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through someone else's eyes

Chapter Text

At the time, he called it a ‘chemical reaction.’ Two elements that, if kept separate, nothing would come to pass but once combined would provoke an irreversible, extraordinary change. An encounter between two people that could change the world, though, must be something much more powerful than mere chemistry. It has to be caused by something far more powerful than chance.

 

More than six billion people in the world, each one of them brewing incalculable possibilities inside them, possibilities that would only multiply once they crossed paths with another person brimming with just as many possibilities. Many of those encounters very likely might never lead to anything more than a graze, a faint bumping of molecules, the softest disturbance in the air, before each one of them goes on their foretold path. Only a few encounters in a lifetime will leave their mark; they’ll signal, perhaps, a fork in the road, a change of direction, a new universe of possibilities.

 

And in the course of history, the encounters capable of altering the expected course of fate must be the strangest, the hardest to come by. With over six billion people spread out all over the world, it’d be impossible to even attempt to calculate the infinitesimal odds of such an encounter taking place. An encounter between two people meant to provoke such a chemical reaction that could change everything.

 

If just one of those variables was modified, if just one step had been taken into a different direction, such an encounter would have never taken place. The pieces of the puzzle falling into place as to pave the way towards such an encounter: can such thing be explained just by statistics or chemistry?

 

Does he run the risk of being labeled a romantic if he calls it a ‘miracle’?

 

A gym might be somewhat prosaic as the scenery for the extraordinary to arise; a high school boys’ volleyball tournament can hardly be considered awe-inspiring.

 

And yet, he feels it to be so when he sees such a small-looking boy, so deceivingly frail, running up for a jump and as his body stretches in mid-air, he can almost see the black wings unfolding towards the ceiling. The ball seems to become an extension of his hand, and then it reverberates as it bounces against the wooden floor on the other side of the net, so fast his eyes can barely glimpse it. The amazement doesn’t dilute no matter how many times he sees it, always finding a new aspect that manages to leave him open-mouthed as the crowd lets out a collective gasp, their gazes drawn like magnets to the boy in the jersey with the number 10.

 

A chemical reaction requires two elements though, and there it is, the tall boy pushing his dark fringe off his forehead as he dries off his sweat with the back of his hand. Blue eyes meet hazel ones, and he could swear he sees the electric current that seems to connect them, an identical grin of triumph drawn on their faces, a perfect symbiosis in every single one of their movements. Their bodies seem to move in a gravitational pull of their own that draws them closer. And maybe they’ve learnt to move in step with the rest of the team, maybe Kageyama has stopped being the “King” to match the other members of Karasuno, perhaps Hinata does no longer depend exclusively on Kageyama’s tosses to score. But none of Karasuno’s other combinations appears to his eyes as perfect, as organic as theirs; none of them make him think of chemical reactions with the power to provoke irreversible changes.

 

Hinata could have taken another turn with his bike that day, so he would have never known such a fascination with the Small Giant; he could have not gotten enough people to take part in that tournament in his last junior high year. The organizers might have picked any other combination; Kageyama could have swallowed his pride and gone to Seijo instead of Karasuno. Sawamura-kun could have made a different call; the spark might have never been ignited.

 

But unknowingly, both of them followed for years the impulse that would lead them to share the same gravitational orbit, despite all the other unexplored paths they could have walked on. And perhaps, for many it’d sound too romantic, perhaps it sounds somewhat silly.

 

To him, it’s still nothing short of a miracle.

Chapter Text

No one on the team would have associated the pair with a word like that. Noisy, rambunctious, prone to melodramatic declarations at inopportune moments, with supernovas gleaming in their pupils or the smoke of a blaze escaping from their ears.

 

Those were Kageyama Tobio and Hinata Shouyou since day one, knocking off the dean’s wing during an intense duel, up until the day Hinata repeated word by word Kageyama’s grandiose declaration in front of Aobajousai. And that’s the way Karasuno would always view them: the dynamic duo, boisterous, impossible to ignore, barely gathering half a brain cell between the two of them —Tsukishima’s words, which were denied by no one.

 

A fact so acknowledged, so universally accepted, that all the signs of change were overlooked.

 

Early in the morning, Daichi or Sugawara —whichever was in charge of opening up the gym that day— would see them arrive with red faces, their foreheads covered in sweat, short of breath, their hair ruffled and messy (Kageyama’s, only a little; Hinata’s, an orange whirlwind). Daichi scoffed and rolled his eyes; Sugarawa smiled indulgently, neither of them bothered anymore to scold them for the sheer idiocy of tiring themselves out right before practice or for running outside in midwinter’s cold. They considered it a lost cause, and anyway, when it came to volleyball those two always had energy to spare. No one thought nothing of it when they started to arrive a little later for practice —late enough to give Noya, Asahi, or maybe Ennoshita enough time to get there first— because their faces remained as fuchsia and they were as short of breath as always.

 

If Kageyama’s straight hair looked way more ruffled than what a race against the wind could explain, if their clothes seemed way too wrinkled and disheveled, no one noticed it at the time.

 

Once the initial effervescence of reunion passed (guys, you all saw each other just a few hours ago, and how come you’ve got the energy to fool around so much at this time in the morning?), the team began as usual to warm up and, also as usual, Hinata and Kageyama paired up to help each other stretch. Karasuno’s pair ups tended to be tacitly and rigidly defined since the day Daichi split Tanaka and Noya up for their sake and the entire team’s. So if Hinata at any time yelled that Kageyama was a brute and claimed he was going to pair up with anyone else, they all took it as the empty threat it was and ignored it, just like they had learnt to turn a deaf ear to Kageyama’s string of reiterative insults.

 

When little by little, both Hinata’s complaints and Kageyama’s grumbled insults began to be heard less and less until they seemed to run out, the team accepted it as something natural. Frictions waned as Hinata and Kageyama became more and more like a well-oiled machine; their movements the continuation of each other’s. Kageyama didn’t use excessive force to push him while stretching anymore and Hinata learnt how to hold his legs as he did sit-ups so their foreheads wouldn’t bump: quite an accomplishment for them.

 

And a more than welcome evolution, by the way.

 

Evolution that grew more and more evident at practice, when their synchronization became more spookily perfect each passing day.

 

Even their mistakes and screw ups had changed: before, Hinata would’ve become frustrated, won over by impatience. Now, his expression turned resolved as he yelled toss to me again, Kageyama!, with the absolute conviction that the setter would do so, over and over again.

 

Even Kageyama’s insults seemed to have lost a large amount of their cutting edge, “dumbass” turned almost into a fond nickname. But the former king had long ago lost much of his iron armor. His interactions with the rest of the team had lost their thorniness and ice —except, perhaps, with Tsukishima, but even their exchanges of insults had pushed aside much of their old aggressiveness.

 

In a team like Karasuno, personal space and individual property were considered as abstract concepts and mostly ignored, so no one concerned themselves saying “no homo” or worried about indirect kisses. With Tanaka throwing Noya up in the air, Kinoshita and Narita accidentally exchanging clothes, Tsukishima and Yamaguchi bound by the hip or the somewhat creepy telepathic link between Daichi and Suga, it pretty much went unnoticed if during long trips Hinata fell asleep with his head on Kageyama’s shoulder or if the latter shared his milk carton without being asked to.

 

Perhaps a tad ironically, ever since the day Daichi had told them that they wouldn’t make the team unless they learnt to work together, those two didn’t even breathe if not in unison. One of those things, like Tanaka’s and Noya’s never reciprocated fascination for Kiyoko, that was tacitly accepted and that no one thought too much about.

 

If at some point it became a habit for them to spend almost all of their time together off school grounds as well, no one thought it worth mentioning. On Valentine’s Day, Kageyama gave Hinata the chocolate that some girl had gifted him, because the latter would not stop complaining that he’d only gotten the chocolate Yachi had made for the entire team. Tsukishima mocked him and called him whipped, but it wasn’t that different from all the times he gave up his last meat bun so Hinata would leave him alone, so the whole thing went pretty much unnoticed.

 

In retrospect, maybe a lot went unnoticed.

 

And perhaps it would have continued in such manner, if not for the day Tanaka arrived at the gym with eyes resembling UFOs out of a ‘50s movie.

 

“You knew, didn’t you?” was the first thing he told Daichi and Sugawara as soon as he stepped into the gym.

 

From the look on their faces, they very much did not know.

 

“Know what?”

 

Tanaka gawked as though he believed they were pulling his leg.

 

“What’s going on with Kageyama and Hinata, obviously.”

 

They exchanged glances and, judging from Daichi’s expression, he had already jumped in free fall to the worst possible conclusions.

 

“Did they have an accident? Are they hurt? Sick? Did they get into trouble with the dean? Did they flunk?”

 

Sugawara began patting his back so he wouldn’t hyperventilate.

 

Around them, most of the team had already gathered, their faces showing differing levels of curiosity, expectation or, in Tsukishima’s case, feigned boredom.

 

“No, not that kind of… Hinata and Kageyama are… you know.”

 

From the collective blinking —in an anime, it would’ve probably made a tinkling sound— he realized they evidently did not know.

 

“I saw them making out and getting all handsy in an empty classroom!”

 

Silence fell, and the sound of mental gears shaking off the rust could almost be heard.

 

“Oh, I saw them last week by the vending machine,” Kiyoko said, shrugging.

 

Sugawara glared at her as though she had stuck a poisoned knife into his chest and then thrown salt all over the wound. She raised her hands defensively.

 

“I thought you knew!”

 

“You didn’t know?” Tanaka asked again.

 

“Does this look like the face of someone who knew?!”

 

Daichi looked like he was reconsidering many things all of a sudden and he wasn’t the only one. Tsukishima even forgot to feign indifference.

 

“Who would’ve thought they’d keep it so quiet…”

 

Everyone started talking at once, because all of a sudden it was so obvious, and when the gym door opened, another expectant silence fell, but it was just Kinoshita and Narita, apologizing for their tardiness.

 

“Did you know about Kageyama and Hinata?!”

 

And then Noya hastened to fill them in, as though he’d been a material witness, with constant remarks from Tanaka.

 

The second time the door opened, Kageyama and Hinata barged in, red-faced, their foreheads sweaty and panting a string of “sorry, sorry, sorry for being late”.

