’
‘So,’ Oikawa begins, and Yahaba ends up inhaling so sharply his lungs hurt. So it comes down to this, huh, he thinks faintly. He’s been getting extra coaching sessions from Oikawa for a year now - every so often they’d sit together after training to discuss team strategies and analyse their opponents, discussions which Yahaba knew (and Oikawa knew he knew) also doubled up as tests of Yahaba’s observation skills, for reasons other than his role as a setter. Sometimes Oikawa would throw him a meaningful glance or two, and say something like ‘you need to learn how to build rapport with everyone in the team, Yahaba, for next year’, and Yahaba will nod and pretend very hard not to understand what it really means.
And so what happens next comes across as a bit of a surprise: ‘Yahaba, what do you think determines how good an ace is?’
There’s a pause.
‘Strength, I guess,’ Yahaba says eventually, mostly because the question is so absurdly out of the blue that he’s confused and can’t do anything but answer. ‘Height, accuracy, and having a good stamina also helps.’
Oikawa continues to look at him expectantly.
‘Mental stamina’s important, too.’ For some inexplicable reason Yahaba feels like he’s been lured into a trap, but he continues dutifully anyway. ‘And.. diligence… and...’
‘Great answers, Yahaba!’ Oikawa gives Yahaba a friendly thump on the back, but the tone he’s using is the one that accompanies every pep talk he’s given the team before a competition, the one that rings with a sort of authority Yahaba has never thought to challenge. ‘Although, all these don’t count for anything if the ace in question doesn’t have a good setter he can work and communicate well with.’
With the third years gone, there will only be one ace left in the team, just like there is only one setter. Everything becomes clear in an instant. ‘Oh,’ Yahaba says. He swallows. ‘Oh.’
‘I’m glad you understand!’ Oikawa flashes Yahaba a smile, before reaching out and scruffing his hair. ‘You looked so surprised for a moment, I thought you were going to be confused.’
Yahaba replies without thinking. ‘That’s because I thought -’
He doesn’t continue, but of course Oikawa’s interest would be piqued. ‘Oh? What were you thinking?’
Yahaba tries not to look too sheepish. ‘I thought you were going to talk to me about… well...’ He trails off towards the end, and drops his gaze to the ground. How silly, he thinks angrily to himself. How presumptuous.
‘Hmm? What is it, Yahaba?’
Yahaba is seized by an overwhelming desire to disappear into one of the potholes on the road. ‘I thought you were going to tell me about… passing down captaincy to...’
Oikawa turns to look at Yahaba, and the expression of genuine surprise completely throws Yahaba off for a moment.
‘Yahaba,’ Oikawa says, the corners of his lips curling up into a small, amused smile, ‘Yahaba, of course you’re going to be the captain, was it not obvious enough that I needed to spell it out?’
10 reasons why Oikawa
is was a great captain, a list by Yahaba Shigeru
1. Oikawa can rattle off a long list of information of each and every teammate at the top of his head.
2. A large part of 1. can be attributed to the fact that Oikawa is so good at observing people, it borders the edge of creepy. He could take one look at you and figure out your skills, your weaknesses, and possibly your ancestral lineage and your horoscope on a good day.
3. Another reason for 1. is that Oikawa is one of the most hardworking people Yahaba has ever met.
4. He’s got the support of a great vice-captain. Yahaba is certain that somewhere in the dictionary there exists an idiom that goes something like ‘behind every successful Oikawa Tooru is an aggrieved Iwaizumi Hajime’.
5. He doesn’t give up on his members, even if they’re difficult to deal with, see: Kyoutani.
6. Oikawa is a fantastic setter, possibly the best Yahaba has ever seen. No, definitely the best.
7. He makes sure to talk to each member during training time or, failing that, out of class, not just for the sake of collecting information, but because he’s genuinely interested.
8. Oikawa is always pushing himself to be better for the team, and his drive rubs off to the rest of them and makes them train harder, too.
