Kageyama Tobio doesn’t stare – he just looks intently. He tells himself this as he forces his eyes to focus, not even daring to blink. Across the street the second floor window is brightly lit and blindless, the soft yellow glow from the wall lamp slowly swallowing the room whole. There’s a bed and a desk with posters lining the walls, some neatly placed and some bowing over as if asking for forgiveness.
His own room is dark like the roots of his hair, and the only light visible is from the pale blue glow of the TV. Kageyama, still as a tree, just stands with his eyes glued to the window, switching every few minutes to the watch on his wrist.
There's dark circles rimming his own eyes, and Tobio wonders when he last slept, like really slept. Not the listless tumbles in his futon, eyes shut but brain wandering the universe. Not the Lunesta-induced grogginess, where he can literally feel the screws in his head.
At approximately 9:25pm, he walks in. A short man with orange tufts springing from his head saunters into the yellow of the bedroom across the street, with only a thin towel covering his body.
When had this…ritual begun? Kageyama vaguely recalls how, two months ago, a moving truck had rumbled its way across the street, a blue Beetle in tow. How a short man stepped out of said Beetle, locking eyes with him on his porch. The stranger had waved, a grin so wide on his face that Tobio wondered whether it’d split his head open. And then he realized he'd been staring.
So he rushed back inside, closing the blinds and unraveling the dark violet curtains, so that they fell to the ground over him like veils.
Kageyama does recall however that on that same day, he got a call back from a company he applied to, and was torn between breathing out in relief and slumping into his sofa.
“Don’t you think it’s enough?” said his father after the last clusters of people left the graduation ceremony. The space by the elder man's left, that holy spot meant only for his mother, was empty as usual.
“You’ve had four years of volleyball in college, three in high school, and four in junior high. Your mom always wanted you to have a low-risk job.” His father paused, and Tobio’s eyes bored holes into his own shoes.
“ What’s the chance of you making pro anyway?”
The soft buzz from the smart TV suddenly ends, and he's jolted from his reverie. There's a snake in his stomach, slithering along the empty cavern and sinking its jaws into his flesh.
The young man across the street stops by the bed, fingertips dancing, sliding towards the makeshift knot of the towel, and Kageyama wants to look away, if only for his own sanity. But he doesn’t, and he keeps watching, and his breath comes out in little puffy clouds on the glass.
He’s not gay. This is just…stress relief.
disappointment relief, beneath the towel are sky blue boxers, and he swears this would be the last time. Just like he did yesterday. And the day before. Fingers twitch. Eyebrows furrow.
Just get a fucking grip already.
Life in a publishing house is not all shits and giggles; it is a real job with real responsibilities. Especially if you work at Rose, the go to publisher for anyone with dreams of making the best-seller list in the romance category and beyond. Kageyama doesn't know how his resume was even accepted; he's never even kissed a girl in his whole 22 years on the planet, and now he's going to be some hopeless romantic's fairy godmother, trying his damn best to rise them to stardom. Or crash and burn with them. Probably his father pulling some strings again.
Even after two months of wandering the halls and staying until odd hours to finish all this work, Kageyama still doesn't know half the people in his department. They somehow flutter away into places unknown when lunch break starts, and the same seems to happen after their shifts end. No one invites him for dinner or drinks, and Tobio is beginning to wonder if they all just hate him. Well, he can't deny he hates it, too. He hates his job, he hates his boss - a blond glasses-wearing asshole whose sole mission in life seems to be making Kageyama's a living hell - and he hates the way his author can't even look him in the eye when she speaks.
"Y-yes! I mean no - I mean yes!" He groans into his hand and the small woman's face turns red, then blue, then red again. The cubicle suddenly seems way too small, and his elbows jut at odd angles against the plastic.
"Is this really what you want people to read? To look at it and say, 'yup, that's Hitoka Yachi's book, alright?' Well tell me, is this what you want?"
"I-I don't know! Waah!" The blonde little thing starts to tremble, tears threatening to burst from her eyes. "Save me Kageyama-san! What should I do, what should I do? Oh I'm going to be fired, aren't I? I'm going to be fired and never write again and die, oh my grandma's going to roll in her grave -"
"It's going to be," Kageyama lets go of a breath he doesn't know he is holding, "fine. While I'm your editor, I won't let you sink." He reaches for the tissue box conveniently placed on his desk and hands it to Yachi.
"T-thanks." She takes it, yanking out a tissue and blowing all the fear, anxiety, and snot from her nose. Kageyama scrolls through the 200 page manuscript on his desktop once more, eyeing the scribbles and red marks he placed on the margins.
"First of all, who's the main character?"
