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“You split your nail?”

Tobio scowls. If at all he could have avoided telling someone about it, then he would have. But there’s a point where the pain cannot be ignored in favour of concentrating on volleyball (hard to believe, he knows), and he was at least a little bit concerned when his other fingernails started seeping blood. He doesn’t want to tell the coach – he’d probably make him stop playing until they’d stop bleeding, which is the last thing he wants.

Still, Yachi tries her best but doesn’t know how to tape fingers for volleyball, and Hinata in all likelihood knows jack shit about taping fingers (and, when asked, made Tobio’s fingers look like a pre-schooler’s art project). He could ask Shimizu-san, but that would involve going over to the third year classrooms, and the possibility of the other third years and/or Coach Ukai finding out was too high for it to be a good idea.

That left one other person.

“Not on purpose.”

Tsukishima sighs even deeper, if possible.

The furrow between Tsukishima’s brows soften, just a little, and Tobio half-expects Tsukishima to make fun of him for having broken a nail and letting ‘the King’ injure himself over volleyball. He tries not to let it show on his face.

“Come here.”

Tsukishima pats the empty seat of the desk next to him. Tobio stares blankly at him. Then the furrow is back and Tsukishima’s scowl is deeper and more resigned than ever.

“Not all of us have all day. Hurry up and come over here.”

Tobio is sitting in that seat faster than Tsukishima can decide that he probably should have teased him or something. The chair scrapes jaggedly across the floor as Tsukishima turns to face him, hand out and motioning for Tobio’s.

Jesus. How long has this been broken? Did you just wait for it to crack open before bothering to tell anyone about it?”

His palm is warm as he rolls Tobio’s fingers around in them, hand all edges and bone-sharp joints. He’s squinting through smudged glass, narrowed eyes looking more suspicious than really examining, and by the time he’s looked up to focus that apprehensive stare at Tobio, he still hasn’t said anything.

“Of course you did. What did I expect. And you don’t even know how to tape your fingers.”

“How was I supposed to know,” Tobio grinds out, only just managing to make it short of scathing. He does want to keep playing volleyball, after all, and he has a feeling that punching Tsukishima in the face isn’t going to help things.

“You’d think a volleyball genius like you would’ve learned to do this ages ago. Do you at least have any tape on you?”

Tobio doesn’t know what to say to that. It didn’t sound like an insult, exactly. Tsukishima takes his silence as a negative (which isn’t what he’d meant, but is true, in any case).

Ugh. Okay. Watch closely. I don’t want to waste more tape than I need to.”

Tobio nods quickly. Tsukishima isn’t paying attention, though, reaching down to grab a roll of tape from his bag without once letting go of Tobio’s fingers.

“Tell me if it’s too tight.”

“Okay.”

With that, Tsukishima is quiet, attention on the task in front of him. Tobio tries to bite down that feeling of awkwardness. Like this, he’s finally realizing how weird it is for him to be in such close contact with Tsukishima, of all people. The most physical contact he’d get from him regularly is a hip check while blocking. It’s strange and uncomfortable – the sun outside is burning too bright to stay in prolonged proximity with another person, their heat forming sweat on his jaw. Tobio tries not to fidget, hoping his sweaty hands don’t affect the stickiness of the tape.

Now that he thinks about it, though, Tsukishima hadn’t always had his fingers taped. It could have only been recently that he’d started. Despite this, the movements of his fingers are deft and sure, betraying no speck of uncertainty or lack of practice. Even the roll of tape in his hand is obviously used, having been used at least halfway through.

“Did you get all that, King?”

Tobio can’t help his frown.

“Of course I did.”

“Of course you did,” Tsukishima says, again, neatly ripping off the tape. He gives Tobio’s fingers one last pat, nails covered securely. “Since you only ever pay attention when it comes to volleyball. Just remove them after practice and retape them before. Make sure you take them off carefully.”

 

 

 

 

What do you mean, it fell off.

It’s obviously not a question, and Tobio’s responding scowl is reflexive at this point, if anything making him look more guilty.