 

Kageyama’s hair, which got barely ruffled during a match, was now standing on end, as though someone had tangled their fingers in it; Hinata’s shirt hung loose over a shoulder, where a peculiar purple-ish mark could be seen, which he hastened to cover up.

 

Daichi magnanimously accepted their apologies but began yelling at everybody so they’d start warming up at once.

 

Two weeks later, Hinata and Kageyama stepped into the gym holding hands, blushing, and they told them, with much stuttering, that they were together. Sugawara gave them a benign smile and, in a tone that admitted no retort, Daichi said that he was sure the whole team was happy for them. Tanaka and Noya patted their backs, Yachi smiled nervously, Asahi blushed as he stammered his congratulations and Tsukishima snorted.

 

“So, you all knew already?”

 

Tanaka rolled his eyes and with perfect hypocrisy replied:

 

“C’mon, what did you expect? It’s not like you guys were that subtle!”

Chapter Text

Kenma likes calmness. When there’s a ruckus in the classroom, you’re sure to find him bent over his desk, his gaze glued either to his notebook or the screen of his cell, isolating himself as much as he can. If a fight breaks out on the yard, he’ll vanish and then reappear at the farthest corner. Confrontations make him nervous and he invests a good amount of his energy in avoiding them.

 

He only tolerates a fight inside a videogame, and Yamamoto claims that then is when Kenma takes his chance to let out his most vicious side, but the boy’s still miffed since the last time they played and Kenma’s character chopped off his character’s head.

 

It was necessary to pass to the next level, there’s no need to make such a fuss about it.

 

He doesn’t like parties either, and noisy places filled with people he doesn’t know and doesn’t feel comfortable with. If it were up to him, he’d spend all weekend nights at home, playing videogames or reading or listening to music or doing anything that doesn’t involve interacting with loud, discomfiting strangers. Ever since he was little, he hasn’t quite felt like he fits in his own skin whenever he’s surrounded by other people. Especially if he hasn’t been given enough time to get used to them, to learn their gestures and the way they talk; enough time to figure out what they expect from him and whether they’ll be able to understand that, sometimes, he just wants to be left alone and it’s nothing personal, really.

 

Maybe that’s why he’s always so reluctant to change. Once you’ve reached a moment of relative calm amidst the everyday chaos, why would you disturb it? Why do people insist, as soon as they get to one place, to go somewhere else? Why don’t they stay where they’re comfortable instead of always speeding ahead as fast as they can?

 

Sometimes, he wishes real life came with its own pause button.

 

He’s well aware that there are people who can make new friends wherever they go, in an instant. A glance, a few words and a smile and they feel as though they’d known each other their entire lives. He can’t. His best friend is the same one he’s had for his entire life, and if Kuroo hadn’t pushed him, he would’ve never started to play volleyball, and he would have remained at the club even less when the third years treated the first and the second years like servants. If it hadn’t been for Kuroo, he wouldn’t have come out —a bit— from his shell and he would still feel intimidated by a boy as noisy and different from him as Yamamoto.

 

He won’t say that he likes volleyball —it still tires him too much— but it doesn’t bother him either. Little by little, once the third years graduated, the team stopped feeling so strange and it became another familiar place where he can feel comfortable. Some of the boys aren’t like him at all —Inuoka, Lev, Yamamoto, just to mention a few— but they’re no longer strangers: he’s gotten used to their idiosyncrasies, he’s no longer startled by the way they talk even when they shout and jump, he’s not scared if any of them pats his shoulder, and he doesn’t feel any inhibitions at giving them a piece of his mind. He tells Lev what he thinks of his terrible plays, often and without hesitation. He could even consider them, tentatively, friends.

He’s still very far, though, from appreciating any disturbance of his moments of calm.

 

Of course he startles when, while lost in an unknown city, all of a sudden a boy with orange hair jumps next to him and starts firing off questions. They’re harmless questions, but no interaction with a new person is ever harmless to him. He’s always wondering what that person is actually thinking and why they are talking to him and what their intentions are; and he spends half the time trying to decipher their words and gestures and the other half measuring his own.

 

The boy, though, carries every emotion and thought clearly written on his features, his gestures, his tone, in such a manner it leaves no room for doubt. And when he admits so freely to his insecurities by asking if Kenma didn’t find it weird that he’s a middle blocker with such height, the last traces of Kenma’s perpetual nervousness dissolve and he’s surprised at finding himself sharing some of his own insecurities.

 

So Shouyou becomes the first person that Kenma can say he became friends in just one moment, a friendship that translates inside the court into an exciting rivalry (although he’s not willing to admit such thing yet) and outside of it in texts, videogame sessions shared online, in a tour around Tokyo.

 

He hears Yaku’s and Yamamoto’s remarks, surprised at listening to him talk to someone outside of Nekoma with such confidence, especially someone so different from himself. Whereas Kenma prefers calm and silence, Shouyou is a whirlwind of constant movement, always running, jumping, talking with his hands and his entire body, incapable of standing still for an instant. Whereas Kenma sometimes feels exhausted just by the idea of making an effort, Shouyou is a boundless source of energy that insists on going on when everyone else is already panting on the floor. Kenma has a hard time handling new situations with unknown people, Shouyou throws himself at them; while Kenma thinks and rethinks each movement, Shouyou darts ahead at top speed without ever slowing down. It should scare him, because Shouyou is a twister capable of messing up everything in its wake, but for some reason, it doesn’t. There’s something about Shouyou that he finds reassuring instead of upsetting.

 

Except for a day like today.

 

Nekoma, fortunately, isn’t playing against Karasuno when Shouyou loses it and begins yelling at his setter in front of everybody. Karasuno’s main setter, with his eternally hyper focused expression and his narrowed eyes, still makes Kenma nervous and more so now that his face is turning purple. Far from getting scared —even though the other boy has almost twenty centimeters and several kilos on him— Shouyou grows more incensed and another teammate, the one that reminds him so much of Yamamoto, has to grab him from beneath his armpits and hold him up to prevent him from jumping at his setter. The rest of the team intervenes and the ruckus fades away, but everyone who is not currently playing their own match keep gawking at the scene, stupefied.

 

“But what did the guy do to make Shrimpy that angry?” Kuroo asks. “That toss looked flawless to me and it let him score, didn’t it? What else did he want?”

 

Kenma narrows his eyes, pensive. Yes, it’s true that toss had no flaw he could see. It was, perhaps, perfect: the ball drawing a parable, its highest point coinciding with the spiker’s outstretched hand, easy to hit, certain to score.

 

“Maybe that was the problem,” he mutters mostly to himself, because he doesn’t have the answer yet but it’s taking shape in his head. Karasuno always has a new trick up their sleeve and Shouyou never wants to be left behind. The perfect toss from Karasuno’s setter, that genius whose abilities surpass by far everyone else’s, wasn’t what Shouyou wanted.

 

Shouyou doesn’t want easy: he wants to graze the sky with his fingertips and make the impossible happen.

 

When he dares to ask him, Shouyou shrugs with nonchalance.

 

“Oh, we’re trying something new, you’ll see. It still needs to be polished, but Kageyama’ll get it in no time,” he adds, with a smile of absolute, unshakeable trust. He doesn’t see them play or train together from that moment onwards, but the air between them has stopped feeling tense and volatile. When he sees them exchanging glances from opposite ends of the gym, Kenma is surprised to find out that the always loud Shouyou is capable of holding entire conversations in silence.

 

You’ll see Hinata said and the day comes when everyone does.

 

Nekoma is taking a break after their latest match and everyone’s gaze is drawn to the court where Fukurodani faces Karasuno. Fukurodani is the best team at the camp, Karasuno’s the one that’s been doing the worst, but it’s always fascinating to watch them play despite their systematic losing. There’s something about their playing that’s always amazing, constantly changing, unpredictable from one moment to the next.

 

That day they do not disappoint.

 

Kema can sense it almost before seeing it. There’s a strange electrical aura surrounding Shouyou. His movements are precise; his eyes have that intensity that can at times become creepy. He starts to run for the spike almost too soon, before the setter even raises his arms and, if it were anyone else, the ball would never catch up with him.

 

But Karasuno’s setter isn’t anyone else.

 

Kenma widens his eyes, certain he’ll see something extraordinary and yet, it’s hard to believe. The boy tosses a ball that seems drawn to Shouyou’s open palm.

 

And then, in midair, right in front of Shouyou, the ball stops.

 

For a fraction of a second, perhaps, the ball remains suspended in midair until Shouyou spikes it and it falls with a thud on the other side of the net, at the gawking of Fukurodani’s blockers, any one of them unable to react in time.

The burst of joy explodes in unison and at that moment, Karasuno’s setter doesn’t look that intimidating, when he’s squealing inarticulate sounds just like Shouyou. Even when his face darkens, Shouyou’s enthusiasm is electrifying, and when he pretty much shouts his admiration at him, the boy looks kind of dazzled. Who could blame him? Shouyou at the moment is a supernova, and all that explosion of light aimed at you must be too much to bear for any mortal.

 

Perhaps Karasuno’s setter isn’t that scary after all.

 

Kenma could never be part of the same team as Shouyou. The boy has the unquenchable yearning to pull himself forward at all times; the constant urge to improve, to make the jump that will give him wings. He tries to explain it to Kuroo: someone like him, who likes the quiet, who has to be dragged to practice, would never be a right fit on the court with someone like Shouyou, all the time propelling himself a little farther, a little higher, a little closer to the impossible. He’s not sure many people exist capable of keeping up with him without falling down along the way.

 

Maybe, he thinks as he hears them yell one more time! in unison, only that boy with the hyper focused and serious look can be the one able to keep up with the hurricane of electric energy that makes Shouyou. Maybe he’s the only one not to be dragged down by the current, but who manages to remain by his side as they jump a little farther, a little higher, a little closer to the unreachable sky.

Chapter Text

His cousin Akemi owns a handmade recycled notebook, with garlands of dried petals and leaves on its covers. Her tight handwriting spreads over the white pages in a rainbow that surpasses the seven colors: gold, red, purple with silver sparkles, apple green, orange, bubblegum pink with a feeble trace of scent, turquoise, lilac, the classical blue and black. The calligraphy and the pens have changed throughout the years, but the notebook is far from complete.