"That would be Aiko, of course!"
"Then why are the first ten pages in the point of view of a clown?"
"Wha- ah! It is!"
"I see you're being a king as usual." Kageyama looks up while Yachi shrinks into her seat. A tall blond man with boxed rimmed glasses stares back, a look of disgust smeared on his face. "Terrorizing your loyal subjects again?"
"Tsukishima...san," he adds begrudgingly, trying his best not to scowl but failing horribly at it. "What is the fine occasion?"
"Hm, nothing much. Just watching over my cute employees." Tsukishima eyes the golden haired young woman, and blinks.
"Your final draft will be submitted by printing's deadline of the fourth, right?"
"Actually, it'll be submitted by the eighth. The manuscript's no where near done yet." Kageyama's hands grip into his armrests, knuckles white.
"I asked Yachi, not you, Kageyama."
"I am her editor, and I don't deem her draft suitable the way it is now. There are major flow issues and continuity errors. Plus," Kageyama feels his blood pressure rising, "we all know the printing department's deadlines are rubbish. It's always pushed a week in advance as a failsafe for...trouble authors."
"Much like your own, yes?" The small woman's lips begin to quiver in silence.
"My author is just fine," says Kageyama, teeth gritted. Their eyes lock for what feels like minutes, until the blond man turns away first, shoulders shrugging.
"Whatever, doesn't matter to me. But Kageyama," the vice editor in chief stares him right in the face again, enjoying how he towers over the brunet, "if it's not done by the eighth then you're out." Tsukishima starts on his way through the empty lane between the row of cubicles, before stopping and turning his head. "And this time, not even daddy can save you." And then he's gone, like bad dream.
He doesn't realize the blood on his lips. Yachi pulls him a tissue, which he gratefully accepts. His bottom lip stings, tastes metallic. The space is quiet, save for the low rumbling of mutters in the nearby cubicles.
"What?" His head is pounding, and he's trying not to catch all the toxic mumbling around him, but damn he's got good ears.
"I-I don't think you're a king at all! Well sometimes you're scary and you yell at me a lot, but that's because I'm dumb and you're trying to help! If you were really a king then you'd be" she lights up, looking at him for once, "a kind king!" Kageyama stares, and then shakes his head.
"You don't have to try to make me feel better. I'm not going to break from a few words." He pulls out a schedule book from his desk, flips it open to today's date.
"Now, let's plan our next meeting."
Sitting a few rows down in a cubicle of his own, Sugawara Koushi leans over and whispers to a nearby Sawamura Daichi.
"You hear that, Daichi? Maybe he's not as bad as everyone thinks."
"Well, he did stand up for the poor girl..."
"You sure he's not just standing up for himself?" A woman with a blonde bob leans over their cubicles, blowing smoke into a corner.
"You know, there's a smoking section for a reason."
"Ah, don't be so uptight Daichi-kun. It doesn't suit your age." She still sticks the lit end of her cigarette into the potted plant on Sawamura's desk, smearing out the embers.
"That was Ai-chan you just defiled," says a displeased Sawamura.
"What brings you here, Lioness of printing?"
"Just making my rounds. Wanted to check out the king of the editorial department. He's as isolated as I thought."
"You should've seen him on his first day. No one, and I mean no one, approached the guy. Except Akaashi, but that's just to show him the ropes," Suga leans back into his chair, face twisting in mild concern. "It was like the whole team decided to single him out. I've never seen it that bad."
"Didn't he snatch away the position from Yamaguchi?" asked Daichi.
"You mean the squirrel?" Both men stare at the nonchalant woman with incredulous looks on their faces. The taller, bulkier man recovers first, opening his mouth to speak.
"Yeah, poor thing worked so hard on his project and everything. You should have seen his face when Ukai-san called some no name into the office and not the guy who's slaved 'til the night shift for months. And with no overtime to boot."
"I wouldn't call him a no name. His dad's been all up in the news lately. Pretty sure that's how he got the job anyway," chirps an amused Saeko, twiddling her blonde locks with her hand.
"Geez pipe it down guys! What if he hears you?"
He hears them alright. Kageyama curls his fingers on the pen he's holding, knuckles glowing white.
He doesn’t know when he started following that orange-haired young man to the bus stop, and frankly he doesn’t want to. Kageyama only knows that every Monday his own two feet would take him to the front door, and he would wait and hide behind the freakishly huge bush lining the sidewalk. Even though Mondays are his days off. He puts on a suit and a tie because those are the only types of clothing he owns now, besides the sweats and jerseys he wears at home and for jogging.