9. Oikawa’s good at drawing out the potential from everyone, however tedious and difficult the process might be, see: also Kyoutani.
10. Oikawa is prideful, but about the right things: being part of Seijou, for instance. Being the setter for a team that he can trust unequivocally, a team that - in turn - trusts him back. Being the setter for an ace as amazing as Iwaizumi.
(Some day, Yahaba hopes that he can be someone Oikawa is proud of, too.)
10 reasons why Yahaba should lead the team, a list by Yahaba Shigeru
1. He goes for every training punctually
He will beat up anyone who dares to disrespect Oikawa and the rest of the seniors he respects his seniors greatly.
3. He’s got the support of a great vice-captain (Watari).
4. He is trying to be a good setter.
5. ??? ? ???? ?
The next few days pass by in a whirlwind. Predictably, Oikawa passes down his title to Yahaba, but not before he gives a long speech that sends Kindaichi into tears and turns Yahaba into an unhealthy shade of red. Meanwhile, Iwaizumi alternates between looking oddly touched and saying things along the lines of ‘lay it off a little, Oikawa, no one is dying yet’. Watari is named as the vice-captain.
Between trying to get used to the new post, a load of administrative nightmares, and the shock of having to deal with a team that’s missing a third of its original members - although it feels like what they have lost is much more than just that - Yahaba forgets about his conversation with Oikawa until things finally settle down. By this time, three weeks have already gone by. Yahaba spends a few days trying to come up with methods to approach Kyoutani, since shoving someone against a wall and screaming into his face in front of his entire team don't really make for ideal conditions when one is attempting to foster a healthy sense of camaraderie. Yahaba supposes he could march right up to Kyoutani and demand for his obedience by brandishing his newfound captaincy, but he doubts that it will actually work. It certainly didn’t work for Oikawa.
So anyway, what happens is this -
Yahaba walks into Kyoutani’s classroom during lunchtime one day, clears the distance between the door and Kyoutani’s desk in five long strides before he can regret anything, ignores the other students who are trying very hard to pretend that they aren’t all glancing over in anticipation of a good show, and says, ‘Hey, Kyoutani. Let’s wrestle.’
Kyoutani looks up from his lunch, his features frozen between surprise and annoyance. ‘What the hell?’ he asks, disgruntled.
Yahaba ignores the curious looks from Kyoutani’s classmates, who have by now abandoned their half-assed attempts at discretion. ‘Let’s make a deal, okay? If I beat you at arm wrestling, you’re going to do extra volleyball practices with me everyday for two months. If you beat me, I’ll buy you lunch for a week.’
Kyoutani looks at Yahaba like he’s deranged, which is strange, mostly because Kyoutani’s usually the one at the receiving end of such bemused expressions. Kyoutani snorts loudly.
‘What is it,’ Yahaba snaps, feeling extremely miffed.
‘You think I’m going to listen to anyone who beats me at arm wrestling,’ Kyoutani says. He actually sounds vaguely offended.
‘Of course I don’t. I’m not Iwaizumi,’ Yahaba says. ‘If I did I wouldn't have bothered making the lunch bet with you.’
‘Don’t compare yourself to Iwaizumi,’ Kyoutani says reflexively; Yahaba will pretend it doesn’t sting a little.
‘Are you going to do it or not,’ Yahaba says after a tense pause, because he wants to get it over and done with. He’s been lifting weights for a while now, as part of his self-imposed training regime, and there’s a part of him beneath the anxiousness that’s actually looking forward to the look of bewilderment and/or grudging respect on Kyoutani’s face.
‘Two weeks,’ Kyoutani says, and narrows his eyes.
Yahaba almost flings the lunchbox into Kyoutani’s face. ‘Okay, two weeks.’
‘Fine.’ Kyoutani pushes his lunchbox aside to a corner of the table, and slams his elbow onto the table.