Tsukishima looks like the last thing he wants to do before practice is to be staring at Tobio’s fingers, again, but he miraculously didn’t tell him off the moment he began his approach, and continues to not tell him off for his continued presence. Maybe he decided it would be less troublesome for him to just deal with Tobio and get it over with.

They’re not the only ones in the gym, but it’s far from being full. Hinata is shouting incessantly in the background, probably giving Asahi-san a hard time trying to set up the net, and Yamaguchi is glancing over at them like he’s afraid they’ll try to beat each other up.

“We were practicing. At lunch. Hinata pulled the tape off a bit.”

Tsukishima looks like he’s trying very hard not to pinch the bridge of his nose. Which is weird, Tobio thinks, since his glasses are still sitting there, and one would think it’d give the same effect.

“And you didn’t retape them yourself, because…?”

“I don’t have any tape.”

Tsukishima pinches the bridge of his nose. Tobio tries not to feel chastised.

“God… this is the last time I waste any tape on you. Come on, before Sawamura-san gets here.”

Tobio jogs after him, sitting down next to his bag. Tsukishima’s already holding the tape out, impatient as he waits for Tobio to give him his hand. He pauses, staring at his now unbandanged fingers.

“You ripped off the tape, didn’t you?”

“No?” Tobio blurts, defensively, and he gets an unimpressed glare for his lack of forethought. Tsukishima sighs, for what’s probably the hundredth time today, and it’s starting to feel unfair because there’s no way Tobio has done anything to deserve that sort of put-uponness

“I told you earlier today why you shouldn’t do that – you’ll just end up pulling the nails out of the bed faster. Weren’t you paying attention?”

‘You were talking?’ Thankfully, Tobio has enough presence of mind to know that this would not be a good thing to say to Tsukishima’s face. He gets the message clear enough, anyway. With the way Tsukishima’s face is starting to scrunch up more and more in irritation, it feels like rubbing him just the wrong way will get him to finally up and ditch Tobio. It just makes Tobio wonder why he’s still here, tolerating him.

“Okay. This is the last time I explain this. After that, you’re stuck with shorty explaining how to do it.”

Tobio winces, remembering Hinata’s ‘creativity-award-of-the-year’-worthy artwork that morning. Tsukishima’s lip quirks, at that, and for whatever reason, Tobio feels like he’s actually achieved something today.

“Tape over the nail because that’s what we’re trying to protect, here. Like this. Then wrap some tape around that to keep it in place. Alright? Try it yourself on your other finger.”

“Do you have to tape every finger like this,” Tobio says, more as a musing than as an actual question, tape rolling around his finger a lot slower than it had when Tsukishima was using it. Still, Tsukishima doesn’t look like he’s about to snap his neck just yet, so he must be doing alright.

“Uh, no – you can tape between the joints instead, but how about you concentrate on doing this properly, first?”

Tobio huffs. The finger he taped looks less neat than Tsukishima’s, but he can be forgiven since it’s the first time he’s done it. It’s still recognizably his finger, for one thing.

“Right. Give it here; they’ll have finished practicing by the time you’ve finished all of them.”

It’s hard to be offended by the statement when it leads to more of what is essentially hand-holding.

Tsukishima’s hand is warmer than earlier, probably due to the exercise of getting to the gym. His movements aren’t so much graceful as they are calculated, doing only what needs to be done as fast as they can. If anything, it’s sort of clumsy – he’s pulled on Tobio’s fingers too hard at least a couple of times – but Tobio isn’t really in a position to judge.

If he had asked Tsukishima to help him tape his fingers back when they first met, he probably would’ve blown him off. Actually have insulted him when Tobio expected it, enough to make him not want help at all. When did that change? It feels like it was sudden, not a gradual decline – if he’d asked before the training camp, he surely would’ve said no, then.

Maybe that changed around the time Tobio started injuring his fingers.

He’d never learned how to tape his fingers simply because he’d never hurt his fingers in the first place, deciding it unnecessary. But now he practices more, pushes more – willed forward by the hope of getting to nationals with the third years and rekindling the reputation of Karasuno. He doesn’t have free time so much as he has time to practice these days, any moment not spent trying to get a passing grade spent with a ball at his fingertips.

He thinks it’s the same for Tsukishima.

