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for the best of all possible worlds

Chapter Text

~O~

Centro, Rio de Janeiro

 

...

 

It's twenty minutes past two in the afternoon when Tobio arrives at the airport. It takes him another hour to get past immigration. He's been in airplanes and transfer buses for almost two days. He feels like crawling over the white tiled floor, curling into himself, and sleeping for a week.

At the arrival section, he spots a mop of orange hair, standing out like a New Year's flair beside the rows of blue seats. Tobio stops. He still has his immigration papers in his hand, and perhaps he's grasping them a little too tightly than necessary.

Hinata bellows at him, "Oi! Kageyama!" He's wearing a blue tank top and white cargo shorts, a cap strewn over his head. When he waves his arms high, Tobio's eyes are drawn to his tanned hands, his corded forearms, his unfamiliar, robust shoulders.

Tobio's mouth downturns. He wasn't expecting Hinata to look this much better than he was four years ago.

But his hair is still an ostentatious bright orange, and he's still got that ridiculous, dorky smile on his face. There’s really such a thing as small mercies, Tobio wryly thinks. He starts approaching the other boy.

"Hey there, frowny," Hinata greets, laughing. He takes one of Tobio's duffel bags and slings it around himself.

It must be the sleeveless shirt, or the intense summer heat; Tobio finds himself staring at Hinata's shoulders again for a good minute.

"Hey," Hinata says again, softer this time. "Are you okay? Still jet-lagged?"

Tobio then notices the uncertainty in Hinata's eyes, and it keeps his attention from straying anywhere after that. "How far's your place?" he says.

“Just a few minutes away, actually. We'll take a cab. You must be tired,” Hinata says. A small, pleased smile quietly breaks through. “So. Should we…?”

“Yeah,” Tobio says. He’s not in a piss poor mood anymore, Hinata's sunny presence jerking him awake.

 

...

 

When they step out of the elevator, a man in a thin cotton shirt and baggy jeans greets Hinata by slapping him on the upper arm. Hinata talks to him in rapid-fire Portuguese before they wave at each other farewell. Tobio ducks his head and follows Hinata through the dimly lit hallway.

Hinata fishes out a key from his back pockets. "My parents are somewhere in Croatia, I think. Dad's covering a game there, and my mom wanted to come." He pushes the oakwood door open. "And Natsu's with a group of friends, chasing this Korean boy band that's doing a tour down south. So they'll be out for a week. And you're only here for four days, right?"

Tobio nods absently. "Sorry for intruding," he mumbles under his breath. He slips his shoes off and takes the fuzzy slippers Hinata laid out for him. He glances up and studies the place.

It's not as spacious as his own house, but Hinata's apartment definitely looks a lot more lived in. The couch has a few coffee stains, and there's an alarmingly tall stack of magazines near the stereo system. At the far end of the living room, a long wooden table boasts rows upon rows of photos of the Hinata family and trinkets from their travels all around the world.

Unthinkingly, Tobio approaches it and spots a tiny photo of Hinata in mid-air, mid-spike. It's hidden behind the huge family picture in some cabin in the wilderness. He takes the picture frame in his hands.

"Oh, that's me on my first community tourney!" Hinata says. He's bouncing on his heels.

"You look like you're about to shit yourself," Tobio comments.

Hinata's smile morphs instantly into a scowl. "I was concentrating on hitting it over the net!" he grouches. "We lost that day. But I got a few spikes in, so it was cool."

Tobio nods. He settles the picture carefully next to the cabin photo.

Hinata tugs him by his shirt sleeve, guiding Tobio to one hallway. "I'm sleeping in my parents' room, so you can stay in mine," he says.

"Oh. Alright."

"It's really not impressive or anything, but make yourself at home, Kageyama." Hinata opens the door and unceremoniously dumps Tobio's bags at the foot of his bed.

Tobio looks around. Hinata's desk is cleared of things except for his laptop and a neat row of sports science books. There's a steel shelf filled with comic books on the lowest level, and all kinds of volleyball baubles on the first and second. All the jerseys he's worn for the local teams are displayed on a wooden panel next to the window.

His gaze then falls on a large corkboard affixed on the chrome walls. Something in Tobio's gut twists.

Hinata hovers behind him. "Yeah. My mom got the board for me." He scratches his neck with a finger. "They're like, memorabilia, you know?"

Tobio perfectly understands. He's got all of the packages Hinata sent him in one big office box underneath his bed, while all the letters are safely kept and arranged in several oilskin journals. He's too easily embarrassed and selfish to have them pasted against the wall, though, for everyone to see.

His high school yearbook photo has been doodled on; Hinata gave him thicker, scalloped eyebrows and a crown on his head. Tobio snorts to himself.

"You hungry? Or you want to take a nap first?" Hinata says.

"Nap," Tobio decides.

Hinata nods. "I'll take you to the beachfront later. Oohh, maybe Lucio-sensei's there! Wanna meet him?"

"I guess."

"Okay!" Hinata whoops. "Rest well, Yamayama." He shuts the door behind him.

Tobio sheds his slippers. It's going to be hot under the covers, considering the weather, so Tobio proceeds to lie over the sheets. He falls asleep as soon as his head hits the pillows.

 

...

 

The moon glows faintly over the bay. The street lights barely show him the view of the ocean, but the sea breeze is refreshing. The recreational spaces along the sandy shore are expansive. Tobio isn't a fan of beaches. Or sand. Sand gets everywhere: inside his shoes, the back of his shorts, his eyes, his mouth. It’s nothing like snow, which melts in his clothes and dries up at body temperature alone, even if it does take a while. Not to mention that there’s a lot one can do with snow. Sand is just plain uncomfortable.

One thing the sand has over snow is that snow means not much volleyball can be played outside, and sometimes inside. Gyms and training facilities in Miyagi can get quite frigid, especially intolerable when the heaters are down. Tobio definitely prefers warmth and the sun. Sun means daytime, of waking hours, and more volleyball. Always more volleyball.

There's music playing somewhere in the walkways. It's loud enough that Tobio can hear string instruments and handclaps from this distance.

Katou Lucio is a tall, lean man with graying hair on his temples. They've met before, apparently, but Tobio doesn't remember. His Japanese sounds different—melodic, almost colorful, his greeting warm like Hinata's. He tells Tobio he's been married to a lovely Brazilian woman for almost fifteen years with three kids. He usually only gets to speak Japanese when Hinata's around.

"Shouyou wouldn't shut up about you going pro the first few weeks, Kageyama-kun," Katou says, grinning from ear to ear. "It's hard to pick out that he was immensely jealous with all the praises he was showering you with."

Hinata harrumphs, a pink tinge in his cheeks. "Well, I was, and I still am!" he says. "Anyway, is Lucas here? I want him to meet Kageyama."

Katou laughs at the obvious attempt to change the topic. "Lucas went home early to get some drinks with a few guys. I think they're somewhere in Glória. Want to take Kageyama there?"

"Kageyama doesn't drink," Hinata answers. Tobio jerks his head in assent.

"Oi! Shou!" a man's voice shouts from behind them. "Oi, oi, oi!"

Hinata recognizes him instantly. "Ahh! Milo!" He speaks in Portuguese again, greeting this Milo person with a half-hug and bump on the shoulder.

Tobio slinks closer to Katou and watches the entire exchange.

"You must be wondering who he is. Well, I don't know either." Katou chuckles. "Shouyou's very friendly, which I'm sure doesn't come as a surprise to you. It's one of his greatest strengths, I believe. He can get anyone to play with him. Kind of reminds me of your grandpa, back in the day."