What can his cousin scribble so much about in that notebook? He asked her once and, with utmost seriousness, she replied it was her personal book of quotes. Bits of songs, stray verses, pieces of dialogues from movies or TV shows, maybe even from animes, words stolen from inspirational speeches, proverbs from before Noah’s Ark, fragments from books. As it tends to happen, before they’re deemed worthy of the notebook, all those quotes scatter through napkins, the margins of her school notes, stray pieces of paper: a whirlwind of stolen words fluttering in his cousin’s bedroom.

Yamaguchi never asks her what’s the point of it: he guesses that, like any other collection, there exists some sort of enjoyment in the process that escapes him.

Sometimes, though, he thinks he might get it. Words have never come easily to his lips. It’s not like he’s shy or a total social inept. He can fill in the blanks in conversations during family reunions; he can share pointless chatter with his classmates even if they aren’t close to him; he’s never gotten a bad grade in Japanese. Words in general are not a problem: only those that count in critical moments, the ones that need to be said at a given time because someone needs to hear them.

At a crucial moment, he tends to be struck dumb, his tongue in knots inside his mouth, his mind a blank blackboard. There are people who can always keep a cool head and fearlessly snarl pathetic over their shoulder, like Tsukki. Or there are people like Sugawara, who seem to have a gift for unraveling a tangled mess of words and strike on the right one to say at the precise moment. Even the captain, who seems so stoic compared to some of their louder teammates, knows instinctively what he has to say, what the other person needs to hear. Yamaguchi still remembers the void in his stomach, the thundering of blood in his ears when at long last his opportunity to play in a match arrived… and his serve, the sole weapon at his disposal, failed. He thought nothing could ever make him feel remotely okay after that and yet, that next time you’ll get it from the captain made it possible that, at least, he could leave the court with his head held high.

That gift of finding the right word at the precise moment is something that eludes him.

He is even less likely to come up with poetical words like Takeda-sensei’s, nor will he ever possess the charisma needed to lift the entire team’s moral like Noya-san does, with proclamations that should sound ridiculous but ring so true coming from his lips.

Maybe he doesn’t have a notebook with carefully decorated covers but, in a way, Yamaguchi has also been collecting stolen words throughout his life, filed in a corner of his mind. Perhaps with the secret hope that there will come a time when words like that could become his own, that there will come the day when they might help him when he needs them most.

But words don’t come to his lips, they get lost in the marshland between his memory and his mouth and he falls silent when he should speak, when he knows there’s something the other person needs to hear but he can’t pronounce it. He’s felt this way all those years ago, when they found out that Tsukki’s brother had lied for years about his status as a regular on the team; when he could see that illusion shattered into pieces all around his friend but was incapable of doing anything to help. Now he sees Tsukki standing once more in front of a wall, a wall that maybe his friend is not completely aware of, but that still rises insurmountable before him and against which he will undoubtedly crash. He knows he has to say something, but he doesn’t share Tsukki’s cool calm, he doesn’t have Sugawara’s gift to comfort people, or the ability to calm them down and give them their confidence back like Daichi. And he’s not sure that Tsukki would appreciate words of comfort that ring of pity, not from him or anyone else. Rather than that, he’ll pretend that he doesn’t care, so well it might fool the rest, but never well enough to fool Yamaguchi.

He thinks about walls impossible to jump over, he thinks about the stormy look of someone who no longer believes themselves capable of taking the leap. He remembers the dark shadows over Kageyama’s features, the tremble in his voice when he admitted how terrifying it was to toss a ball behind him only for no one to spike it.

Kageyama, I’m here!

While Yamaguchi thinks, hesitates and remains silent, Hinata just jumps. And somehow, speeches that should sound ridiculous ring sincere and every word seems to hit the nail, dispelling the fog of fear, breaking through the restraints of uncertainty keeping the other person frozen on the spot. He still remembers the look of absolute incredulity on Kageyama’s face when Hinata told him that he tossed to him just fine, that it was time to leave the past behind, that here and now, he would always be there to spike any toss he sent his way. When he told him he would trust him 100% because there was no other way and Kageyama stared at him as though he couldn’t quite believe such person could exist.

Villager B can fight!

And Yachi, terrified by the gang of still unknown boys, by her own fears, dared to take the leap as well, pushed forward by the absolute certainty in Hinata’s voice.

Hinata, like Kageyama, has a brain that’s all muscle according to Tsukki, and he never seems to think twice before taking action, if he even thinks at all. And yet, he knows, maybe instinctively, what he has to say at the right time so Kageyama, for the first time in his life, starts making an effort to work with other people; so Noya-san returns to practice even after the captain could not convince him; so Yachi gets over her insecurities enough to give Karasuno a chance and become their new manager.

Stolen words are no good this time either, though, because Hinata has none for Yamaguchi.

But what would you say to Tsukishima?

And isn’t that the heart of the matter? Even if he tries to make them his own, Hinata’s words, so effective when it came to Kageyama, would never work with Tsukki. Regardless of his talent at achieving the impossible from someone like Kageyama, Hinata does not know Tsukki, he’s not his friend, he could never know what to say to him.

That’s Yamaguchi’s role and, for once, he won’t stay quiet when he needs to speak up.

And for once, it works.

Now Tsukki has knocked down his wall and it’s Yamaguchi’s turn to do the same. There still remains some residual fear dragging him down, the memory of that match against Aobajousai still stings somewhere inside him.

As long as I’m here, you’re invincible.

Kageyama didn’t even blink when he blurted out those words, so certain of them, and he didn’t cower at the stunned looks from everyone else; he wasn’t unsettled by the Karasuno Neighborhood Association gaping at him as though he had three heads. In that moment, he only had eyes for Hinata, as his words were meant only for him to reach.

None of them could hardly forget them, though, and Hinata must have known it when he stood before Aobajousai and threw Kageyama’s own words back at him, repeating each one of them as though they had been engraved on his mind. Maybe they were. Kageyama’s reaction was the usual response at any emotional moment that unsettled him, but they could all see, underneath his usual brusqueness, how much it affected him knowing that Hinata had remembered his words, that he had treasured them enough to give them back when it was Kageyama who needed them.

Yamaguchi leaves the bench to face a rival much more fearsome than Aobajousai, but his hands no longer tremble as he turns the ball between them.

He will never be able to assure his team that they can rest easy because he’s watching their backs, like Noya-san; and even less can he blurt out such a melodramatic declaration like as long as I’m here, you’re invincible, in all seriousness like Kageyama and Hinata, who are beyond all possible shame or uncertainty.

But he has gotten this far working his fingers to the bone and for once, he feels confident enough without the need of anyone else’s words.

The trust in Tsukki’s voice when he tells him hit them hard is more than welcome, though, and he prepares to serve hoping that, this time, his actions will be louder than all the words he’ll never say.

Chapter Text

He’s still getting used to a new team, made up of players he doesn’t know very well yet and that don’t know him either, with the sole exception of Kunimi, a constant presence since the first year of junior high. It’s kind of weird too, going back to being one of the youngest. It means going back to calling his teammates senpai and getting used to the idea that he is the new gear in a machine that’s been working long before he arrived. It also means that he has to learn everyone’s names all over again and what they’d prefer to be called, who is in a horrible mood in the mornings and it’s best to avoid, who will be less likely to laugh in his face if he asks an obvious question. It means having to earn himself a spot on the starting lineup again, to prove once more what he’s capable of and deal with all the other first and second years that would kill for his spot on the court.

It means, too, getting used to new coaches with their own idiosyncrasies, and new teammates that don’t know him well enough to be able to tell at once what’s going on with him unless he says it out loud.

“If you need me to change anything regarding my toss, you’ve got to tell me, Kindaichi.”

He nods at once but it’s still difficult to gather the courage to ask Oikawa-san for anything or even suggest an adjustment. Perhaps this is the strangest thing of all: a setter you can ask things from, without fear of losing your head, a setter that doesn’t believe everyone should move to his tune.

Almost too good to be true.

At first, he doesn’t know what to make out of Oikawa-san, with his hair out of a shampoo ad, his silly grin with his tongue out, or the sign peace he likes to pull off for no reason at all. Not to mention his fangirls, who had to be kicked out of practice more than once. Kindaichi never believed a bunch of girls way shorter than himself could be so intimidating, but they’ve got sharp nails that hurt. He doesn’t know very well either what to think of Iwaizumi-san hitting the captain to keep him in line when he “goes stupid.” Considering that Oikawa-san is such an amazing player (and it’s easy to tell, with his always nearly perfect tosses and his formidable serve that’s even scarier than Kageyama’s), the other third years don’t seem to take him that seriously. Sometimes, Oikawa-san seems not to take anything too seriously and that’s definitely something he’s not used to in a setter.

But all those toothpaste ad smiles and his peace signs disappear once he’s on the court, where his focus turns him into a very different person. At that moment, there’s no doubt why he is the captain of a team in the prefecture’s top four. Perhaps he was mistaken when he believed that Oikawa-san wasn’t the sort of setter that wanted his team to move to his tune, perhaps it’s a matter of manner instead of intent. Oikawa-san doesn’t yell where you’ve got to jump and how high; instead, he seems to toss the ball to the exact point where it’ll be the easiest for you to spike it, and he directs the game like he would conduct an orchestra, calmly setting the pace and the role of each player.

It’s a completely novel sensation, not expecting getting yelled at all the time, and a part of Kindaichi still hesitates and cowers whenever he messes up, no matter how often Iwaizumi-san tries to reassure him with a pat on the shoulder —that always carry a little more force than necessary, of course.

It’s not like he’s afraid of Oikawa-san.

He just feels the most profound respect.

They have their first practice match against a school that’s not in the prefecture’s top eight, so they can’t be that important. Oikawa-san, though, seems to take it seriously —to the point that he sprains his ankle right before the game. The rest of the boys on the team definitely don’t want to listen in, but Iwaizumi-san’s yelling makes it impossible not to.

You’re acting as dumb as you did at Kitagawa Daiichi, and for what? If you stay on the bench it’ll serve you well for being such a dumbass, Trashkawa.

Hanamaki-san, with a look of everlasting resignation, ushers them all away from there before they get to hear the captain’s reply.

Only on the very day of the game does Yahaba brings up something that Kindaichi would’ve rather kept buried.

“Isn’t Karasuno the school Kageyama went to?”