The first thing Yahaba notices upon clasping their hands together is how warm and rough Kyoutani’s hands are, and he ends up having to cough loudly to clear his mind.
‘Let’s start,’ he says, staunchly ignoring Kyoutani’s questioning look.
Kyoutani tries to start off by going straight for the kill, but Yahaba’s prepared himself adequately for this. Kyoutani’s attempt is met with significant resistance, and Yahaba almost smirks when Kyoutani makes a small, shocked noise - it sounds a lot like a wounded offspring of a wild animal.
‘You’re never gonna beat Iwaizumi like that,’ Yahaba tells Kyoutani in what he knows is an irritatingly cheerful voice, because he’s actually not above sneaky, underhand tactics like provocation.
‘Shut up,’ Kyoutani says brusquely. He looks like he might pop a vein or two.
This continues for two more minutes, until the bell declaring the end of recess starts to ring. The door to the classroom slides open, and Yahaba only has to hear the sound of high heels plodding against the ground to realise that the teacher is here. The classroom becomes deathly silent.
‘Kyoutani,’ comes the voice from behind Yahaba’s back. ‘What are you doing?’
Yahaba considers continuing on with the wrestling match. He weighs the pros and cons of taming Kyoutani into submission at the risk of getting both of them banned from club activities for the foreseeable future. With great regret and reluctance, Yahaba slackens his arms, and Kyoutani pins it down swiftly onto the table; there’s a loud thud as Yahaba’s knuckles come into contact with the hard wooden table.
‘I’m sorry.’ Yahaba turns and apologises to the teacher. ‘I’ll, um, make my way back to my classroom now.’
He walks off without a single glance back, feeling strangely bitter. He tries not to think about it for the rest of the day, but when class is dismissed he finds Kyoutani loitering at the entrance to his classroom.
‘You owe me lunch,’ Kyoutani tells Yahaba the moment he walks up to the entrance.
‘That didn’t count,’ Yahaba says, exasperatedly.
‘You promised,’ Kyoutani retorts. ‘Two weeks.’
‘You didn’t win. It was a draw. Also, haven't you already had your lunch?'
'I can eat two lunches.'
They glare at each other for a few seconds. Yahaba contemplates asking for a second round, but his knuckles are swelling from where they hit the desk, and he doesn’t fancy destroying his hand when they’ve an important practice match against Karasuno coming up later in the week.
‘Okay, how about this. Since it was a draw,’ Yahaba says, slowly, ‘I’ll buy you lunch for two weeks, but you’ve to do extra practice with me for two months.’
Yahaba doesn’t really expect Kyoutani to agree, at least not without bargaining about the terms a little, but Kyoutani gives a noncommittal shrug. ‘Yeah, fine. Whatever.’
‘Oh.’ Yahaba’s too surprised to say anything else.
Kyoutani throws Yahaba a strange look, before jerking his thumb in the direction of the cafeteria and saying, ‘let’s go.' He doesn’t wait for Yahaba to reply before turning and making his way down the corridor, and it is then that Yahaba realises - all the trouble that he’d gone through may actually have been kind of unnecessary. He needn’t have done all that, not when Kyoutani’s answer would probably have been yes, all along.
Yahaba reaches the gym at six a.m. the next day, half expecting it to be empty, but Kyoutani’s already there doing stretching exercises.
‘You’re late,’ Kyoutani sniggers, before picking up a ball from the floor and hurling against the wall. Yahaba considers making a retort, thinks better of it, and makes his mind to reach the gym even earlier the next day.
‘We’ve only got an hour, so we might as well make full use of it,’ Yahaba says, after they finish warming up. He tosses two balls in Kyoutani’s direction, with a little more force than necessary. Just to make a point. ‘You better keep up with me.’
Kyoutani catches the balls with aggravating ease. ‘That’s pretty big talk for someone like you.’
Yahaba narrows his eyes. Kyoutani returns the gesture with that shit-eating grin of his.