Katou sounds like a teacher who can't help but boast about his long-time, favorite pupil. Tobio looks on as Hinata lets out a breathless laugh, his eyes crinkling shut as Milo playfully punches him on the solar plexus.

"You think he could make it to the pros here?" Tobio asks. "For indoor volleyball?"

Katou's expression dims. "It certainly won't be easy," he says, strategically roundabout. "He'll be considered undersized even in Japan. There are foreigners in the Brazilian pro league right now, but none of them have the... physical limitations Shouyou has." He hums. "Though he is making a name for himself in beach. Things are changing now, though I do hope, for both your sakes, that they come soon."

That doesn't reassure Tobio at all, but he supposes that it's enough for now.

"Hey, Kageyama!" Hinata yells, gesturing for him to come over. "Do you want to play beach volleyball with Milo and his friend?"

Tobio quirks an eyebrow at him. "Isn't it late already?" he says, jogging towards them. Milo seems to be appraising him from head to toe, smiling openly. Tobio narrows his eyes at him.

Hinata puts his hands on his hips and declares, "Night doesn't start until it's ten in the evening here!" He then says something to Milo, who nods. "It'll just be a friendly pick-up game. What do you say?"

Tobio's eyes flicker to Milo dubiously, before nodding. "Okay."

...

 

Tobio dives for the ball but he misses, at quite a remarkable distance. He tastes sand on the roof of his mouth and spits at the side.

"Don't mind, Kageyama!" Hinata shouts.

That pisses him off even more. Tobio glares at the bright whirl of orange hair fluttering against the wind. "Shut up!"

From the other side of the net, Milo's partner, David, snipes something at the two of them, and Hinata cackles. Hinata probably taunts him back, for David laughs and flicks a finger at him. Tobio blinks, taken aback at how easy-going this whole night has been. Well, Hinata did say it would just be a friendly match.

"They're not from here, but let's not go easy on them," Hinata says, elbowing Tobio on the rib. "They want us to treat them with beer after this if they win. I didn't bring my wallet."

Tobio didn't either. "I don't know how you could play properly in this thing," he grumbles lowly, pressing his heels hard against the sand. He looks on at Hinata's toned legs with newfound respect.

Hinata chuckles. "It's not easy playing in the sand, yeah?" He taps Tobio on the back and gets into position. "Still. Go show them your killer serve, Kageyama!"

"Tch," Tobio gripes as he jumps and smacks the ball to the other side. David and Milo aren't able to pick up his serve, but the ball didn't go the way where he intended.

After a few more plays, Hinata and Tobio manage to win with a flimsy one-point difference. Hinata seems genuinely happy about not having to pay for Milo and David's drinks. He declines their offer to give him and Tobio beers, however, and doesn't ask for anything else.

Tobio sits on the nearby bench and dusts off the sand sticking to his knees and shin, before looking up. His eyes widen and his mouth opens a little.

Milo and David are kissing each other next to the net post. Despite the relative darkness, Tobio can still see how much of their skin is still flushed from the game, with the way the tungsten lights beam in their general direction. Milo has a hand on the small of David's back as they glide their lips against each other unhurriedly.

Suddenly, Tobio thinks of Hinata's stupid, rambling mouth, spouting all kinds of words in different languages as soon as Tobio came here. It's always moving, grinning, laughing. Pink and wet and soft-looking. Tobio wants to skim his thumb over it—

The force of the image has Tobio reeling back. He almost falls over the bench.

A disembodied voice then calls, "Kageyama? Hey, Kageyama?" Big brown eyes then invade Tobio's line of vision, shielding him from Milo and David. "Oi. Were you even listening to me?"

"No," Tobio says faintly.

Hinata frowns. He follows Tobio's gaze and stops. He mutters something indiscernible under his breath, before bellowing something to the two men who're still busy with each other.

David and Milo pull apart, and they both laugh, glancing at Tobio in amusement. They then wave goodbye and stroll away, their hands linked together.

Hinata looks back at Tobio. His expression is unreadable for once. "People here do that a lot," he says, voice set at an incredibly low register. "Not as much as in the other beaches—Flamengo's pretty tame—but you'll see folks being very open about their affection here, too. It's normal."

"I didn't say anything," Tobio defends.

"Yeah. But you look like you're about to pass out."

Tobio frowns and sighs. He says slowly and with finality, "Seriously, dumbass. I don't have a problem with it." If he did, he'd be a massive hypocrite. "I was just surprised."

Hinata appears to be relieved at that. "I was asking earlier if you wanted to get something to eat outside. I haven't done groceries, so I can't cook anything for you just yet."

Tobio didn't know Hinata can cook. He tries to tamp down his surprise. "Alright."

"Let me just get my wallet, 'kay?"

They say goodbye to Katou and make their way into the bustling city streets. As they walk, Tobio can't help but think back to how visceral his response was at the sight of two men kissing, and recall Hinata's reaction to his reaction. Tobio's acutely aware that Hinata's got friends from all over, and that there's a good chance that some of them would want what Milo and David have. Hinata's very protective of his friends and teammates, sometimes to a fault. Even though he promised he won't, Tobio believes Hinata's still capable of decking people if it means defending their honor.

Tobio's not sure if he's comforted by that knowledge.

 

...

 

They stop at a store in a corner street, a place looking so hole-in-the-wall that Tobio would have walked past it if it weren’t for Hinata pausing and talking to a middle-aged man in a bow-tie smoking outside.

Tobio glances up at the blue and white banner. Café Lamas. Restaurante. Fundado em 1874.

Hinata gestures at Tobio. "They have a table for us. Let's go."

Tobio follows him.

They pass a spacious alleyway, its walls adorned with black and white photos and plaques, most of them dating back to half a century ago. When they come through the aisle, Tobio can feel his eyes pop out disbelievingly at the long rows of sleek, white square tables illuminated by vintage cast iron lamps. Most of the tables are full. The television showing a football game blares in the background. The air smells strongly of meat and potatoes.

Hinata nudges him. "Time for you to eat like a carioca, huh?"

At that moment, a slim man in a bow-tie approaches them and leads them to their table.

Hinata orders for him. Something that doesn't have too much onions, because Hinata apparently remembers from some letter ago that Tobio dislikes the pungent smell of it. Tobio's throat turns dry.

"This place is open until three in the morning," Hinata says. "So lots of people go here and hang out. It's already seen all sorts of things. Everything happens in Lamas."

"Do you go here?" Tobio asks.

Hinata shakes his head. "Not frequently. Nothing can top the food my mom makes, but when she's not at home, I used to go out and eat at small-time diners. Until two years ago, when I learned to cook healthier meals for myself." He smiles sheepishly. "I didn't realize that there's so much added junk in stuff I used to eat regularly."

Tobio stares at him. "Idiot. Didn't I tell you?"

"Yeah, yeah." Hinata rests his chin atop his palm, elbow on the edge of the table. "But I gotta say. It's really hard to tell your buddies that you can't eat or drink whatever they want when we go out sometime. I don't know how you did it."

Tobio hasn't had the need to, so he shrugs in response.

Their food comes in under twenty minutes. They're served fatty roast beef with potato crisps and rice. Tobio gapes at the portion sizes.

He slices the meat and takes a bite, then immediately takes another. The steak is really good. A little on the greasy side, but good. Flavorful.

"Right?" Hinata says with a huge grin. His cheeks appear red under the yellow lights.

Tobio blinks. He must've said those words out loud. "Yeah," he says lamely.