Kindaichi scoffs. He knows exactly what he’s going to see when he meets Kageyama again, this time at the other side of the net: a tyrannical king who must have already subjected his new team into his draconian dictatorship. People don’t change that much, especially in such a short amount of time.

He wonders how they can put up with it; whether they’re so desperate for a chance at winning, perhaps, that they’re willing to let themselves be ruled by a first year kouhai.

At least, he no longer has to.

Karasuno, though, turns out to be a little… different from what he expected. To begin with there’s that guy with the shaved head and murderous glare and the blond one wearing glasses and an aloof demeanor (and shit, he’s tall, which coming from Kindaichi is saying something). Both of them seem to have very little regard for Aobajousai’s reputation. Then he meets the redheaded midget that plays as a middle blocker, even though he looks like an elementary school kid, and who messes up so often that anyone would think it’s the first time he’s ever held a ball. Why Kageyama hasn’t murdered him yet is a mystery.

The midget screws up the serve and smashes the ball against the back of Kageyama’s head. Kindaichi bets he’s not the only one whose breath falters and who sees the remains of the boy already splattered over the wooden floor, which they’ll have to clean up with a spatula.

He doesn’t want to spend the next three years practicing in a gym with wooden floors forever stained by the blood of one of Kageyama Tobio’s teammates.

Kageyama… does not kill him. Instead, he goes and apologizes when the midget misses one of his tosses. He knows, without need to look over his shoulder, that Kunimi has the same incredulity painted all over his face.

Kageyama, apologizing?

The world would end first. And yet…

The boy runs at top speed, jumps and the ball is suddenly there, right before his hand and, in a flash, it hits forcefully against the wooden floor at the other side of the net. Too fast to run and receive it, too fast to even blink.

Is it possible that there exists someone capable of spiking Kageyama’s tosses and, on top of that, making it look as easy as breathing?

The coach disregards that possibility at once and yet, his words are even harder to believe for Kindaichi. Kageyama, the tyrannical king incapable of listening to anyone’s opinion, now adjusting his movements to a rookie’s; Kageyama, allowing someone else to set the pace.

If the moon turned out to be made of cheesecake, he’d feel less stunned.

And most unbelievable of it all…

That boy jumps without even looking at the ball, with unwavering certainty that it will be there when he spikes. He jumps with eyes closed, not a worry in the world, at top speed and without an instant of doubt, without the slightest hesitation.

He jumps believing 100% that Kageyama will never fail him.

Kindaichi still remembers all too well all those times he jumped as high and as fast as he could, and even stretching his arm at his maximum he could barely graze the ball with his fingertips. How can you trust someone whose tosses get more and more reckless, more erratic; how can you trust someone unable to realize that no one else can keep up with him?

But N°5 trusts and jumps, over and over again.

The coach points out that the only extraordinary thing about N°5 is that he made Kageyama match his movements to his own, and that he can jump on blind faith every single time.

He says it as though it was meaningless. As though it wasn’t the strangest thing Kindaichi has ever seen.

Defeat leaves a bitter aftertaste in his mouth, but it’s not so much losing the game as Kageyama’s parting words. We’ll be the ones to win and that “we” makes it finally hit home.

He watches as they walk away down the hallway, the midget cheekily asking Kageyama whether he’s been crying; the other pulling on his hair and grunting as response.

When he tells Kunimi that now he does feel defeated, he gets a smack on the back of his head.

Perhaps he has earned it.

Chapter Text

It’s an unpopular opinion and you know it, but the truth is that Hinata-senpai feels way more intimidating than Kageyama-senpai.

You can perfectly imagine the looks on your teammates’ faces if you told them this, so you don’t. Everyone has seen —well, so to speak— the flames coming out of Kageyama’s head when he gets really angry, when his face twists in such a manner it makes it impossible to believe that it will ever go back to normal. Even the taller and tougher players from opposing teams very often take a step back, spooked by the glare of his narrowed eyes.

“The good thing about it,” Miyake said once, “is that Kageyama-senpai is sure to cure a hiccup.”

Nakahara threw a ball at his head, but it’s more likely he did it because the joke was terrible than because a senpai was disrespected.

But the truth is that you don’t find Kageyama-senpai that scary. More often than not, when he narrows his eyes and seems like he’s shooting radioactive glares at the world at large, it just means that he’s focused on something else. It’s not really his fault if his default expression makes him look like a potential mass murderer.

I was born with this face!” he often shouts back, a reaction Hinata-senpai seems to find great fun in provoking.

Hinata-senpai might be a tad suicidal.

As for the flames that sprout from his head —you’re not sure they’re entirely metaphorical— many times his anger seems to arise more from concern than anything else. Like that one time Hinata-senpai took a bad fall after jumping for a spike and his yell of pain reverberated in the whole gym. By then, you’d seen him fall many times, just to jump to his feet an instant later, but you’d never heard him let out a mere whimper. Everyone got out of the way when Kageyama-senpai flung himself at him, his face very white, fumes practically coming out of his ears.

“You gigantic dumbass, I’ve told you a million times, you’re so stupid…”

The string of insults was lost into Hinata-senpai’s ear as Kageyama-senpai fell on his knees by his side (that’s got to have hurt). Hinata-senpai tried to get up —he wasn’t bleeding anywhere, at least— but, as soon as he placed his right foot on the floor, his face twisted in pain, and then everyone saw the flames dancing around Kageyama’s head. With not so much as a blink, he scooped up Hinata-senpai in his arms like a newlywed to his bride, ignoring all of his protests and the taunts from Tsukishima-senpai. Yamaguchi-senpai ran to get the first aid kit and Takeda-sensei announced that it was probably a twisted ankle, which had started to swell up. The look on Hinata-senpai’s face, with his lips turned into a pout, made him look like a twelve-year-old throwing a tantrum, but only Tsukishima-senpai was daring enough to point it out. Yachi-senpai, already immune to it all, put an icepack on his ankle as he yelled from the bench to Tsukishima-senpai, who was laughing without the slightest attempt at hiding it.

Luckily for everyone, it was not a serious injury and he could come back to play soon enough because, even though his focus remained as amazing as always, everybody could see the stormy clouds gathering around Kageyama-senpai every time he looked at the court and his partner wasn’t there.

After that episode, maybe Kageyama-senpai felt less scary because you’re pretty sure you’ll never invoke his wrath by hurting Hinata-senpai in any way, so you can consider yourself quite safe from the roaring fire of his fury.

Besides, his withering glares feel a lot less significant after you realize that he glares just the same at the vending machine whenever he buys a milk carton.

Once, when you’d just started playing at Karasuno, you asked why Kageyama-senpai wasn’t the captain, when he’s by far the best player on the team, or maybe Tsukishima-senpai, who seems better at strategizing. Matsudaira —who has forbidden you to add “senpai” because it’s fucking long enough as it is— kept gaping at you as though you had three heads or maybe none.

“I’m not sure if you’ve noticed it, because you haven’t been here for long, Konoe,” he said at last. “But between Kageyama-kun and Tsukishima-kun they have the people skills of an electric saw in the hands of Godzilla. And I’m saying this with all due respect to my senpais.”

After some time on the team, you have to admit there’s some truth to his words. Kageyama-senpai’s talent for volley does not translate well when he has to deal with people, whether he has to explain a new play, which he does in that incomprehensible language that only the captain and maybe Miyake can understand, or whether he’s trying to cheer someone up. Oh my God, it’ll be none too soon if you could forget right this instant of that time he tried to comfort you after serving out of bounds. Yachi-senpai assures you that he’s gotten loads better at it, to which Tsukishima-senpai adds imagine how bad he used to be.

Tsukishima-senpai doesn’t seem as terrible as he did at first either, back when his sarcastic tone was likely to cut through marble. Well, he’s just as sarcastic, but he doesn’t sound so poisonous to your ears anymore. Maybe you’ve grown immune to it. Or maybe it’s because, as the only other horribly tall guy on the team, he’s always the one to give you useful advice to take the most advantage of your long legs and arms, which have always made you feel like a clumsy giraffe off the court. Even so, it’s likely that Matsudaira is right when he says that he lacks some people skills, or maybe he just prefers to leave that part of handling the team to Hinata-senpai and Yamaguchi-senpai.

You can admit, without a shadow of a doubt, that the captain and the vice captain are way better at motivating the players. There’s something about Hinata-senpai that convinces you that yes, you can manage that play that looks impossible, if you only try hard enough, if only you can believe that all it takes is to make the jump. It’s impossible to argue with him at times, such is the certainty in his voice and the force of the gleam in his gaze, telling you all the time c’mon, c’mon, try, with no need for words.

And you can’t avoid feeling some of the fire in his gaze running through your veins, and maybe it’s true that it only takes making that first jump, maybe the only absurd thing is to hesitate.

When even Hinata-senpai’s absolute faith is not enough to sustain your own, then Yamaguchi-senpai is likely to be your best option, because he understands self-doubt, uncertainty, and fear better than the captain, who sometimes seems not to fear anything at all. Yamaguchi-senpai is also often an unending source of common sense, something that’s sorely lacking in a team like Karasuno, full of foolhardy idiots —verbatim from the coach, who is not well-known for keeping a cool head either.

Sometimes, when after practice you stop by the coach’s store to grab a bite, it’s almost easy to forget the due respect to your senpais. Like when Hinata-senpai steals a meat bun from Kageyama-senpai, who starts to chase after him shouting expletives, while Tsukishima-senpai snorts an insult or two, Yamaguchi-senpai chokes on his own laughter and Yachi-senpai cries out a warning, and what if they slip and smash their heads right in front of the first years, traumatizing them forever. She looks genuinely worried about it and Sasaki-senpai reassures her that she shouldn’t worry about that, because it would toughen up the first years, and that earns him a smack on the back of his head from Matsudaira. Kageyama-senpai manages to grab Hinata-senpai in a headlock and he rasps his knuckles on the orange mop while the captain screams that he’ll make him go bald and really, at that moment, they look like two grade schoolers. It seems unbelievable that they are the very same boys that take everyone’s breath away with their impossible plays, the same ones you watched on TV two years ago when, after what seemed like a long losing streak, Karasuno made it back to Nationals, right when you decided what high school you would go to.