But today, the brunet accidentally gets on the bus, and he’s left tittering between standing like a lamppost and sitting right next to the ginger in question. He’s stiff and he’s anxious, but his face somehow corrupts uncertainty into a terrifying frown.
“Hey, um, there’s room here.”
Kageyama jerks his head so quickly he could hear his neck crack. The smaller man points to the seat next to him with a perplexed stare. “You can sit,” he says.
“...Thanks.” He falls into the seat, still rigid, still tight. The man next to him pulls out a planner of sorts, and starts leafing through the pages. Every now and then, Kageyama feels the man’s glances towards himself.
“You ok? You look kind of sick?”
“Ah right, sorry. The name’s Hinata Shouyo. I work part-time at the local daycare. The kids eat weird things off the floor sometimes, so I always got stomach medicine ready!”
Hinata closes the binder with a pop, still eyeing the man next to him. “Woah, your legs are long.”
“And yours are short.”
“N-no! Yours are just freakishly stretched!”
Hinata raises both hands in a defensive stance. “W-what? You wana go?”
Kageyama sends him a stare, eyebrows twitching, before turning towards the window. A strange knot tightens in his belly. “Kageyama.” He watches the buildings go by.
“Yes…? Oh, okay.” They’re silent for a couple moments. “Nice to meet you, Kageyama-san!”
“I said,” he clears his throat, because that’s what you do when your voice cracks like a thirteen year old fresh into puberty: “my name is Kageyama Tobio.” He’s not looking at Hinata, but still catches the orange reflection from the window.
“Oh cool! Cool! That suit must mean you're a salaryman, right? What's it like, working in an office?"
Hell. "It's...normal. You probably wouldn't like it."
"That's true. I'm still undecided for my major, and I'm already in my sophomore year." He grins. "Sometimes I just wish I can close my eyes and fly away. I mean, I can jump since I play volleyball, and that's kind of like flying but -"
"You play? Volleyball, I mean."
"Yep! I'm the ace! Or, at least I want to be."
"I used to play too."
"Really? Well, you are pretty tall. What position did you play, spiker? I bet it was wing spiker, wasn't it?"
"I was a setter." He sees the excitement drop from Hinata's face. "What?" Tobio growls.
"Setters are...I dunno, not as bwah! If you know what I mean."
"Setters control the playing field. We're what enables you spikers to hit anyway."
"Well, without us spikers, no one would hit your tosses!"
Kageyama stares, jaw tight. If he were younger, he would have called him a dumbass.
"Whatever. Are you getting off soon?"
"Cause you're really noisy."
"I'm not noisy! Your ears are just too good!" Kageyama remembers the whispers in the office, unconsciously drawing his hands around his chest.
"For once, you're right."
"Oh, here's my stop. It was nice talking to you, Kageyama-san!" The shorter boy leaps from his seat and off the bus, waving at him as the bus leaves the station.
Tobio leans into his seat, trying to keep his heart from pounding, trying not to burn into memory the most decent conversation he's had in months, when he notices a binder lying next to him. The bus is already sliding past a stoplight, and the man reaches for the purple thing curiously. Long calloused fingers flip open the cover, and dark blue eyes scan through the address and phone number written on the first page.
Lil Tykes Volleyball Classroom. 125-XX XXXX St
He almost flips the page again, when his eyes catch two words scrawled in chicken scratch on the inside of the cover.
This is definitely getting ridiculous.
Kageyama Tobio sits in his desk at Rose editorial department, fourth floor romance section. Team 3, headed by Glasses Extraordinaire, to be precise. He's boring into his computer, back straight and the perfect picture of good posture, while checking his wrist watch every five minutes. The weather report he's pulled out says there's 15% chance of precipitation, and he's relieved since he'd forgotten an umbrella again. The whole office is empty, save a few coworkers passed out on their desks, and his watch is telling him it's lunchtime. He checks his phone this time, clicks his tongue when he sees he's got no messages, and takes a deep breath.
This is not good. There's a big red X marked in three days on his calendar, fully decorated with multiple circles and triangles all in the same bloody color. He's about to get up and use the restroom when his phone suddenly rings, a loud blare of ducks quacking ricocheting throughout the room.
"Hello, Kagayama speaking."
"Kageyama-san! It's me Yachi!" Kageyama stares at the name on the caller ID, and blinks.
"Yes, I know."
"Ah, I'm so sorry, but I think I'm going to be late! Traffic's heavy and I seem to have gone off the wrong exit!" There's a trumpet of horns, and the tall, stiff man can definitely picture this. With a gentle shove, he pushes his chair in and quirks an eyebrow when something square and purple falls out of a loosely shut drawer. 'Ah, the binder.'