"Too bad we can't eat like this every day," Hinata says. "I really have to go on a grocery run tomorrow and cook something. I'm not as good as my mom, but Natsu eats whatever I cook. She's the pickiest eater you'd ever have the baddest luck of meeting, so I must be doing fine! You like pork curry and mushroom soup, right?"

Tobio licks his lips. "Yeah." Pork curry is his favorite.

Hinata nods enthusiastically. "Okay! That's settled then!" He takes a spoonful of rice and swallows audibly. "So what do you want to do tomorrow?"

"I don't know. Whatever you want."

"Volleyball?"

That's a given already. "Whatever you want," Tobio emphasizes, shrugging.

Hinata's lips downturns slightly. "Yeah, sure, but I gotta know what you're here for as well, stupid." There's steak sauce at the corner of his mouth. "Don't you want to see something? Copacabana? Christ the Redeemer? The Maracanãzinho, maybe?"

Tobio needs to say something to stall, but he trips over his own tongue, not knowing what to say. He clasps the glass of water in his hand, but doesn't make a motion to drink it.

He must be sporting a weird expression on his face; Hinata squirms under his noiseless gaze. His hair is messy and frizzing at the ends due to the humidity. His face is completely flushed now.

"You know, Kageyama, if you're going to just stare and say three words to me this whole time, I feel pretty obliged to remind you that you wasted a couple thousand yen for this trip," Hinata says with an irritated edge to his voice. "So talk to me, jeez. We're here now, aren't we? Isn't that better than us being miles apart?"

That's the problem. Having Hinata in front of him is so much better than writing to him in the privacy of Tobio's room. Tobio’s floored by how much he’s tracking Hinata's every movement, how much his skin is rapidly warming up the glass in his hand. How much his heart is beating so fucking fast against his chest.

Ahh, Tobio thinks.

The realization is strong and hard-hitting, like taking a rouge ball to the face.

Tobio knows he likes Hinata, and not in a friendly way. He must have liked him for god knows how long. He had been told by so many people, in so many ways, about how he mentions and treats and dreams of Hinata differently than any person he's ever met. It had been enough to warrant the suspicion Tobio had over his heart fluttering oddly whenever he saw Hinata's name on his phone.

It took a while, but his uncertainties had met with reality at a point earlier this year. Maybe if Karasuno hadn't gotten eliminated so early in Spring Interhigh, if Tobio hadn't called Hinata on a whim, his hunch would have just stayed as it was. A crazy notion, nothing more.

But he did call. He heard Hinata's clear voice amidst the ocean waves. He became aware of the words warring in his head, begging to be said, and rocking the delicate balance Tobio's world had been relishing in. At that moment, Tobio knew he had weird feelings for Hinata—yet he couldn't shake off the idea that he's having something else other than nursing a crush.

There's a feeling that's way too intense for it to be as benign as simply liking someone.

Now that he's here, with Hinata just an arm's reach, Tobio finally puts a name to that strange, perplexing emotion he's been wrestling with for months: yearning. Longing to hold Hinata everywhere, at any moment. The attraction must have been a product of the affection he's fostered for Hinata over the years. It makes Tobio scared out of his wits, just thinking about how long he's been feeling like this. And how strongly.

I want Hinata, he thinks, feeling stricken.

Tobio's now discovered what he came to find out. That was quick. He's still got three more days left in this trip.

His eyes lock on the strong sinews of muscle, stretched taut under the skin of Hinata's exposed shoulders. Tobio glowers at it in chagrin. He really wants Hinata. More of him, and more from him. Always more. Sometimes, Tobio's astounded at how greedy and demanding he can still get.

Has he ever really changed since middle school?

Tobio bites at his steak violently. "Just take me anywhere. I don't care where we go," he says in between chews. "You're the one who lives here, dumbass. You should know."

"Was I really stupid for asking? A little input from you would've been nice." Hinata huffs. "Don't complain when I boss you around in the coming days."

Tobio can't bring himself to care. "I'll get my revenge next time." Next time. He sighs inwardly. He's basically digging himself a deeper grave at this point.

Hinata burps a little and leans his back on the chair, smiling sleazily. "Sweet! So I get to lord over the infamous king of the frontcourt for three days, huh," he says. "I bet the folks back in Sendai would be so jealous."

Tobio ignores that. As long as they spend time together, he really doesn't give a damn in the slightest. He drinks his water and swallows down the impatient purr of excitement that threatens to escape from his throat.

 

~O~

Flamengo, Rio de Janeiro

...

 

Shouyou woke up early to get fresh vegetables and meat from the market. The Asian store at Rua Marquês de Abrantes had all the ingredients he needed for the curry and other Japanese dishes, but it was still closed when he came. He had to come back to the apartment and put the groceries in the fridge, before making a second trip to the store. When he came back, he almost broke a vase when his hip caught on the table. Kageyama slept through all that commotion. He really must have been worn out.

He's already setting up the table when Kageyama lumbers out of his room. He grins automatically. "Morning, Kageyama-kun! Had a restful night?"

"Yeah." Kageyama yawns, rubbing his eyes. He rucks up his shirt and scratches his stomach as well.

Shouyou's gaze zeroes in on Kageyama's secret abs, which are now not-so-secret anymore. He can feel the skin on his face go tight—blushing stupidly, like he always does when he's confronted with great people with great bodies. Shouyou laughs it off, since this isn't anything new.

"The bathroom's on the far end of the hallway," Shouyou says. "You can use the white towels."

Kageyama grunts and walks slowly towards it, and Shouyou uses this time to gather his bearings. Jeez. Kageyama's really matured into a really attractive guy, and everything hits so differently from just seeing him in pictures and hearing his voice on the phone. Back when he first met Kageyama in Natori, Shouyou thought of him more as a frowny, scary kid with bits of handsome features on his face. Shouyou wonders about the origins of Kageyama's transformation. What was that famous fairy tale again? The ugly chick that became a swan? The frog that turned into a prince?

Looking refreshed, Kageyama takes a seat before the table. He looks at the fried egg, sauteed pork and vegetables on top of the rice bowl with a critical eye.

"It's not poisoned," Shouyou urges. With the back of his hand, he pushes the miso soup closer to Kageyama.

"Thank you for the meal," Kageyama says, sticking his chopsticks in the bowl.

Shouyou waits until Kageyama's taken a bite, before he gets an omelet with spinach on his plate.

Kageyama eats quietly, in a very strange way—his metal chopsticks hardly make a sound when it dips back to get more rice from the ceramic bowl. He was quiet too, last night. It must be a quirk that's distinctly Kageyama's.

Shouyou smiles at how Kageyama's bowl is almost empty in only a few minutes. "It's good, yeah?"

"It's alright," Kageyama responds. He then drinks his tea. Quietly again.

Shouyou snorts, though he can't fight his smile from growing wider. "Well, I learned from the best! So if you're insulting me, you're insulting my mother. And we can't have that, can we?" He stands up and takes the empty plates in the dishwasher. "So, I was thinking... Do you want to play more beach volleyball? We can play at night when it's cooler. But in the mornings, we can go out and see the sights. What do you say, Kageyama?"

Kageyama blinks twice. "That's fine."

"Alrighty! Do you like swimming? Do you want to, right now?"

Kageyama shakes his head. "Not so much. Just for training."

"Okay!" That's good, too. It's December, and the beaches are overflowing with tourists. Shouyou then claps his soap sudded palms. "Ahh! I got it!"

Kageyama looks at him in mild distress, and Shouyou laughs at his expression.