Unsurprisingly, both of them are reduced to boneless, rubbery heaps onto the floor half an hour later. Yahaba will count himself lucky if he can muster the strength to pick up a toothbrush when he wakes up tomorrow.
‘I knew you were empty talk,’ Kyoutani spits out from his compromising position on the floor. He’s wheezing so badly it takes him almost twenty seconds to form that sentence. Yahaba contemplates pointing out the hypocrisy, but decides against it on account of the fact that he can barely gather the strength to speak more words than is absolutely necessary.
‘...can still go on,’ Yahaba says, and regrets it deeply right after the words leave his mouth, because apparently Kyoutani still has it in him to unpeel himself from the floor and rise to his feet.
‘Another set,’ Kyoutani grits out, and grabs a stray volleyball. ‘Again.’
‘Fine,’ Yahaba snaps, and stands up for the fourteenth round of unholy torture that day. Fuck everything.
Their practice continues on for the next few weeks - one hour a day, five times a week - and although it doesn't get any less draconian, Yahaba can feel himself getting used to it. It’s surprisingly smooth-sailing but also surprisingly unremarkable - they’re definitely improving, but their progress seems slow, their results uninspiring. Yahaba thinks about the duo from Karasuno - Kageyama Tobio and Hinata Shouyou - and the way the entire stadium held their breath after the pair had executed one of their freakish quicks. He thinks about what Oikawa had said to him before he left, about the way Oikawa and Iwaizumi had worked together seamlessly as Seijou’s setter and ace. What does it feel like, to share a bond with someone, to always be able to fall back onto something that is unwavering and true?
Three weeks into the training, Yahaba starts to wonder if they’re missing something essential from the equation. Between Kyoutani’s raw power and Yahaba’s consistent style and their combined dogged efforts, they still seem to be lacking something. What is it that they need? Sheer dumb luck? A sort of serendipitous chemistry that can’t be fostered from hours and hours of combined practice? Is there going to be a decisive moment, after which Yahaba can finally say with conviction: yes, we’ve made it, everything has finally clicked into place? Yahaba’s not so sure.
The only saving grace is this: for all their progress (or the lack thereof), Kyoutani doesn’t seem to be showing any signs of apprehension or discouragement. Yahaba would be surprised at such a development, if he weren’t busy being grateful that Kyoutani hasn’t called it quits, or stormed out of the gym in frustration, or stopped giving it his one hundred percent for every training.
And for this reason alone - Yahaba presses on. He doesn’t give up, not quite yet.
(It is only much later that Yahaba realises this: perhaps it was just as well that he didn’t manage to win at arm-wrestling that day. He will never inspire the sort of respect and acquiescence Iwaizumi was able to coax out of Kyotani, but their relationship is probably better off for that.
Yahaba will never be to Kyoutani what Iwaizumi was to him. But, Yahaba thinks, he can be good for Kyoutani too, in his own way.)
Yahaba’s partnership with Kyoutani triggers off a curious sequence of events, a ripple effect of sorts: Watari, not to be outdone, requests to train alongside Kyoutani and Yahaba during some of their practices. Kindaichi, whom everyone expects to be ace when the second years graduate, realises that he no longer only has Iwaizumi’s name to live up to, so he starts to do extra practice during pockets of spare time - before class, during breaks, before and after practices. Naturally, Kunimi gets roped into these extra trainings, and for all his outward begrudgement Yahaba knows that nobody, not even Kunimi, would want to get left behind by their teammates.
Which is why he should really not be surprised when he decides to go to the gym for extra private practice one day, only to realise that it’s occupied because practically the entire team has decided - in unison, without any prior planning or agreement - to show up for training on a Sunday morning.
‘Incredible,’ Yahaba says, partly because he’s touched by the stellar attendance, but mostly because - Kunimi and Kyoutani are practicing combinations with each other in a corner of the gym.