Soon you will remember, when you, Itagaki, and Hayashi have dropped from exhaustion to the floor after a brutal practice, unable to get up, and then Hinata-senpai’s face, circled by an orange halo, covers your entire field of vision.

“C’mon, guys, get up, you still got another lap left.” At the horrified and inarticulate whimper that one of you lets escape, he adds: “How do you expect to win Nationals with so little stamina?”

“Do you really think we’ll win Nationals?” you blurt out without thinking, because this is not the first time Hinata-senpai says something like this, as though winning the Nationals was a done deal, as though Karasuno had ever been close to achieve it.

Someone —probably Hayashi— gasps loudly: it occurs to you that you might have put your foot in your mouth quite deeply.

Hinata-senpai doesn’t look angry. He tilts his head to the side, his forehead a bit creased, as though he didn’t quite get your question.

“Of course we’re gonna win Nationals. What else is there?”

There is something in his voice that goes beyond certainty, and makes cold sweat run down your spine. His hazel eyes shimmer with a strange light, an intensity in them that betrays a whirlwind of electric energy barely contained. And you won’t be able to explain it, because you’re almost 1.90m tall whereas Hinata-senpai doesn’t even reach 1.70m but, in that moment, his presence seems to go beyond his small frame, it seems to fill the entire room.

The effect vanishes between one blink and the next, and then he becomes once more the boy with messy orange hair halfway held back in a ponytail, with an easy smile and the never-ending enthusiasm. But you have seen it, even if it was for a mere instant, and you won’t forget anytime soon that intensity that promises a forest fire.

The truth is that, to you, Hinata-senpai is way more intimidating than Kageyama-senpai and, from that moment onwards, you throw yourself headfirst into training even if it means working your fingers —and legs— to the bone. Maybe it’s not just that you find Hinata-senpai intimidating, maybe it’s also that you can’t help believing him. You notice that it happens to everyone else as well. No one is willing to be left behind, and least of all Kageyama-senpai, who seems like he has a competition of his own going on with the captain. Somehow, even when the rest of you can barely stand on your feet, those two still have strength left to race each other and shout the number of wins and losses.

“Wow, to think they’re getting to the three hundreds,” Yachi-senpai comments, in that tone soaked in nostalgia that, at times, seems to cling to the third years like a cold.

Tsukishima-senpai rolls his eyes.

“They even compete to see which one finishes showering first, the two morons…”

“It tires me just to watch them,” Tomizawa-senpai confesses and Yamaguchi-senpai nods.

“Me too, and I should be used to it by now…”

When they finally tire themselves out it’s like the flame of a candle suddenly going out, and they fall asleep on top of a pile of mats in a corner of the gym or during the trip back after a game, Hinata-senpai’s head on Kageyama-senpai’s shoulder, the latter’s cheek resting on top of a cushion of orange hair. After a while, you get used to it and you don’t even blink when Yachi-senpai pulls out her cell to take a picture.

“Yachi-san, don’t you have enough pictures by now?” Miyake asks and she shrugs.

“They’re for Suga-san.”

Yamaguchi-senpai frowns.

“Is he setting up an album or a show at a gallery…?”

Hinata-senpai and Kageyama-senpai look too comfortable to be upset by the stares and comments, and it gets to the point you no longer pay attention to it. Falling asleep on top of each other is far from the strangest thing you’ve seen them do: personal space doesn’t seem to exist among them, and more than once you’ve seen Kageyama-senpai giving the captain a piggyback ride, and the latter stealing from him the last milk carton, unconcerned by murderous glares or indirect kissing.

Nakahara refuses to speak of what he saw that day he ran back to the club room for something he’d forgotten, and he came back pale and wide-eyed (and without whatever he’d gone looking for in the first place.) He didn’t let a pip escape no matter how much Miyake and Hayashi insisted. You chose not to ask.

Some things are best left unknown.

Karasuno makes it to Nationals that year and maybe the hardest thing for the first years is remembering that this is not the end, and reaching the top of the prefecture only means that the real challenge begins now.

Tokyo looks huge and bright compared to the towns in Miyagi, and the gym feels gigantic and dazzling with the gleam of the lights and the flashes of the cameras. Photo cameras and TV cameras because yes, you’ve made it to Nationals.

Now, like Hinata-senpai says with chilling calmness, you only have to keep winning until you’re Japan’s Nº1.

A piece of cake, sure.

It’s easy to forget that the other teams here have also fought tooth and nail to be at the top of their prefectures. They’ve also shed blood, sweat, and tears in the gym, in quite a literal way at times. It’s easy to forget until you face them and no one is willing to give an inch, and they throw everything they have in every play. Hinata-senpai is not the only one now capable of rolling out the court to receive a ball that was inexorably headed for the wall. Everyone is more aware than ever that this is their only chance: if the ball drops it’s game over and there’s no do-over.

Perhaps you don’t get to play as much as you’d like, but even from the bench you feel the electricity of the ball flying over the net, the current that courses through all of your teammates and comes back multiplied by all of them, as though Karasuno, at the time, was only one being, only one heart beating, an urge to win impossible to individualize.

From the bench, your teammates seem even more amazing. Miyake and Nakahara don’t hesitate before diving for the ball, Tsukishima-senpai appears to read the minds of his opponents when he blocks them, Matsudaira spikes with such strength that the ball bounces off the opposing libero’s arms, Yamaguchi-senpai’s serve is frightening. On the court, Sasaki-senpai moves at a prodigious speed, and even Tomizawa-senpai, Hayashi, and Itagaki, who spend most of the time on the bench, find their moment to shine.

The entire stadium holds their collective breath, though, whenever Kageyama-senpai tosses to Hinata-senpai from some ridiculous spot on the court and the latter spikes the ball as though it were the easiest thing in the world, as though the ball were an extension of his own hand. Even if they can see it coming, more often than not the boys on the other team can’t react fast enough to stop the ball from hitting the wooden floor, always a step, a second too late. The crowd on the stands lets out a collective gasp and Karasuno’s supporters grow hoarse shouting their encouragement, and so do the teammates on the bench and even if your throat burns, you keep on cheering.

But, as amazing as it is to watch from the sidelines, nothing can compare to living it on the court, and to know that the ball that’s just hit your fingertips is the one that scores, or the feeling of your arms sending the ball back to the setter.

You’re there on the court when the ball hits the floor at the other side of the net for the last time. There’s the final buzzer and, for a moment, you hear nothing but the rushing of blood in your ears. You feel the hit of Miyake’s body crashing against you; Nakahara throwing his arms around your shoulders, the pats from Matsudaira on your back; you hear the loud cheers from Sasaki-senpai and Tomizawa-senpai, the roar of laughter from coach Ukai; you see Yachi-senpai bouncing on the bench, Hayashi and Itagaki hugging, Takeda-sensei, open-mouthed; Tsukishima-senpai, stunned, accepting a high five from Yamaguchi-senpai.

And Hinata-senpai dashes across the court like a train gone off the rails and throws himself into the arms of Kageyama-senpai, who stumbles a couple of steps backwards but manages to grab him from under his thighs as Hinata-senpai squeezes his neck with his arms.

Hinata-senpai is saying something incomprehensible because his face is pressed against his shoulder and Kageyama-senpai smiles, for real, not the smile that makes small children cry and the older ones run for their lives.

From the stands, the echo of applause reaches your ears but you don’t quite believe it yet, your eyes glued to the score, your heart hammering inside your chest and Miyake’s voice repeating like a mantra: we won, we won, I can’t believe we won.

“We have to line up,” Tsukishima-senpai says but his voice sounds hoarse and his eyes shine, and are those tears rolling down Yamaguchi-senpai’s face? It doesn’t look like he either notices or cares.

Nakahara grabs your arm and you drag Miyake, who is still bouncing on the spot, and somehow you get to the line even though your feet seem to be stepping on cotton and your head is spinning.

You’ve never been drunk but it wouldn’t surprise you if it felt like this.

Hinata-senpai and Kageyama-senpai don’t pay any mind to the coach’s yelling. The former has tilted up his head to look into his eyes and, from the look on Kageyama-senpai’s face, it’s as though nothing else existed for him apart from the captain’s hazel eyes. Despite the fever that courses through your entire body, you feel somewhat uncomfortable at the sight, as though you were intruding where you’re not welcome. Tsukishima-senpai snorts and, in two strides, he closes the distance to smack them both on the back of their heads.

“Not in front of the TV cameras, will you? Now go line up and Hinata, try to fake some composure, you’re the captain after all.”

Afterwards, there will be many hugs with the rest of the team, with those members of your family who managed to make it to Tokyo; and Takeda-sensei announces that you’ll all go out for dinner to celebrate; and the whole time you feel like this is a dream you’re going to wake up from soon, to find yourself back in your bed in Miyagi.

At some point, you find yourself embraced by your teammates, singing loudly not knowing what, and for once, without a care in the world. Even Yamaguchi-senpai is singing at the top of his voice and Tsukishima-senpai, instead of telling you all to shut up, just laughs at you, or maybe that’s his way of expressing joy, who knows. Not even Takeda-sensei makes much of an effort to quiet you, and Ukai-san shouts more than all of you put together. It’s a miracle you don’t get kicked out.

If at some point everyone loses sight of the captain and Kageyama-senpai, no one will ever comment on it.

Chapter Text

The leaves on the trees change colors and, almost before they realize it, the time comes to say farewell to the school that’s put up with them for the last three years. Many of them will go on to the high school that’s only a few blocks away —Izumin and Kouji among them— but for several others, like Shou-chan, this day marks a fork in the path.

“Are you sure you wanna go to Karasuno? It’s in the middle of nowhere.”

They already know what answer they’ll get and Shou-chan doesn’t disappoint.

“It’s the Small Giant’s school! If I want to be like him, I have to start there.”

High school lessons begin with cherry blossoms pouring over their heads during the entrance ceremony, and the first few weeks are spent in the adventure of finding the proper classroom, learning the names of new teachers and classmates, locating the toilets, finding out the best spot for lunch, and signing up for clubs. Kouji signs up for the football club, of course, and Izumin will try his luck again at basketball. Yukigaoka’s team wasn’t particularly good but he hopes he’ll do better in high school. He’s heard that they almost went to Nationals last year.