"Let's walk around 'til your legs fall off. Hoozah!" Shouyou crows. "Bring lotsa water. The sun is your enemy here, Kageyama Tobio-san."

Kageyama squints. "I can handle a little sun," he says.

"Really? Let's see about that," Shouyou says smugly.

...

 

Shouyou lets Kageyama look up and admire the different colored houses. Back when Shouyou wasn't born yet, they used to be unpainted wood shacks with only one to two windows on them. Now, the hillside is crowded with these dense collections of bricks and cinder block dwellings with narrow, paved pathways taking people up and down. Overlooking the prosperous beaches, there are lively, busy houses with little spaces for bushes and flower gardens. They seem to stretch endlessly, taking over the steep hillside. It's one of the most striking things about Rio, in Shouyou's opinion.

"Without the favelas, it wouldn't be Rio," Shouyou says to Kageyama sidelong. "My friend Jason lives somewhere up there. When we were younger, we used to play cards with his brothers in their house."

Kageyama watches several men trek up with sacks of cement on their backs. "A lot of people seem to live here."

"Yeah. Rocinha is huge. I think it's one of the biggest communities in Rio."

"Did you learn to fight here?"

Shouyou laughs. "Heck, no. I got in one scrap one time. I told you, I don't pick fights. And have you seen how tall and burly the people here are? I'd get killed, you know."

Kageyama nods, seeming satisfied with that. "Good."

"Anyway, don't worry about getting harassed or robbed. That's just hogwash. Just act natural. Act like a carioca." Shouyou puffs out his chest. "Besides, I'll protect you!"

Kageyama gives him an unimpressed stare. "You just said a moment ago that you can't fight."

"Kill 'em with kindness and a million-watt smile, Kageyama-kun," Shouyou sing-songs, tugging Kageyama's sweaty arm. "Come on! There's a bunch more stuff you need to see!"

He takes Kageyama to the streets, where there's no shortage of vibrant graffiti to look at. Kageyama physically balks at the image of a bronze-skinned woman in a G-string bikini, but he does seem to regard the drawings of kids playing futevôlei with considerable interest.

At noontime, they reach the side streets entering Leblon, and they stop at all the scruffy-looking botecos lining the urban walks. Shouyou's noticed that Kageyama seems to prefer the pesticos rather than the fancy, European fusion food sold in those restaurants they've passed by, so he makes Kageyama taste a little bit of everything.

There's a blonde-haired foreigner dancing with a local on the street, while another local sings and strikes a tambourine in the background. Kageyama gawks at them, eyes wide, a cod croquette halfway from his slightly parted mouth.

"You should come here in February or early March next time," Shouyou says. "People here go crazy during Carnaval."

Kageyama frowns at him. "I can't dance," he says.

"Heh. Anyone can dance. You just won't," Shouyou claims. "But it's not Carnaval yet, sadly, so you can rest easy, Dull, Uncool Setter-san."

Kageyama swipes at Shouyou's head, tugging his hair—not hard enough to be painful, but just enough to make his skin prickle. Shouyou laughs breathlessly.

 

...

 

While Kageyama's taking a shower, Shouyou prepares a late dinner for them. Something a little heavy. They've been out playing on the beach for three hours, non-stop. Lucio-sensei had to shoo them away so that other people could have matches on one of the posts. His shoulders and legs ache pleasantly, and Shouyou smiles at the reminder of a good day spent.

He opens the lid of the rice cooker and takes out a helping for each bowl. Afterwards, he adds beef and a poached egg on top, then sprinkles pepper over them. Kageyama comes into the dining room at the time he lays the bowls on the table.

"The water was hot," Kageyama says, rubbing the towel against his hair. Sure enough, his skin from the neck up is flushed from the heat.

"Oh. Is that bad?"

Kageyama shrugs. "Just wasn't expecting it."

Shouyou chuckles. "Well, it's summer. The water's bound to be hot. We don't have one of those temperature thingamajigs that cool the bathing water and stuff."

"It's fine." Kageyama glances up at him. "Aren't you going to eat?"

"Mhmm, yeah, just a moment. Go ahead and eat first." Shouyou turns and grabs the mittens from the kitchen pegs. He waits at the oven excitedly.

When the timer dings, Shouyou opens the oven door and brings out the chiffon cake. Slowly, he takes it out of the mold and onto a serving plate. He sticks and lights a candle on it.

"Tada! I'm really hoping I'm the last one to greet you. Save the bestest person for last, eh?" Shouyou grins as he sets the cake on the table. "Happy birthday, Kageyama Tobio!"

Kageyama freezes on his seat, eyes widening. The beef on his chopsticks falls back to his bowl.

Shouyou stills as well, bewildered at the other man's reaction. "What? It's December twenty-second, isn't it?"

Kageyama parts his mouth, closes it, then opens it again. "I think my birthday was yesterday," he mutters. "In Japan."

Oh. Oh. "Oh," Shouyou repeats dumbly. He's blushing as hard as Kageyama now. He hadn't thought about that. "Sorry, Kageyama-kun. Did you think I forgot?"

Kageyama looks endlessly abashed. "N-no. I didn't really—I almost forgot, if it weren't for my family and my teammates messaging me about it."

"Are you dumb? It's your birthday. Who forgets their own birthdays?"

Kageyama appears to have regained control over his fingers. He starts chucking beef in his mouth again.

Shouyou then laughs, still pleased at how this all turned out. "Oh well. It's still the twenty-second here in Rio. And I'm still the last person to greet you. I win!"

"Shut up. Eat your gyudon already," Kageyama says. His cheeks and the tips of his ears are still tomato red.

Shouyou slices the chiffon cake. "You know, you've never told me about what you do in your birthdays," he says. "I really wanted to ask you what you wanted to do yesterday, but you kept on insisting that I plan it all out. Which is fine! It's fun, of course, but really. What do you do, usually?"

Kageyama ponders about it as he gets himself a second serving. "I just train," he mutters as he sits back down. "Birthdays usually only matter when my family's home together. We could eat out or inside. Mom and Miwa-san would cook. But that doesn't usually happen. So I would just practice volleyball. Or do other stuff to train."

"Don't your teammates come over?"

"Not really." Kageyama gulps down the rice. "My place isn't good for having guests. I don't have video games or cards or stuff like that."

Shouyou frowns. "You don't need video games or cards to have fun."

Kageyama stares at him. "Well, it didn't happen. So."

Something about that just strikes Shouyou as—sad. Lonesome. Kageyama might not have been alone for all of his birthdays, but if he didn't have anything that stood out enough for him to mention, well, that just doesn't sit right with Shouyou.

Shouyou doesn't celebrate birthdays that way. Since Kageyama's in his place, he's just going to have to deal with it. "I don't have video games here, but we can play something else! My dad brought this funny game from the States. Jenga. Me and Natsu play it all the time! Have you heard of it?"

"No...?"

"That settles it, then!" Shouyou slaps his palm on the wooden table thrice. "Jenga, after dinner!"

Kageyama looks instantly regretful for agreeing to give Shouyou absolute powers.

 

~O~

 

"Kageyama, sheesh! Hold your arms up higher!"

Kageyama makes a face and juts his chin out in defiance.

"Look around, everybody's doing it!" Shouyou shouts from behind his phone screen. "Don't be a joy killer! Your mom wants a photo of you here, you know!"

Kageyama glares at him, but finally acquiesces.

Shouyou smiles wickedly and presses the capture button on his screen. He clicks on the preview and cackles. In front of the massive Christ the Redeemer statue is Kageyama frowning impressively and mimicking the pose. He has his arms outstretched like he's waiting for a rabid brown bear to hug him.