Yahaba goes up to Watari, who is helping Kindaichi with his spikes. ‘What’s going on?’
‘Everyone showed up, so we decided to rotate around a bit and get used to doing combos each other,’ Watari says, turning to Yahaba after tossing a particularly difficult ball to Kindaichi. Kindaichi leaps up and slams the ball down with a sort of strength Yahaba never knew he had. ‘We can’t just rely on you and Kyoutani to win our matches, you know.’
‘Well,’ Yahaba says, at a loss for words. ‘That’s great, I suppose -’
Kunimi spots him from the corner of the gym and calls out. ‘Hey, Yahaba, I need you to help me with setting to Kyoutani.’
‘Oh - okay, right,’ Yahaba says, before hurrying over.
It’s all very bizarre. Yahaba expects himself to wake up anytime soon.
‘It’s like keeping an entire army of tamagotchi pets under your wings, you know?’ Oikawa tells Yahaba when they meet up for a drink after school a week later, upon Oikawa’s insistence that they meet regularly for Yahaba to ‘empty his bosom of their deepest darkest captainly secrets and worries’, although Yahaba’s not quite sure as to what sort of ‘deep dark secret’ a captain of a high school volleyball team is capable of harbouring. What he does know is that this is really just Oikawa’s way of looking out for him - and he’s thankful for it. ‘You take your eyes off them for a moment, and then bam! When you see them again they’re all levelled up and uncute and -'
‘I’m not upset about it,’ Yahaba says, mostly to interrupt Oikawa from carrying on with yet another imaginative and deeply flawed analogy of his. ‘I’m glad that they’re getting along well by themselves.’
Oikawa finishes sipping his juice, before calmly reaching his hand out and flicking Yahaba squarely in the forehead.
‘What was that for,’ Yahaba says indignantly after the initial shock wears off, rubbing his forehead.
‘You make it sound like the team’s improvement had nothing to do with you,’ Oikawa replies, looking at once amused and disapproving.
‘I dunno,’ Yahaba says, and it’s the truth. ‘It’s not - it’s not like I told them anything, or gave an inspiring speech or whatever -’
‘You’re the captain,’ Oikawa says, folding his napkin and placing it neatly on the table. ‘It’s your job to set the pace and the direction for the team.’
‘I’m not that good at talking and encouraging people,’ Yahaba blurts out. ‘I’m not like -’ He clamps his mouth shut before he can embarrass himself.
I’m not like you, is what Yahaba wants to say. As a captain, Oikawa was always keeping his eye out for everyone at once, always ready to pick up on the slightest bit of doubt or apprehension or unhappiness. No one was better at micromanagement than he was, and the truth was that when it really came down to it he knew each player’s strengths and weaknesses better than the player himself.
The thing is, sometimes Yahaba wonders if he has anything more to show than his diligence. Sure, he makes sure to tackle each problem at a time, but he can’t handle that many things in a go - he solved his problem with Kyoutani, but it had been at the expense of considerable time and effort he could’ve spent with the rest of his team. Yahaba will never have Oikawa’s hawkeye’s view of everyone, nor will he have Oikawa’s incredible ability to juggle everything all at once.
Yahaba leans back reflexively, almost expecting another flick against his forehead, but Oikawa just looks at him thoughtfully for a moment.
‘Do you remember Takara?’ Oikawa says, eventually.
Yahaba nods in surprise. Takara had been Seijou’s captain, before Oikawa took over his role.
‘Now, if you remember, Takara was the hardcorest hardcore to ever hardcore,’ Oikawa continues. ‘He never really fooled around, I don’t think he cracked a joke in front of us ever, and he used to make me do extra practices all the time because my fangirls were crowding the gym and distracting everyone, although between the two of us I think he was just jealous.’