Then he blinks.

“You didn’t do that before,” he says, blankly, staring down at his now-joined fingers. The index and middle finger of his left hand are bound by tape, tight enough that he can’t pull them apart but loose enough that they aren’t going purple.

“No, I didn’t,” Tsukishima agrees, blandly, not pausing in his taping. Tobio should’ve known that the reason he’s being so docile is sabotage. “Though you’d know why I’m doing it now if you’d been paying attention to me earlier. Like this, your fingers are supposed to reinforce each other, and that can make your sets more powerful. It might feel strange at first, but if you decide it’s too obstructive, you can always just tape them normally. The important part is that you’re not going around splitting your nails again.”

“Oh.”

Tobio is left speechless yet again. He stares down at his conjoined fingers, flexing them to and fro – at least, until Tsukishima makes an annoyed little grunt that has Tobio laying his hand flat again. Why would Tsukishima know about something like that? He feels like he should be thanking him, or something, since Tsukishima probably wouldn’t even make fun of him for it, but that just makes him feel even weirder about the whole thing.

Then the tape is being ripped in two and Tsukishima huffs as he presses down the last piece of tape. He inspects Tobio’s hands one last time, pulling each finger and turning them around, and it’s definitely a lot more hand-touching than is strictly necessary, but Tobio finds that he doesn’t mind (or, rather, if he had the presence to, wouldn’t be able to say anything past the lump in his throat).

“Okay. There you go.”

Then he’s still holding Tobio’s hand, and it’s making it increasingly harder to remember why he’d asked for help in the first place, but then he’s pushing something into his open palm and it’s… the roll of tape?

“Uh,” Tobio says, smartly. Tsukishima actually drags a hand down his face, knocking his glasses somewhat askew.

“You might as well keep what’s left, since you used so much of it. I expect I’m not going to have to be taping your fingers any time soon.”

It might just be the tape, but it feels like his blood is going to pump straight out of his skin, pulse unbearable against the surface and making him feel like his feet aren’t on the floor. He feels like smiling – then he’s not, because apparently he has a scary smile, and he’s been trying to hold it down on the rare occasion it ever happens, but it must not work because Tsukishima makes a weird face.

“Whatever you’re trying to do, just stop. Everyone’s already here – hurry it up.”

Tsukishima stands, suddenly, and Tobio scrambles up after him. He doesn’t need to be told twice when it comes to playing volleyball. He only just remembers that he’s still holding the roll of tape in his hand (tight enough to warp it into an egg-shape), and he takes a second to toss it into his bag.

“Ts- Tsukishima.”

Tsukishima pauses, mid-step. He hasn’t made it very far – almost like he’s waiting for him, but Tobio doesn’t bother to consider that for longer than a second because of the sheer absurdity of the idea.

“What is it?”

“I. Th. Thngh. Hehn…”

Tsukishima crinkles his nose like he thinks Tobio’s gonna sneeze. Had Tobio not been so concentrated on trying not to mangle his own words, he might have noticed the attracted attention of some of the other team members, Hinata in particular already starting to bound over, but as it is, he fails to reconsider his imminent actions.

Tobio bows so fast he almost slams his forehead against his shins.

Thank you very much!”

Tsukishima splutters. His regret is spelled out very clearly, even to Tobio, in the incoherent mess of spit and curses spilling from his mouth. If he’d had time to, Tobio is quite sure that Tsukishima may have actually tried to disembowel him.

Except that’s when Hinata and Nishinoya choose to hop over, jumping around Tsukishima like a pair of tiny birds squawking for an explanation, eyes wide and sparkling. By the time Yamaguchi’s rushed over, hands flailing, Tsukishima’s attempting to bury his fist into Hinata’s head, and the coach looks utterly resigned.

Tsukishima manages to break away from the horde, eventually, all but stalking over to the net. His ears are bright red, brows knit tightly, and if his scowl has anything to say for it, he’s not going to be willing to give Tobio advice any time soon.

(Then again, maybe he isn’t that angry. He only tries to spike at him twice, after all.

His ears are red the whole time.

If Tobio had been a more introspective person, he would’ve realized his own cheeks were pink, too.)