Kageyama sidles up to Shouyou's side and scowls even more at his photo. "I look stupid," he protests.

"You look cute," Shouyou says sincerely. "I think your fans will like this one."

"Don't post it anywhere!"

Shouyou laughs. "I won't! But I don't think you can stop your mother from showing it to your relatives or posting it somewhere." He pockets his phone.

They slink past the tourists and head down through the stairway. When they arrive at level ground, Shouyou asks, "You sure you don't want to go around the neighborhood at night? I know you don't drink, but there are pubs that are pretty famous here. Just in case you'll think you're missing out..."

Kageyama shakes his head. "Too crowded," he says, squinting at the sun in annoyance. "I just want to stay at the apartment with you."

Shouyou blinks. "Oh," he says. "Alright."

Kageyama adjusts his black cap, puts it low to cover his eyes from the glare. "All you got are pictures of me," he says. "What about you?"

"What about me?"

"Don't you want to take pictures, too?

Shouyou wipes the sweat collecting at the dip of his neck. "I've already had way too many as a kid," he says. "I think I've sent you copies of them over the years." From what he can remember, he looks like a gremlin in most of them, but it's not like he can do anything about his face.

"It's not like you still look the same," Kageyama points out.

"What? You want me to take pictures, too?"

Kageyama shrugs. He offers, "I'll take them if you want."

Shouyou smacks Kageyama's arm. "What? Are you embarrassed of posing on your own so much?"

"It's only fair."

Shouyou laughs. "Alright, alright. Whatever makes you less cranky," he says as he leads Kageyama to the streets.

 

...

 

Shouyou's sitting cross-legged on the balcony, leaning his head on the strong, thick stem of the potted plant next to him. The night is still young, for him at least. There's that tell-tale restlessness that makes his skin warm in a way that has nothing to do with the summer's heat, a persistent twitch under his eyes that can't be willed away by simply closing them.

There's a rhythm of a bossa nova pulsing in the night air, recognizable even at this distance. It's a love song. A pretty melody. Shouyou doesn't know the lyrics, but he hums softly along with it.

Things are different now, with Shouyou no longer having homework or school projects to fret about. It doesn't mean it's easier, though. Shouyou's more nervous than ever. He's got no excuses for him to fail. It's just going to be him with the ball.

And his teammates. And the opposing team, of course. Skilled rival players. Blockers, gigantic and frightening, looming before him. Shouyou has to reach the top first. They can't catch up to him. Shouldn't.

He tries not to think about how no one in the Brazilian team roster looks like him.

Shaking his head, Shouyou diverts his thoughts and thinks of Kageyama, and how much he's surprised to find he likes having the other guy around. Kageyama doesn't talk a lot, not really, but sometimes his face does something strange, enabling Shouyou to get a peek of his thoughts. Somehow, it feels more intimate than the letters they've been sharing.

Even up to now, he keeps expecting Kageyama to say something. Mention something about his intentions for coming here. It had been so abrupt. Shouyou partly suspects the reason why his mother booked a ticket to a Croatia at the last minute lies in Kageyama's sudden proclamation to come to Rio. She must want them to spend some time alone.

But why?

Kageyama's going to leave the morning after tomorrow, and Shouyou still has no idea.

There's a rustle of movement from behind him. Shouyou twists his torso and finds Kageyama standing still in the living room, one hand gripping on the couch.

A moment passes between them, staring wordlessly, before Shouyou throws him a small but welcoming smile. "Can't sleep?" he says, inviting.

Kageyama's shoulders rise before he nods, sauntering towards the balcony.

Shouyou scoots and gives him space. He then nudges Kageyama on the elbow as he sits. "Thought I tired you out enough today. What's up?"

"Nothing," Kageyama murmurs. He peers at Shouyou. "What were you thinking?"

Shouyou shouldn't be embarrassed about saying this—he's talking to Kageyama, after all—but for some reason, he is. "Volleyball."

"Oh."

"Just wondering how next week's training is gonna go." Shouyou scratches his neck. "Bothast-sensei's super nice, but he's hella strict during practice. And the players I'll be training with all have high specs, you know? It's going to be awesome, obviously. I won't get left behind." Shouyou will try very hard not to be.

"You'll do alright if you'll stick to your training well."

"Yeah, duh. But I don't want to do 'alright'. I want to be the best."

Kageyama stays quiet for a long time. Eventually, he speaks, "If you want to be the best, then why are you even considering going back to Japan?"

Shouyou turns to him swiftly. "What?"

"In your e-mail. You said so." Now, Kageyama fully meets his gaze. "Brazil is the strongest country for men's volleyball. You'd be extra stupid if you wouldn't want to make it here."

"It's just..." Shouyou straightens, his back protesting at the sudden movement. "Kageyama. You do know why I'm in a pickle here, right?"

Kageyama doesn't back down. "I know. I understood. That's why I came here. To tell you you're being an idiot in person."

"What—"

"I do want to play with you. But I want to play against you the most," Kageyama says. "It doesn't matter how long I wait, as long as you get there."

Shouyou shrinks at the intensity of Kageyama's gaze. The faint light from the living room lamp makes Kageyama's deep blue eyes gleam.

"That's what you want," Shouyou says. "What about what I want?"

Kageyama quirks an eyebrow, looking unimpressed. "What do you want, then?"

To beat you, Shouyou ponders. To beat you and stand on even footing with the best players. To stand on the world stage, and declare unquestionable victory.

He hesitates. Is it really as simple as Kageyama makes it sound?

"It's not that simple," Shouyou then tries.

Kageyama shrugs. "Okay. Then I don't know how to make it simpler."

Shouyou's question comes with a quick and painful exhale, "What if I don't make it?"

Kageyama stills, frowning deeply, before shrugging again. "Do you think you won't make it?" he asks. "Or does someone else think you won't?"

"I..."

"If you think you can't make it, then quit now," Kageyama says. "If you really believe that, you should. I've said this before. You're wasting your time and everyone else's—"

"Ugh, why do you have to say it like that—"

"—but if you're just saying that because it's what everyone else thinks, then I'm going to repeat what I said earlier. You're being extra stupid." Kageyama purses his lips. "And extra selfish."

Shouyou's ears warm. "Is that supposed to motivate me?"

"You want to be called extra stupid?"

"I didn't say that!" Shouyou gripes. Jeez. Kageyama is such an asshole. A blunt asshole. Coming all the way to Rio just to tell Shouyou off and say he couldn't care less about other people's doubts and that Shouyou's a huge fumbling idiot for caring so much about them. Whoever taught him that he could just say and do whatever he wants? Kageyama's a king, through and through.

Shouyou adds, "I just thought... maybe it'd be easier in Japan." He wants to take the easier path for himself sometimes. It's not bad, is it?

"Mhmm." Kageyama rolls his shoulders.

"Sorry," Shouyou mumbles. "I was being lame."

"You were. You said you wanted to jump even higher."

"I did."

"Then don't let your jump drift," Kageyama says flatly.

"Yeah," Shouyou says, bringing his knees to his chest. "Yeah, you're right."

"Of course. I didn't come to Brazil to be wrong."

Shouyou barks out an astonished laugh. "Did you just tell a joke?" he says. The knot in his chest loosens.

"I wasn't joking," Kageyama says.

In between snickers, Shouyou manages, "But it was still funny. Be more like that, and you won't have the media folks calling you a volleyball robot anymore for sure."

Kageyama doesn't seem like he gets it, but isn't willing to voice it out. He simply stares ahead at the cityscape. "So what do you want?" he asks again.