‘Right,’ Yahaba says, bewildered. ‘I don’t -’
‘The point is,’ Oikawa says, tapping his teaspoon against his cup for emphasis, ‘one day he strode up to me and said, ‘Oikawa-whose-popularity-with-the-girls-I-am-extremely-jealous-of’’ - at this point Yahaba deems it opportune to throw him a disbelieving glance - ‘okay, fine, so he didn’t exactly say that, but the point is, he came up to me and told me I was going to be the captain for the team after his retirement, and I looked at him coolly and asked, are you sure? And -’
‘Iwaizumi told us you were so overwhelmed with happiness you cried for an hour,’ Yahaba corrects him.
‘If you keep sweating the small details like this, you’re going to grow bald as quickly as Iwa-chan,’ Oikawa says hurriedly with a dismissive wave of his teaspoon. ‘Anyway! I asked him if he was sure he’d made the right choice, since, you know, Iwa-chan was so much more similar to him than I was. And you know what he told me? ‘I’m not asking you to be me, I’m asking you to be Seijou’s captain’. And it made a lot of sense, you know?’
‘And Yahaba, you’re Seijou’s captain,’ Oikawa continues. He puts the spoon down onto the table, and looks at Yahaba in the eye. ‘Aren’t you?’
Two months eventually pass by.
‘We’re gonna continue doing this, right?’ Yahaba asks during their supposed last session, when they’re both spread eagle on the floor, red in the face and drenched with sweat. He tries to sound as casual as possible, but there’s no mistaking the hopefulness seeping through his syllables.
Kyoutani grunts, and closes his eyes. ‘We’ve got ten more minutes left,’ he says eventually, pressing his palms against the floor and returning onto his feet. Yahaba trails his gaze lazily over Kyoutani - he’s been doing a lot of this lately, mostly because it’s impossible not to notice the strange, feral grace accompanying Kyoutani’s every movement. Even from the floor Yahaba can see the taut, bulky lines of Kyoutani’s body, make out the muscles rippling underneath the thin and washed-out shirt. ‘And three more sets to go. Stop wasting my fucking time and get your ass up.’
He walks away before Yahaba can say anything else. Yahaba doesn’t press the issue any further, but when he reaches the gymnasium at their usual time the next day, the lights are turned on, and there is the familiar and repetitive sound of the ball slamming against the wall.
Back then, Kyoutani had already answered him. Yahaba only had to read between the lines.
(The truth is, there’s a scene that Yahaba’s been playing in his mind -
So - they’re standing in the courts, in the middle of a big game. Yahaba will toss the ball to Kyoutani, will watch as it lands straight in the heart of Kyoutani’s palms. He will hold his breath and dimly register, at the corner of his mind, the roar of the audience as the ball cuts cleanly into the opponent’s court, with a sort of pinpoint accuracy that shouldn't have been possible given the sheer power and velocity of the shot.
Kyoutani will turn his head back - just a little - in time for Yahaba to mouth, great job, and it will feel like the easiest thing in the world.)
This stays a thought - until it becomes reality. That this is an inevitability only becomes evident in retrospect.
10 reasons why Yahaba should lead the team, a list by Yahaba Shigeru (Revised)
1. He goes for every training punctually, even the spontaneous ones he doesn’t plan.
He will beat up anyone who dares to disrespect Oikawa and the rest of the seniors he respects his seniors greatly.
3. He’s got the support of a great vice-captain (Watari),
4. and a mostly well-meaning ex-captain.
5. He’s learning to be a good setter.
6. He may be lacking in some aspects, but he’s got a whole year ahead of him to remedy that.
7. He’s somehow managed to tame Kyoutani into submission
and then more even without being blessed with Iwaizumi’s superior physique.
8. He may not understand each and every member to the extent that Oikawa was capable of, but he understands them well enough.
9. There’s no telling what might happen if he doesn’t lead the team. (Actually, he has a few ideas, none of which bodes well for the team.)
10. When it comes right down to it - he’s Seijou’s captain, through and through.