Every now and then, they get a text or an e-mail from Shou-chan that, when they aren’t filled with links to memes and funny videos, narrate his new adventures at the volleyball club. At least, now he has a team to belong to, although they haven’t gone to Nationals in quite some time.

Shou-chan has made it into the starting lineup almost from the get go. Izumin and Kouji exchange somewhat surprised glances. Undoubtedly, Shou-chan can make incredible jumps, and no one else has his determination (no one knows that better than them). But at the tournament they could see how horribly tall boys that play volleyball tend to be, and any of them can reach the same height as Shou-chan almost without stretching their legs.

“Well, Shou-chan has trained really hard these last few months,” Izumin points out and Kouji nods because they’ve bore witness. Shou-chan didn’t just begin training with the girls’ team, but also with the ladies from the Neighborhood Association, and more than once they’ve seen him going out for a run under the snow, without flinching at the freezing wind cutting his face.

The disastrous score of his first —and last— match hit him hard, but where anyone else would’ve given up, Shou-chan pushed himself even harder.

“Do you think Karasuno is any good?” Kouji wonders.

Izumin shrugs.

“Maybe. It’s not like we knew that much about volleyball, right?”

“Well, no, but if they are really good you can tell even if you know nothing about it, like… well, like that guy.”

A grimace twists Kouji’s features, the same one that shows on his face each time he is reminded of “that guy.” Izumin makes an effort to suppress a small shiver.

They were a terrible team, true. It’s likely that anyone with a vague sense of the sport could have stomped all over them, and easily so.

But that boy wasn’t halfway normal, and the hairs on the back of Izumin’s head still stand on end when he remembers him, so he tries not to.

Weeks slip by in between lessons, new friends and, ugh, exams. He and Kouji aren’t in the same class and they don’t share a club either, but they still see each other often enough during breaks and at lunchtime. Before they realize it, the heat strikes again and with it, Inter High tournaments begin.

None of them fares very well. Kouji has finally made it into the starting lineup, but his team loses the second match and the sulking lasts for a week. Izumin doesn’t share such luck: his team makes it into the prefecture semifinals but without him. He was right when he thought that the high school team would be loads better than Yukigaoka’s. What he didn’t take into consideration was that it might be too good for him.

“It’s, hum, normal for a first year not to make it into the starting lineup like that, from the get go,” Kouji says, when the names of the starting lineup get announced and his own gets called but Izumin’s isn’t. “I mean… Well, you can’t compare: our school’s football team is not that good, you know? It’s not like they had a lot of options much better than me.”

Izumin smiles and tells him not to be an idiot, that he already was the best player at Yukigaoka and it’s natural that he’s ended up as a starter in high school as well. Kouji pats him on the back with a little too much force.

“You’ll see that soon there will be another spot on the team and you’ll get to play. Third years retire after Inter High, don’t they?”

He nods and tries to keep his smile in place until after Kouji has left for practice. He’ll have to bite his lip when his teammates complain about how hard the training is, because they at least get to play, but he has to keep quiet and keep practicing his shooting.

Again, and again, and again.

Next time you’ll play for sure! writes Shou-chan, and he can almost hear the certainty in his voice through the e-mail filled with spelling mistakes, he can almost see the manic gleam in his eyes.

At times, Shou-chan makes it sound so easy.

He keeps practicing, although the names of other first years get called and never his own, not even to warm the bench. He clenches his teeth and keeps shooting threes, he keeps taking laps around the gym, keeps up with conditioning.

Sometimes, when he feels tempted to give up, he remembers Shou-chan practicing his spikes against the wall, he remembers the shadow over his face when that last ball hit outside the white line, he also remembers how that shadow dissipated when he thanked them for accompanying him there, making Kouji cry (although he keeps denying it to this day).

He asks the coach if he can stay behind after-hours to keep training after practice.

When the second tournament begins, the football team fares a little better even though they don’t make it to the finals and Izumin, at long last, gets to play one quarter during an official game. It’s not a victory but it feels a little like one. That’s around the time they both get the message from Shou-chan:

Karasuno has made it into the finals and, if they win this match, they will go to Tokyo.

They gape at each other for a moment, mouths hanging open, because Shou-chan did it. Or, well, almost. But the odds were always so against him from the beginning that it feels like a small miracle.

“And if we go to see him play?” Kouji suggests. “We can surprise him.”

“Hmmm, I don’t know, would he want us to? Maybe we make him even more nervous.”

“Bah, you know that Shou-chan will end up holed up in the toilet before the game, I don’t reckon we’re gonna affect him that much.”

Sendai’s gym is swarming with people but that orange mop of hair is impossible to miss. Shou-chan’s face when he sees them is worthy of a frame. He shrieks their names so they reverberate through the entire place, and he had forgotten how noisy Shou-chan could be. He introduces them to this shaved-head guy that wears the same black uniform as he does and, to their surprise, it seems like he has seen their game last year and he remembers them. He praises Kouji’s footwork and, at first, Izumin thinks that maybe it’s the traumatic memory from that day that provokes such a grimace on his friend’s face, as though he’s just gotten kicked on the stomach.

That is, until he follows his gaze and sees him.

Black, straight hair falling over narrowed eyes; that eternal look of toxic radioactivity; the demeanor that seemed to have a presence beyond his body.

He won’t say he’s had nightmares that begun like this, but he very well could have.

What have you been doing these past three years?!

His voice, low and haughty, still resonates in his ears, well over a year later. On instinct, he grabs Kouji’s arm to prevent him from going over there to throw the punch he held back that day. The boy looks at them, and he seems somewhat confused and quite indifferent.

When Kouji, on the verge of a furious paroxysm, asks what that guy is doing there, Shou-chan looks quite untroubled and that’s when Izumin notices they are wearing the same uniform.

The guy doesn’t pay them any more attention, very busy scowling at Shou-chan and chiding him not to hold back. Shou-chan waves his hand goodbye and both of them gape at him.

Not a single e-mail or text of Shou-chan’s, in all these months, mentioned even once that that guy was now his teammate.

He remembers how much Shou-chan spoke of him after that game, how much he talked about how one day he would be good enough to beat him and make him swallow his words, right until they got fed up with the subject and he stopped bringing it up. But even in his silences, Izumin knew he was still thinking about it, obsessively looking through the magazine that talked about the defeat of that boy’s team.

“Who would’ve thought they’d reunite…”

They watch him walk away, accompanied by the bunch of boys in black uniforms, and perhaps Kouji’s thinking the same thing, perhaps he’s remembering when Shou-chan was at the gym all alone with his volleyball, the wall as his only rival and mate. Sometimes, Izumin felt sorry for him and agreed to toss him the ball for a while, but after his arms threatened to fall off from exhaustion, he realized that even his sympathy had some limits.

He feels his lips curving in a smile as Shou-chan blends in with his teammates, belonging to a real team at long last.

The smile is wiped off his face when, as soon as he sets one foot into the gym, he’s hit by the white-and-violet tide of the opposing team’s supporting squad.

He doesn’t have to turn around to see Kouji’s horrified face and know he’s going through the same feeling of déjà-vu.

They’ve even got cheerleaders, with their miniskirts and pompoms and everything, just like in American movies. Their mood doesn’t get any better when they see Karasuno, because truth to be told they all look kind of like idiots. And then, to top it all, the rival team gets there and, as the hollers of the crowd become deafening, he wonders: is it him or are those boys huge? He feels like he’s back at that horrible game, when the opposing team walked past him and they were so much taller than any of them. Before, there was a blond boy on Karasuno that seemed quite tall, but now he doesn’t look that impressive anymore.

His mood sours even more when one guy on the other team hits the ball so hard that it falls into the hands of a boy in the stands.

On the second floor.

These are the people Shou-chan has to play against? All of a sudden, his friend looks tinier than ever.

Kouji clutches on the handrail, maybe foreseeing what a terrible time they’re going to endure. Izumin believed that nothing could surpass that awful game last year, but he might’ve been wrong.

The guy with a monk’s shaved head approaches Shou-chan and the other guy —that guy— and says something to them. Both nod in unison and exchange a glance that seems to hold a whole conversation without words.

The setter —that’s it, that’s what his position is called— gets ready to receive the ball and Shou-chan begins to run. And what happens next is so fast that Izumin will wonder whether he’s imagined it.

The ball barely grazes the boy’s fingertips and then it shoots towards Shou-chan, whose feet were on the ground a mere second ago, who is now soaring through the air, higher than Izumin has ever seen him. The ball hits hard on the other side of the net, drawing an almost straight line, and Kouji and he aren’t the only ones who gasp in surprise. Even the white and violet sea has fallen silent for a miraculous instant, their breath stolen by Shou-chan’s impulse at leaving the ground and flying almost over the net, the ball shooting towards his hand as though his palm was a magnet, only to throw it like a cannon shot against the wooden floor.

Shou-chan and his setter land on the floor almost at the same time, an identical gesture of triumph drawn on their faces, and Kouji turns to look at Izumin.

“Did you see that? Did you?”

His incredulity finds an echo in the voices around them: how could that little kid hit such a spike and also did the setter even touch the ball? and I don’t know what the heck was that. Izumin nods, his hands now clutching the handrail, almost leaning over towards the court without realizing it, a sudden thrill prickling underneath his skin.

Perhaps this will be, at long last, the moment they see Shou-chan jump for real, to the highest point as he always dreamed of, now that he’s no longer alone and he’s found someone to help him get there.

Chapter Text

Ushijima Wakatoshi doesn’t compete against other players.

It’s something as obvious to him as inhaling and exhaling, but that many people have a hard time understanding.

“Wow, Ushijima-san does train hard.” From the other side of the court, the voice of Goshiki, the first year that’s just made into the starting lineup, reaches him. “He must be thinking of the numbers 1 and 2, right?”

“Numbers 1 and 2…? Oh, you mean the other two high school aces that came above him in Monthly Volleyball’s ranking.”

“…ehhh, yeah. Ushijima must be making an effort to surpass them, isn’t he?”

“As if. Wakatoshi-kun doesn’t compete against anyone but himself.”

He frowns: that last ball just barely hit the bottle. It managed to knock it down, of course —no matter how much he refills them to make them heavier, no plastic bottle is a match to his serve. But that serve should’ve been straighter. His coach keeps telling him that, with the force behind his serves, few players will be able to receive his serves or spikes, but he’d like a little more precision.