To be the strongest, Shouyou thinks once more. To do what no one else has ever done before.

If he wants that, then he can't take the easy route. He can't jump low if he wants to fly. Then if that's the case... then there's no other answer, is there?

And it's not like he's going to be doing this alone. His parents have never withdrawn their support. There's Natsu and all of his former teammates, cheering for him on the wings. Lucio-sensei and Bothast-sensei will make him train and jump all over the court until his legs give out. And there's Kageyama, obviously, who's going to shoot for the same stars, no matter how long it takes. As long as you get there.

Maybe that's all there is to it. Shouyou has to remember he's never going to be by himself as he goes.

And so he's no longer confused about what he has to do. And he's no longer nervous about volleyball.

"I don't want to lose," Shouyou lets out gradually, steadily. "To you or to anyone."

Kageyama gives him a haughty look, eyes darkening. Told you so, his expression seems to say. "And?" he presses.

Shouyou wants to smack him. Or something. He wants to do a lot of things to Kageyama's irritating, pretty face. His heart begins to beat madly in his chest. "I want to make it to the world stage," he says. "The strongest one stays on the strongest court the longest, and I want to be that person."

Kageyama rolls his eyes. "Yeah, and I'll fight you for it. That's what I've been saying from the start." He seems to be fighting back a smile.

"Yeah," Shouyou says, distracted by the soft quirk on Kageyama's lips. It's the only thing Shouyou can think about, the compulsion to touch coming from out of nowhere. Absently, he crawls into Kageyama's personal space and rests his palm on Kageyama's jaw.

Kageyama squawks, angling back. "What are you—ow, shit, Hinata, what are you doing?"

Shouyou drops his hand. "Sorry!" Oh god. He probably shouldn't have done that. "Sorry, that was rude." He draws in a sharp breath. The skin on his palm is burning hot. It's like he just scored an awesome spike on a set point. His fingers twitch. "Kageyama, your face is really doing it for me," he realizes, a kick to his gut.

"What?"

"Your face." Shouyou gestures at him. He wants to touch Kageyama's jaw again. His reddening cheeks. His mouth. Shouyou wants to press kisses all over Kageyama's face.

Woah.

Kageyama's curling up like a wary kitten against the railings. His expression contorts, but it's not anger Shouyou sees. Not disgust.

Maybe he should come clean now. He owes it to Kageyama.

Shouyou finally admits, "You're really handsome, Kageyama. Like unbearably handsome. I feel really weird looking at you ever since you got here." He's starting to get something here. If only Kageyama will let him—

Kageyama grabs Shouyou's cheeks with both of his hands in an almost suffocating squeeze. Oh, he looks livid now.

"Ku-ge-yumuh?" Shouyou says, his lips pressed awkwardly together like a duck's, with the way Kageyama's holding him.

"Don't say stupid shit like that!" Kageyama yells.

"Wuh? Buh ey mwen it." Shouyou wraps his fingers around Kageyama's wrists, easing his grasp on him. But he lets Kageyama's hands stay where they are. "I mean it," he repeats. "Look, maybe I'm onto something. This is important."

"What are you fucking on about?"

"I'm going to kiss you real quick. Okay?"

Kageyama's face darkens. "What?"

"A kiss!" Shouyou says. "But just a peck, like a greeting! If you don't want that, just say so. I won't do it to you if you tell me not to."

Kageyama goes still as a lamp post. He doesn't appear to be breathing.

"Kageyama?" Shouyou prompts again.

Kageyama glares at something on Shouyou's head. "Your hair's too fucking long," he complains.

"What?"

Suddenly, Kageyama reaches out and runs his fingers through Shouyou's bangs, pulling them back. He then scoots closer as Shouyou's heart thunders in his chest.

Kageyama brushes his lips against Shouyou's forehead, before pulling away.

The sensation was barely there, but it did succeed in making Shouyou's entire face flame. More importantly, it was over way too fast for Shouyou to conclude anything.

Shouyou scrambles towards Kageyama. "Wait—"

"You said one—"

"But you did it!" This time, Shouyou succeeds in clamping Kageyama's cheeks with his palms. "Let me try!"

With the railings hard and unforgiving behind his back, Kageyama's cornered. He grimaces. His pupils are blown. "This isn't some spiking drill, dumbass!" he screeches.

"I know that. Hold still, will you? This will be over in just a second." Shouyou's eyes zero in on Kageyama's lips. "Or maybe a minute. Close your eyes."

"Why should I?"

"You want me to kiss you with your eyes open?"

Kageyama appears like he wants to throttle Shouyou over the balcony. But he concedes and closes his eyes. His shoulders are hunched in trepidation.

He looks really good, Shouyou thinks in awe. There's a lot he's discovering: the tightness in the skin around Kageyama's eyes, the smooth slope of his nose, his high cheekbones. He didn't know Kageyama's eyelashes are this dark and thick.

Unfortunately, he can't take too long admiring Kageyama's profile or else Kageyama will really strangle him. Shouyou swipes his hands across Kageyama's jawline before leaning in.

It's supposed to be only a peck, as agreed, but when Shouyou begins to press their lips together, Kageyama parts his own, his hot breath puffing against Shouyou's suddenly sensitive mouth. Their lips slide rather than stick, and Shouyou can't help but push for more, moving aggressively for more contact.

His soul jumps out of his body when Kageyama starts reciprocating. He pushes forward and kisses Shouyou more firmly, deft fingers threading through Shouyou's hair and tangling them further.

"Oh," Shouyou says, out of breath, when a glaring Kageyama gives him the chance to pull away. That was—really amazing. Not wanting this to end just yet, Shouyou then grasps Kageyama's neck and smashes their mouths together again.

Kageyama's lips feel so lush against his. Shouyou licks at it experimentally, wanting to feel more of its softness. Kageyama's tongue ends up in Shouyou's mouth, slowly exploring. Shouyou can taste Kageyama, too. That's weird, but everything feels so good. Shouyou wants to kiss Kageyama over and over.

Shouyou sucks Kageyama's lower lip, and Kageyama gasps into his mouth, a wounded, broken thing.

He's making noise. Kageyama's making noise, even though he's usually so noiseless, so quiet. Shouyou wants to hear more of that, he finds.

Shouyou's barely aware of his back being pressed against the railings, his free hand clasped around the rim of the pot, fingers dipping in the loamy soil. He can't remember how he got to this point. Kageyama's still kissing him.

Kageyama then tongues at a sensitive part on the soft inside of Shouyou's mouth, and someone moans.

Abruptly, Kageyama breaks it off. He's panting heavily when he wheezes out, "That was loud."

Shouyou presses a fist against his chest, catching his breath. "Huh?" He then jolts, hearing the sound again in his head. That was him? "Oh. Sorry."

Kageyama eyes him warily, before sighing. He places his thumb over Shouyou's thrumming lips, wiping the spit off it. That's supposed to be gross under normal circumstances, but...

Shouyou grins wide, understanding dawning on him now. "I like you, Kageyama," he declares. After much wrangling and bargaining, he finally figured it out. He wipes off the soil against his shorts. He thinks he's glowing from the inside out, his gut feeling all warm and squirmy. "I want to kiss you again."

"Again?" Kageyama says, almost in anguish, like he can't believe what he's hearing.

"Yeah, that was amazing. Don't you think so?"

"I guess..."

Shouyou ponders for a bit. "Huh. I guess kissing's really better when you do it with someone you like." He had his first kiss with a girl he met on the same day, and that hadn't been as good, if he's being honest.