"It's fine, take your time." Not like he is going anywhere anyway. "I'll be waiting in the office."
"Thank you so much! Are you hungry? I'll get us some coffee, black like you like it!" Kageyama thinks about the last time the ditzy author bought him food, and how it always ended up on his face.
"No, no, I'm good. Just don't get lost again." He picks up the binder, dusting off stray grains of dirt and the like from the cover.
"Okay, see you soon!" And the call ends in a beep.
Just as Tobio repositions the binder and starts for the exit, a group of his coworkers come bustling in.
"And then he said 'no way am I going to work with that bastard!' And totally switched editors!"
"That new guy is just taking Takeda's spot. Who would've thought the old dog would make vice editor in chief before any of us!"
"Well, it's only in the Children's section..."
"But yeah, Oikawa-san is such a riot. Gotta love authors with spunk!"
"Until you get assigned to take care of them, that is."
"Hey, he's here."
The noises suddenly dissipate. Kageyama tries his best not to let his ears flush, and succeeds for once. He should probably meet Yachi in a nearby cafe instead. Yeah, that seems like a better idea.
"Don't mind me, gentlemen." And he gives his best not-smile, feeling a bit victorious when the members of the crowd just stare at the ground while softly uttering words of greetings. Just a bit.
His trip to the cafe, a hipster looking thing that goes by the name of Cafe 58, is something of a relief for him, shoulders dropping and almost all the previous tension swept away by the breeze. His phone rumbles in his pocket, and he sees that Yachi has just entered the neighborhood, furiously looking for parking around 58th St. Perfect.
As if by magic, a yellow Honda pulls in by the curb, a babbling blonde waving through the windshield. He's about to tell her to keep her eyes on the road, when the car suddenly reverses, bumping into the silver mercedes benz behind. Kageyama smacks a hand to his face, and runs over to check the whole thing. Luckily, not a scratch.
"Ahh I almost died!"
"You're most certainly not dead, Yachi-san."
"That's why I said almost!"
They're sitting in the cafe now, a window seat by the corner. The blonde author pulls out a tablet from her backpack and hands it to her editor.
"This is what I have so far!" Strong, calloused hands reach for the screen, and dark blue eyes scroll through the pages.
"This is pretty good."
"R-really?!" Yachi gapes at the sullen man before her, eyes widening comically and jaw dropping low to her chest. 'Is she trying to catch something?"
"You did exactly as I asked, and then some. I can definitely feel the strong and pure emotions of Aiko's maiden heart," says Kageyama, perhaps a bit too monotonously. He watches as steam rises from the poor girl's scalp, mouth flopping like a fish. He sips his ice coffee, relishing the bitter tang with his tongue.
"T-t-t-thank y-you!" Seems like he overheated her hard drive. Whoops.
"But we still have two more days. It's up to you if you want to hand this into printing now. You already agreed to the layout and color of the book cover, right?"
"Yes!" Kageyama nods, a rare not-scowl crawling on his face.
"Good. Thanks for being responsible." 'I was in a pretty tight spot.' "We'll definitely get you on the best seller's list." With that, Yachi Hitoka is practically bouncing off the soft cushion, drawing the eyes of a few men from across the room.
"Ah, I've been meaning to ask Kageyama-san, but what is that you're holding?"
"Oh, this?" Kageyama looks down, and sees that same purple binder peeking out from his bag. 'That's strange, I could've sworn I left it back.'
"I found it on a bus." He's not lying. He technically did find it laying on the plastic seats.
"Oh, does it have a name and address?"
"I-I think you should give it back. The owner must be very worried!"
There's a rare glint of fire radiating from the usually cowering author's eyes, and Kageyama finds himself nodding. Must be the whole small animal thing. They talk for a bit more, just professional, work-related things, and before long it's already time to clock out.
Kageyama takes the subway home, a hand sneaking into his bag and gripping the one thing that doesn't belong to him in there. His free hand is clutching on to a pole, and he's sandwiched in between crowds of people, when he suddenly gets off a stop early. Once he realizes his mistake, Kageyama's feet are already leading him out the station.
The streets are full, noisy groups of teenagers loitering around, and a few of them snicker when he walks past. Especially the females. He fights the urge to glare back, but figures it'll just be a waste of time and effort. Who knows what goes on in those hormone-driven skulls. Ah, that's right.
Before he knows it, Kageyama is standing in front of a brightly painted building. The words Lil Tykes Volleyball Classroom is in huge font on the flowing banner. The bell over the front door chimes as he walks in, and he's greeted by a short young man by the counter, hair styled in tall spikes with the middle bangs dyed the brightest of gold.