He forgets Goshiki’s chat with Satori, presuming that the matter had been cleared up. But the first year seems braver than the rest and he insists on competing against Ushijima during training and practice matches. He doesn’t fully get it and, to be honest, he doesn’t even notice until Reon brings it up. He wonders if, as captain, he should say something to him —it doesn’t affect Shiratorizawa’s play too much, though, so he decides to ignore it.

“Wakatoshi, aren’t you worried that he might steal your spot as the team’s ace?” asks Satori in a mocking tone. It’s his usual way of talking so he doesn’t take it personal.

“No,” he replies honestly and Hayato scowls.

“Don’t you dare to tell him that in that tone.”

He doesn’t see anything wrong with his tone, but he lets it go, and all the exclamations from Goshiki of “did you see my last spike, Ushijima-san? Did you?” turn into background noise.

Ushijima Wakatoshi doesn’t compete against other players.

He keeps an exact tally of his running times, his weight-lifting exercises, and the precision of his spikes, never bothering to compare them to anyone else’s, always measuring against himself, always looking to improve his own scores.

Of course the best practice of all takes place during games, and for that reason he hopes the college team that will play against them in a practice match is as good as their coach has promised. He knows very well that he can expect no challenge from the Spring High preliminaries, right around the corner: they will just prove a tedious process they need to go through to get to the Nationals, where the real game begins.

“What? You’re not thrilled to know that we will play against Aobajousai again in the final?”

Aobajousai means playing against Oikawa Tooru, the only player in all of Miyagi outside of Shiratorizawa that is worth anything, possibly the best setter he has ever seen. An opinion his own team has heard more than once, and surely Satori is trying to goad him into saying it again. Eita and Shirabu are already beyond offense: they know how much he respects their abilities and that he trusts them to toss him the ball where he needs it to spike it. Oikawa, though, is on an entirely different level.

But not even Oikawa Tooru’s outstanding skills will do him any good on a team that’s not on his level. You can try to improve the mediocre but you will never get very far. He tried to explain this to him more than once, without any success, the boy’s stubborn pride or perhaps some inconvenient sentimentality preventing him from seeing that, no matter the effort, you’ll never get anything to grow on barren land.

He should’ve come to Shiratorizawa.

Something he has also told him more than once, with responses that went from the most glacial sarcasm to the most colorful insults.

Ushijima Wakatoshi doesn’t compete against other players. His potential with a setter of Oikawa’s caliber by his side, though, would’ve been something worth seeing.

Hayato has told him that, after almost six years, he’d better let it go.

One day they’re running on the street when soon enough, Ushijima leaves the rest of his team behind. They’re too slow.

He slows down to see if any of them —Goshiki, perhaps— manages to catch up at least a little, and then he hears an unknown voice pronouncing his name.

He sees two boys, one of them with straight, black hair, almost ten centimeters shorter than him; another red-headed boy, so short he has to look down to see him, and an even tinier blonde girl by his side. They might be high school first years, though the redhead and the girl look even younger.

He asks what business they have with him, and the black-haired boy, all seriousness and no hesitation, asks him if they can watch Shiratorizawa’s training. He’s pretty sure that the answer, should the coach be there to give it, would be a resounding no.

But he has left his team well behind and he’s bored.

He tells them over his shoulder that they’ll have to keep up, and he doesn’t have the slightest hope they might be able to when the rest of Shiratorizawa couldn’t. To his astonishment, they don’t fall behind even when he keeps his usual pace —perhaps even a little faster— and to top it all, they go all the way talking.

Or, more accurately, arguing with each other, as though they’d already forgotten he was there at all.

It’s a very strange feeling.

He loses sight of them after reaching Shiratorizawa’s campus —no, there they are, gaping at the horses.

He’s never liked them that much.

When they finally deign to come to the gym where the volleyball club’s second line is training, he doesn’t let by the opportunity to throw their tardiness back in their faces.

They seem to want to watch him in action for some reason, and then the taller of the two introduces himself. His name rings a bell.

He used to be the setter at Kitagawa Daiichi, Oikawa’s old school, but now that Ushijima remembers that, instead of elevating the potential of his teammates, he made tosses that were impossible to spike. A setter that insists on setting his own pace instead of matching the ace to make the best of him is a complete waste on a team like Shiratorizawa. He's not surprised he didn’t get into this club.

They know Oikawa Tooru, which shouldn’t surprise him that much. He can’t help it and, before he realizes, he finds himself explaining to them why he’s the best setter in Miyagi.

(His team has long ago begun to nod and mumble some absent-minded “yeah, yeah” or Satori, more daring, covers his ears and starts singing La Macarena vociferously whenever this subject comes up.)

The red-head doesn’t seem to be getting what he means by barren land, so he decides to be as clear as possible.

“It means that, aside from Oikawa, Aobajousai is weak.”

After he says it, he realizes that maybe his words won’t sit too well with a team that obviously didn’t manage to beat Aobajousai to get into the finals.

“If Seijo is barren land, that would makes us something like concrete, wouldn’t it?”

Later, Ushijima will deny it even to himself but, in that very moment, something about the look on the boy’s face, in the aura that surrounds him, makes him flinch.

It’s like one of those kids on horror movies, all warm smiles one minute and possessed by an evil spirit the next.

He didn’t mean to offend them and he tells them so, but he can’t think otherwise about the subject.

No matter how creepy the face of the boy he has to tell this to might be.

And then, something happens. Ushijima can’t quite explain it: one moment, he’s turning on his heels to jump and reach the ball that’s gotten away from the second line guys.

The next moment, the red-headed boy, who a mere instant before was behind him, appears before his eyes, rising in the air even higher than him to snatch the ball from under his nose.

What the hell was that?

“I’m Hinata Shouyou, and I sprouted from that concrete. We’re going to knock you down and go to the Nationals.”

Kageyama Tobio makes his statement of war before their departure, and Ushijima is overwhelmed by a very strange feeling as he watches them walk away.

Perhaps Oikawa Tooru isn’t the only worthy player left in this prefecture.

Maybe the words I’m Hinata Shouyou, and I sprouted from that concrete will resound in his ears like an echo every time he practices a serve, a spike; maybe he’ll wonder more than once whether Kageyama Tobio will live up to his boasting; if that combo of speed and skill might become a real challenge for him. Maybe he’ll think that he has found, at long last, a rival capable of making the preliminaries a little more interesting.

He will tell no one, though.

Ushijima Wakatoshi doesn’t compete against other players.

Chapter Text

Futakuchi will never acknowledge this out loud but, at times like these, he understands why Moniwa used to beg Nametsu-san for aspirins: the team’s level of hysterics and generalized overexcitement right before a match have turned into a taiko recital against his temples.

Fukiage and Koganegawa get their hands on a ball for practice, but they toss it so high they almost smash a light. When Futakuchi tells them to at least try not to toss the ball for the moon to spike, Koganegawa’s self-esteem as a setter goes into crisis mode, and now Sakamichi is patting him on the back —as high as he can reach, at least— to cheer him up. Futakuchi tries to explain that it was a joke, but the memory of that ball that Koganegawa sent to Mars is still very fresh on his mind, because the boy keeps bowing and mumbling it won’t happen again, and he won’t let someone spike through his block like Seijo’s ace did last year, and that he doesn’t want to taint the good name of the Iron Wall. It gets to a point when Futakuchi can only nod, drag his hand over his face, and let the libero comfort him as well as he can.

He’s pretty sure that he’ll recover before the match.

In the meantime Fukiage, amid the confusion, disappeared somewhere, and Futakuchi takes advantage of his position to delegate the task of finding him to a first year kid whose name he hasn’t learnt yet. Obara at the very least isn’t getting into any trouble, lying on his back with his eyes closed in deep concentration. Regrettably though, his concentration ritual before the matches involves listening to K-Pop at such a volume that it nullifies any usefulness his headphones could have. He exchanges a glance with Aone, whose resignation seems to have already reached Zen levels today. Fukiage then reappears running at top speed and Futakuchi has to grab him by his shirt’s collar when he runs past him so he doesn’t bump into one of Kakugawa’s players, and what the hell do the first years have for breakfast?

(If his old senpai were here, they’d be sure to tell him that he was so much worse, but they’re not so he keeps grumbling mentally like an old man.)

Nametsu-san, an angel among all the managers, vanished fifteen minutes ago with the excuse of getting energy drinks and he doesn’t blame her in the slightest. And now that he thinks of it, the first year that he sent to look for Fukiage hasn’t returned. Great.

“Aone…?” He nods, no need for Futakuchi to add anything else, and he goes in search of their lost sheep, and why can’t everyone be as quiet and useful as Aone.

(He’s pretty certain that Moniwa used to say exactly the same thing, looking at him as though he were the sum of all of a mother’s disappointments, but whatever.)

When he checks again that none of his own are setting anything on fire or getting into a fight with Karasuno’s shaved-head or anything of the sort, he relaxes long enough to watch the other teams fluttering around Sendai’s gym. A new year, a new Inter High and many of the teams are wildly different from the last time he’s seen them. Dateko keeps the same starting lineup from the Spring High, but those teams whose third years didn’t leave until the very last second are now full of replacements and new variables to take into consideration. Wakutani, from what he sees, is full of new people: he can barely recognize one or two players from sight; whereas Johzenji was an all-second-years team last year so there’re almost no changes in their formation. It’s not a particularly good team, but their bizarre manner of all of them going after the ball can be a pain in the ass.

His gaze sweeps around and halts for a moment on the black and orange bunch that makes up Karasuno: there’s a rematch that, because of Aobajousai, they could not pay back in the last tournament. He doesn’t quite recall the new captain, but something about him makes Futakuchi think that there’re only two options: either the team clones its captains, or he’s making a huge effort to mimic as best as possible the aura of unflappable impassivity of his former captain. When he meets Futakuchi’s gaze, he holds it and gives him a slight bow, before he turns to shout something at the shaved-head and the libero. Even with the departure of the third years, Karasuno doesn’t seem that different, although he spots a couple of boys that, judging from their wide-eyed gazes drinking everything around them, must be first years. Aone returns after placing their lost boy back in the constant ruckus of Dateko’s first year bunch, and Futakuchi doesn’t have to turn around to know where his friend’s gaze wanders to, drawn by a magnet.