Kageyama presses his lips into a firm line. "Maybe," he says eventually. "I like you, too, so I suppose that made it doubly better."

Shouyou's jaw slackens. Did he hear that right? "O-oh," he stammers out, rubbing his neck. He flinches when he feels the soil sticking to the heated skin. "Really?"

Kageyama jerks his chin. A nod.

"Oh," Shouyou says. "Okay. That's... that's good for us. Right?"

Kageyama doesn't answer that. He looks down on his lap, where Shouyou's other hand rests. He takes it in his palm and squeezes it tightly.

Shouyou tries to focus on that sensation. His heart is forgetting to beat properly in all this excitement and uncertainty. "Since we like each other, then do you want us to be together?" He bites at his lower lip, and adds, "Because I really want to."

Kageyama still isn't looking at him. He starts playing with Shouyou's fingers. "Don't you think it'll be a mistake?" he says.

"Huh? Why?"

"We'll be countries away." Kageyama halts and glances up. "How can we be together, if it's like that?"

Shouyou purses his lips. "Well, it's not like everything about us has to change. I'll just miss you more," he says. "So I'll have to message you more frequently."

Kageyama's face twists. "You'll want more than just messaging and talking," he mumbles. "My sister had boyfriends and they did more than that. And I—" His lips quiver, like his next words is taking so much of him to bring out in the open. "I'll want more of you, too. Dumbass Hinata."

Shouyou tilts his head in befuddlement. He wants Kageyama to want him, and he'll want Kageyama back. He doesn't think of it as a problem as much as it is a gift. But maybe wanting so much from someone can set everything off balance, and perhaps that's what Kageyama doesn't want to risk. The things they want now are definitely beyond what's acceptable between rivals and friends. Pushing forward would probably mean straying far from what was easy and comfortable.

But easy and comfortable isn't exactly them, is it? Kageyama always picks out the things he finds terrible about Shouyou, his criticisms sometimes more punishing than helpful, and it spurs Shouyou into dishing out as good as he got. They'll always want more from each other. It's not like putting a brake on this would make them want things any less.

Those letters they've sent each other are proof and a reminder, and there's more waiting to be sent. Shouyou's already etched Kageyama's name way too many times that the ink of those words must have already bled to his skin.

So perhaps wanting isn't the problem, really. It's how much they'll work for it.

At that, Shouyou doesn't worry.

"You didn't answer my question, though," Shouyou says. "Do you want to be together, too?"

Kageyama gives him a death stare. "Obviously."

"It's not obvious to me. That's why I'm asking. Obviously." Shouyou huffs as he takes Kageyama's hand in his this time. "If we both want it, then it's fine. We'll make it work."

Kageyama goes hazy-eyed. "This..." He motions at both of them. "This isn't going to be just about volleyball anymore, you know."

"Yeah. I think so, too."

"You want that?"

Shouyou pauses. He'd be lying if he says he's not the least bit scared. This is a new territory for both of them, a huge unknown in an equation. Kageyama's right—this thing between them is going to be more than just volleyball.

For some reason, however, that thought thrills him rather than frightens him. Kageyama has always been about volleyball to Shouyou. If they're going to be a couple, then Shouyou would be letting Kageyama take part in that whole other chunk of his life, one that hasn't been about volleyball. Like his friends outside of his team. Like his family.

If they're really going to do this, then Kageyama will see more and be more.

(He's still terrible at percentages and fractions, but doesn't that mean that Kageyama's going to be in Shouyou's entire life now?)

Shouyou's so nervous and so excited.

"I want more than volleyball, yeah," he says, his reckless delight leaking through his voice. "You're going to be more than just volleyball to me."

When Kageyama leans forward to kiss him again, Shouyou can already tell that things are just going to get better from here on out.

 

~O~

Flamengo, Rio de Janeiro

...

 

Tobio says over breakfast, "Can we stay in?"

Hinata's reaching out for the rice in the aluminum steamer. He almost drops the plastic flat spoon. "What?"

"I want to stay in."

"Really? Don't you want to go on a cable car? Or do hang gliding? I have loads more to show you—"

"I came here to Rio to see you," Tobio says. He's taking a page out of Hinata Shouyou's playbook and is being frank about what he wants. The words tumble out easier than he expects, though his face feels incandescent. "It's my last day. I want to spend it with you indoors."

Hinata draws his eyebrows together. "I thought I'd be the one in charge."

"Yeah. That's why I'm asking if we can."

Hinata hesitates. "Well, what is it that you want to do here, then?"

Tobio wants to study Hinata without worrying about having an unwelcome audience. He wants to make sure that this thing between them is real, and not some kind of prank. He wants to touch Hinata in private.

He ends up saying a mixture of those things, "I just want to be alone with you. If we're really going to do this, then I want us to do that before I leave."

"Oh. Okay." Hinata looks flustered, hands flailing on the table.

Tobio realizes this being upfront thing is reaping benefits in such a remarkably short time. He needs to be more strategic in when and how he uses it. "Well?" he persists.

Hinata gives him a weak smile. "Let's stay in," he says. "Want to watch a movie?"

Tobio shrugs. If they sit together on the couch, then that'd be okay.

 

...

 

Hinata pulls out this movie starring a famous American actor. It's called World War Z. The blond male lead with the funny-looking mustache running in an abandoned city street looks familiar. Tobio must have seen at least one of this guy's films long ago.

He's not watching the movie, though. He's mostly concerned with Hinata, who's got his legs tangled on top of Tobio's lap. Tobio's already losing the feeling of his limbs waist down, though Hinata seems absorbed with the zombies chasing after the main characters.

After ten more minutes, Hinata straightens and hits pause on the remote. He studies Tobio's face. "You don't like it?" he says.

Tobio bounces it back, "Do you?"

Hinata frowns, interpreting that. "You don't." He pulls back his legs and turns to face Tobio completely. "Movies aren't really your thing, huh?"

"Not these kinds. Maybe."

"Mhmm." Hinata scratches his neck. "Well, anything you want to do? If you think of something, just tell me."

Tobio has an idea, but he doesn't know how to voice it out properly. Maybe if he acts it out, Hinata will understand better. He inches forward and wraps his palm around Hinata's neck.

Hinata lets out a squeak.

Tobio wants a rematch from last night. He was completely blindsided. He draws himself closer, into Hinata's space.

Hinata's mouth parts involuntarily. "Erm, you want to make out or something?" he asks, sounding a little winded.

That, among other things. "A couple of that," Tobio agrees.

Hinata blushes fiercely. "We can't do that here. The living room's sacred. My mom does her work here sometimes."

"Alright. Your room?"

"Yeah."

Tobio's slow to get up from the couch, his legs stinging and throbbing as the blood rushes back to his limbs. He's not sure why he's being so bold today when he can't even look Hinata in the eye last night. It's like a dam inside him broke, and now there's a vicious torrent propelling him to go after everything he wants.

Hinata snickers as he slides the door open, and Tobio asks, "Why are you laughing?"

"Ahh, nothing, really," Hinata says. "I've never thought that Kageyama Tobio would be flying here to Brazil and that I'd be making out with him on my bed." He laughs again, gesturing at his small single mattress. "It's not the perfect set-up, but if it is, we've got nothing to try to make better, right?"

Tobio is inclined to agree.

Hinata's eyes flicker to him briefly, before staring back at the bed. "So, how do you want to do this?"

"You and me there." Tobio considers, then adds, "Take off your shirt."

Hinata makes another one of those short, squeaky noises. "You have to take off yours, too!" he exclaims. "Fair's fair!"