"Picking up a tyke?" The other man's eyes are sharp, as if daring him to say yes.
"Uh, no. I'm here for-"
"Grr Noya-san, the kids are crazy today - waugh!"
Kageyama and Hinata stare at one another, the latter hopping back and pointing a finger.
"You know this guy, Shouyou?"
"Ah! Yes! Kageyama-san, right?"
He could only nod blankly, the tips of his ears starting to burn.
"What are you doing here?"
"Uh, I, you left this." And he pulls out the binder. Noya watches their interaction with inquisitive eyes as Hinata squawks and throws his arms out.
"There it is! I was looking for it everywhere!" A large luminious grin. 'Like sunshine.'
"Thank you so much!"
"You're welcome." Kageyama's standing there stupidly, trying not to picture the orange-haired angel in that tight little towel, when Noya suddenly coughs.
"Hey Shouyou, why don't you keep your friend company for now? Me and Asahi can hold down the fort." Kageyama widens his eyes, attempting to shake his head.
"No - we're not -"
And so he's swept up like the rest of them.
Hinata ends up taking Kageyama to a park just a few blocks away. He's skipping on his feet, mouth running like a leaky faucet, and the editor finds himself thinking this is nice.
"And then Noya-san was like 'you're not getting away that easy!' and plops a huge sloppy kiss on to Asahi-san's mouth! In public! Asahi-san couldn't even stand near him without blushing for days!"
Kageyama watches the orange haired youth cackle, who suddenly jerks his head to face the taller man.
"Well you've been quiet this whole time. Don't tell me you're against gays." A note of displeasure is hidden beneath the bright smile, and Kageyama catches himself flinching.
"No - I don't really have that strong of an opinion on that." 'As long as they leave me alone.' He tries hard to forget that slim waist, that tan silky skin -
"That's good." Hinata smiles, honestly this time, and Tobio could feel his heart flutter. "Would've knocked some sense into ya otherwise."
As they enter the park gates, Kageyama suddenly feels self conscious, and scans his eyes across the field. They're the only grown men there without kids.
"Why are we here?"
"Whadaya mean?" Large caramel eyes peer into his. "Why else would I bring a volleyball?"
And then his eyes finally catch the red, white, and green ball, wrapped snuggly in a netted bag tossed over Hinata's shoulder. The ginger throws it over to the setter.
"Toss it to me."
Dark blue eyes narrow, and even darker brows furrow. Kageyama is glaring full force at the round object, trying to understand the whirlwind of emotions currently crashing into his form. His breath hardens, and his grip tightens, rough practiced hands squeezing the ball in a death grip.
"What are these?" His father slams the stack of test papers on to the coffee table, and Tobio watches as the red splattered sheets scatter to the ground. His right cheek stings, but the boy doesn't rub it, doesn't want to give the elder man the satisfaction.
"You think your mother would want to see this? That her son's been too busy playing volleyball to care for his future?"
He's not crying; that's just sand in his eyes.
The elder Kageyama clicks his tongue, starting for the exit.
"It's not as if you're any good at the sport anyway."
He rubs at the nonexistent tear in his eye and sighs.
"I'll toss." Kageyama spins the ball on his index finger and starts to set. He throws the ball up, as if it just bounced from a receive, and uses his two hands to launch it with unparalleled precision at the ginger's direction. Hinata springs up at the same second, poises, and spikes at the red, white, and green thing, eyes shut tight. It goes flying up a tree.
"Woah! That was awesome!"
The setter cannot explain the jolt of something zipping through his veins, the rush of heat crawling on his skin. His heart is thumping like crazy in his chest, and he's so dizzy, so happy. His hands still remember the curve of the ball. He doesn't even realize his vision fogging up. 'Ah, so it was like this.'
"Wah! Why are you crying?"
Kageyama lets the emotions flow. He sniffles and his nose is full of snot but he doesn't care.
"What do you mean?" A bunch of little kids walk by, backpacks jiggling, staring and pointing at the strange tall man while they rush to the swings. Using a quick arm, Kageyama wipes at the dampness on his face.
"It's just rain." And then he does something rare: he smiles for the first time in years. Hinata smiles too, hesitant at first, but then brightly and strongly, not quite understanding the current situation. The ginger still stands there though, hand lightly rubbing the other's back, sharing the quiet moment together.
'It was like this the whole time.'
It was then when Tobio's phone receives a company mailing list email, with the title "URGENT" on the subject line. An excerpt from a magazine article spans the full length of the message space.
10 time Best-Selling Author leaves renowned publishing house. Oikawa Tooru rampages again.