A magnet in the shape of a midget barely over 1.60cm with an orange mop on his head, whose jersey no longer carries a number 10 but a 7, but who will always be Karasuno’s number 10. In that moment, he’s talking to Karasuno’s other middle blocker, the one who actually has got the height to be one, practically gesturing with his whole body, and Futakuchi blinks: is he seeing double or what?

Next to the no-longer-number-10, stands another figure with an orange mop on its head, even tinier if possible, and who, instead of the black and orange uniform, wears a summer dress with ruffles and some tights underneath.

“Oh my God, there’re two of them?”

The little girl —because yes, apparently she’s not the midget’s clone but a child eerily similar to the boy he assumes to be her brother— has her arms crossed over her chest and she’s tapping the floor with the tip of her shoe, in the universal move of the children who have started to lose their patience. Her pout is reflected on her brother’s face.

“C’moooooooon, Tsukishimaaaaaaa, don’t be so stingy, it’s nothing to you. It’s just for a spin. Natsu doesn’t weigh much more than a couple of volleyballs.”

But the bespectacled blond shakes his head, his nose up in the air and his arms crossed over his chest in a way that replicates the little girl’s. A freckled boy by his side is doing a very poor job of concealing his snickering.

The child uncrosses her arms, stomps her foot on the ground and Futakuchi steels himself but, instead of bursting into ear-splitting crying, she begins to tug on the hem of the middle blocker’s jersey, as though she could make him bend to her level by sheer force.

“Natsu, don’t. Even if he’s so stingy, you can’t stretch his jersey: Yachi-san has a hard time keeping them in good shape.”

At that, the kid’s pout grows more dangerous than ever and now it’s certain, the shrieking is about to begin. Toughened by dealing with his younger cousins, Futakuchi is already raising his hands to cover his ears, when he feels a sudden movement by his side and, to his astonishment, sees Aone approach the group with his silent strides. They’re so immersed in their argument that it takes them a while to take in his presence and then, without uttering a single word as usual, Aone crouches down and bends his head. The siblings exchange a wide-eyed glance, before the boy clears his throat.

“Ehhhh… it’s very nice of you, Aone-kun. Are you sure?”

“…you didn’t bother asking me that,” mutters the blond in a very audible way. His teammate shamelessly ignores him.

When Aone for all answer nods, the little girl looks once more at her brother, who shrugs and helps her climb on Aone’s shoulders.

“Captain, what… what is Aone-senpai doing?”

Futakuchi discards the first three answers that come to mind and shrugs as Aone gives mini-orange mop a ride on his shoulders, the older version walking by his side. The little girl looks like she’s at the summit of happiness, stretching her arms as though flying, the tinkle of her laughter rising above the ruckus of teenaged boys’ voices. Her brother has to take one step and a half for each one of Aone’s strides, almost skipping. He and the kid seem to be carrying on the conversation, the timbre of their voices blending in the distance, while Aone seems content just keeping them company in silence.

He doesn’t smile, not in a way noticeable to anyone who doesn’t know him as well as Futakuchi does.

Nametsu-san returns at long last carrying the energy drinks and a message from the coach. She shoots Aone one bemused look, blinks rapidly and seems to discard it to go on with her tasks: it’s not the strangest thing the Dateko team has subjected her to in the last few years. Futakuchi talks to her for a while about the coach’s instructions. By the corner of his eye, though, he catches a slight commotion in Karasuno’s corner, when their setter gets back from who knows where, a juice carton in his hand, and he stops dead in his tracks as he reaches his team; his scowl looks engraved by fire. He looks around, his eyes getting more and more narrowed, and the bespectacled boy and the freckled one begin to snicker without any subtlety.

“Did you lose something, Kageyama?” the blond one says in a clear voice. The glare the setter throws at him is pure corrosive acid. Futakuchi starts to pay attention because, c’mon: it’s a free spectacle, and for once it’s not the morons on his own team at the center of it.

“Where did that dumbass go off to? Did he go to the toilet again? He knows he can’t go on his own.”

(Futakuchi and Nametsu exchange a look —yes, she loves other people’s drama as much as he does, but she conceals it better— because what the hell, but no one on Karasuno looks weirded out.)

“No, no, c’mon, do you really think we’d let him go to the toilet on his own at this point?” says the libero clad all in orange, as though it was remotely normal to escort a sixteen-ish-year-old boy to the toilet. “He took Natsu on a stroll. Well, actually…”

He can tell the exact moment in which the setter’s gaze sets on Aone and his red-headed escort, because his scowl becomes legendary. The knuckles of the hand holding the juice carton start to whiten and Futakuchi’s perverse side (the 80% of his being, Sasaya would say) waits for the moment it’ll blow up on his face. Shaved-head pats him on the shoulder.

“There, there, he’ll take a turn around the yard with Natsu and he’ll get back, don’t make such a fuss.”

“Shouyou always gets back to you like a boomerang, you don’t have to make that conspipaped face, you know?”

Constipated,” mumbles the blond guy, as though in pain. The libero shrugs.

“You got what I meant all the same, didn’t you?”

Futakuchi has to momentarily tear his attention away from the drama when a guy on Johzenji makes a passing comment to Nametsu-san that, perhaps in some alternate universe could pass for a compliment, but not in this one. In the blink of an eye, all of Dateko is on the edge of war, even Obara, who seems to still be able to listen even with K-Pop blasting in his ears (he’ll take it into account for future reference). Last Inter High, when Moniwa was still the captain, Futakuchi would’ve had no trouble in being the first to make a few things clear to that asshole, but now he has the responsibility to prevent his teammates from leaving a puddle of blood on the ground right before a match.

This whole responsibility stuff sucks.

Johzenji’s guy is spooked enough with the entire Iron Wall closing in on him and he wastes no time babbling some apologies, and I really meant it as a compliment, I meant no offense. Nametsu-san rolls her eyes.

“Drop it, guys, it’s not worth it, it’s far too stupid. You’ll get your chance to crush him on the court.”

(No one has ever said that Nametsu-san was characterized by her compassion.)

The guy flees at the first opportunity, but not before Futakuchi takes the chance to advise him into investing his money in gravure magazines, because as for a real girl, he’s never going to get one.

(He’s not that magnanimous either, so what.)

When he pays attention again, he sees that Karasuno’s setter is still glued to the spot, the juice carton still intact but a black cloud pretty much crackling with electricity over his head. The rest of his team pays him no mind, except for the manager, who keeps throwing anxious glances at him and twisting her hands.

(Not the manager that looked like a supermodel but the other one, the tiny, nervous-looking blonde.)

At long last, Aone and his company finish taking the turn around the yard, and he bends down so the girl, with much giggling, can get off her tall steed.

“What do you say, Natsu?”

“Thank you very much, Aone-kun! You’re so much nicer than Tsukishima-kun.”

“Natsu, you shouldn’t… oh well, it’s not like it isn’t true. Aone is way nicer than Tsukishima.”

And the boy beams at Aone, and he could go for a career in toothpaste advertising if volleyball doesn’t work out for him.

Is it his imagination or is Aone blushing a little?

“Oh my God, Aone is blushing,” Nametsu-san whispers next to him; so no, it’s not his imagination.

Aone bids them farewell with a bow, and almost at once the little girl runs towards the tiny blonde manager.

The look on the setter’s face is one of those painting of storms and shipwrecks.

“Dumbass, don’t just go off without letting me know.”

“Kageyama, I didn’t leave for Kamchatka, c’mon.”

“Kaaaageeeeyaaaamaaa-kuuuun, you can’t call my brother a ‘dumbass.’”

“…sorry, Natsu.”

The kid tilts her head, as though judging the validity of his apology. In the end, she seems to deem it good enough because she nods and turns her attention back to the manager, gesturing a lot with her hands and her whole body, just like her big brother. The tiny blonde looks somewhat overwhelmed at the constant singsong of her childish tinkling voice that never ceases to shoot questions and commentary, without pausing for breath.

No one comes to her rescue, no matter how many desperate looks the manager throws at her surroundings: the kid’s brother looks too engulfed in his setter’s stormy aura. To Futakuchi’s surprise, instead of yelling or getting a vein to explode on his temple, the setter just hands over the juice carton to him. The redhead blinks several times, his mouth slightly open.

“I… thought the machine had run out of this juice.”

The setter raises one of his shoulders and lets it drop.

“The one at the other end of the yard still had some.”

Futakuchi wouldn’t know how to describe the mini-middle blocker’s expression without resorting to something ridiculous, like saying that his whole face seems to light up like a high intensity spotlight that hurts your eyesight. Maybe Karasuno’s setter is thinking along the same lines, because his face twists in a very weird manner. He lowers his gaze, perhaps to hide behind his black fringe, but that doesn’t conceal the red tips of his ears.

From the corner of his eye, he sees that Aone is now standing close to Koganegawa and the rest of the troublesome first years, but his gaze has wandered towards Karasuno’s mini-middle blocker. Nametsu-san elbows him in a very unnecessary manner because, beyond his duties as a captain, Futakuchi doesn’t need to be reminded of his duties as a friend.

That doesn’t mean he has any clue what to say to Aone right now, of course. How do you tell someone, in a way that doesn’t sound terrible: I’m so sorry that the midget you’re so obsessed with is obsessed with his own setter?

But he walks towards him all the same and punches him without any force on his shoulder, striking his best Dateko’s troublesome child pose, with his hands on his hips.

“You’re not going to go all softie in front of Karasuno, are you?”

Aone raises the muscles that would belong to his eyebrows, if he had them, in a gesture that Futakuchi reads as no way.

“We’re good, then.”

He doesn’t say it like a question, but if he can read Aone, the same happens the other way around. He glances over Futakuchi’s shoulder, to where the Karasuno team is now standing in a half-circle, listening to their captain giving them a last minute pep talk, perhaps. The mini-middle blocker is sipping his juice, so close to the setter he might be leaning on him. Futakuchi, much to his own chagrin, clicks his tongue just like his grandma, but Aone shrugs and nods. Futakuchi smiles, baring all of his teeth.

“Then we’d better crush Ougiminami so we can go after Karasuno next.”

Aone doesn’t smile in a way evident to anyone who doesn’t know him well.

But Futakuchi knows him well enough.