Tobio climbs over the mattress and leans on the bed frame. He looks up at Hinata expectantly.

It takes a moment for Hinata to follow him. Hinata's clumsy as he steps on the bed and scrambles closer to Tobio. He's got his hand on Tobio's knee to steady himself. Tobio almost cracks a smile.

"You're lucky I like you," Hinata says. "Because this is just torture."

"How is this torture?"

"You look so good on my bed," Hinata complains. "Now, I'll start thinking about you like this when I go to sleep. Torture."

"You're the one who wanted to do it here."

"What? You want to do it in the kitchen? Do you want me to choke?"

Tobio rolls his eyes. Trust Hinata to get so hissy and combative when they're about to do something Tobio wants to try out. "I don't want you to choke, dumbass," he says. "So let's just do it here. Hurry the fuck up."

Hinata glares at him as he draws up his light blue character t-shirt. Tobio instantly cranes his neck, angling to see more of Hinata's skin as he exposes them. He reaches out and presses his palm on Hinata's chest. Hinata jumps under his touch.

"W-wait," Hinata says, voice muffled. He still hasn't completely shed his shirt.

Tobio leans forward and helps him off it. When Hinata resurfaces, Tobio finds that their faces are so close to each other. Some of Hinata's hair is sticking up at weird angles.

Tobio places his palm back on Hinata's chest, fleeting down to his abs, then up again at his unevenly tanned shoulders. He decides that the shoulders are one of the things he finds especially attractive about Hinata. It looks good. Strong. Tobio imagines Hinata using the force from his well-formed traps and deltoids to swing and spike a ball above the net. He suddenly feels dizzy, his breaths quickening.

Tobio creeps his hands up to the soft base of Hinata's neck, the pulse there humming.

"Liking the view, Kageyama-kun?" Hinata says. His toasty brown eyes are piercing. Hungry.

"Shut up," Tobio mutters for the lack of better things to say. He laps at the soft skin over the pulse, feeling the heat and tasting the salty sweat on his tongue. He sucks at it forcefully.

Hinata whines and his knees buckle, falling into Tobio's arms. Hinata's weight feels good against him. He takes advantage of this by shifting his arms around Hinata's waist, keeping him in position.

Hinata's legs are still sheathed in those loose cotton pants he's wearing, a nagging interest. Tobio wants Hinata to take them off, too, though he's not sure how he could bring that up without sounding like a pervert.

He'll just have to settle with this for now. Tobio angles his neck and gives Hinata a closed-mouth kiss, smooth and slow.

In under a minute, the kiss escalates into something fierce: Tobio feels shivery all over, as Hinata sinks onto him, pressing Tobio hard against the mattress. In retaliation, Tobio licks at the edges of Hinata's mouth, and Hinata moans into it. They're scrambling for control, it seems like, a desperate back and forth, and both of them don't want to yield. Tobio has a vague suspicion that kisses aren't usually done like this.

Tobio tries to give in, his wild curiosity winning by a margin. Hinata takes the opening and full-on assaults Tobio's pliant mouth and body.

Tobio then feels the tingly, white-hot sensation from his middle travel downwards. Something in his pants is straining, turning heavy. Tobio frantically tugs on Hinata's hair twice, pulling them apart.

Hinata stares at him in disbelief, his tan skin flushing delightfully red from his face to his chest, sweat breaking out all over. Tobio likes seeing him like this.

"Ease me into it," Tobio rasps. "I'm not—I haven't done this with anyone before."

Hinata looks at him with greater confusion. "I haven't either," he says. When Tobio narrows his eyes, he exclaims, "No, seriously! I would have told you that I've done it, at least!"

Tobio feels silly for pointing this out: "You have a lot of friends."

Hinata snorts impressively. "I don't make out with my friends for fun, Kageyama." He then frowns. "Wait, did I give you the impression that I did?"

It's Tobio's turn to blush. "Just wanted to make sure," he mumbles.

Hinata palms his cheek. "Sorry," he says, though Tobio's not sure what he's apologizing for. "Did I overdo something?" He leans back, searching for any signs where Tobio seems hurt.

As long as Hinata doesn't look at the growing tent on his crotch, Tobio thinks that he's okay to continue. "No."

"Your shirt looks sweaty and gross," Hinata says, failing to sound innocent. "Want to take it off?"

Unwillingly, Tobio rucks up his shirt.

Hinata instantly settles his palms on Tobio's torso, sighing deeply. "You look really good," he claims, beaming. "I'm kinda jealous, but mostly, I just wanna stare and appreciate how hot you are."

Ugh. Tobio wants to beat him up. He flips them over. He’s oddly gratified at the punch of breath Hinata makes when his back hits the mattress. They almost fall over in Tobio's attempt.

If Hinata's just going to say whatever he wants, then Tobio's getting a free pass also, the usual proprieties be damned. "Take off your pants," Tobio orders.

Hinata pales. "What? Why?"

"I want to see your legs. Thighs."

"Why?"

"Isn't it obvious?" Tobio wants to see everything.

Hinata frowns once more. "Seriously, Kageyama. I didn't know you had such an appetite," he says. "Warn a guy next time."

"Like you can talk. Who mauled me just minutes ago?"

"S-shut up!" Hinata says indignantly. "You don't tell someone to take his pants off on the first date."

Maybe, but this doesn't feel like a first date. This doesn't even feel like a first anything. Hinata knows him, and Tobio knows Hinata. He's got Hinata's morning routine memorized, and he can tell anyone what brand of soap Hinata dislikes. Tobio's even aware of how and when Hinata takes a shit. They know too much about each other, in ways that makes Tobio feel both vulnerable and safe.

Despite the awkwardness he feels, Tobio strips off his sweatpants, daring Hinata to follow his lead. It works; Hinata gapes for a moment, before loosening the ribbon and pushing the band of his pants down.

Their clothes are a messy tumble on the floor. Tobio glances at it with little regret.

Tobio's gaze then hones in on Hinata's thighs. His jumping muscles. He runs his fingers over it. Hinata shivers gratifyingly. "Lay on your back," Tobio instructs.

Surprisingly, Hinata does so with little demur. He must finally be seeing the point of Tobio's insistence. Tobio’s skin feels hot and tight with obvious desire.

He continues his exploration of Hinata's legs, the insides of his thighs. There are a couple of marks near his knees, cuts and bruises that haven't completely healed. Tobio wonders about the history of each one. He presses his fingers over them.

"Hey," Hinata says, beckoning him. "Let me touch you, too."

Tobio moves closer and becomes sandwiched between Hinata's thighs. Hinata brings himself up and touches Tobio's arms and his shoulders. He mouths at the insides of Tobio's wrists.

With less clothing between them, kissing feels a whole lot better. It feels more intense, more real. Tobio can feel the stiff peaks of Hinata's nipples against him, and Tobio can easily slink his hands down to Hinata's solid back. It's a touch overwhelming, but more than that, Tobio feels warm. Warm under Hinata's touch, under Hinata's fervent attention. Safe and happily warm.

Tobio really likes the warmth so much.

Something hard pokes at Tobio's belly, and before he can look down, Hinata breaks off and shouts at him, an anxious edge to his voice, "I'm sorry!" He tries to scamper away, but Tobio pins him down.

Tobio sighs. "It's fine," he says, panting. "My dick is hard, too."

Hinata's eyebrows shoot up. "Vulgar, Kageyama!"

"What do you want me to say?" Tobio says, parsing Hinata's fringe to gain access to his eyes. The long hair is starting to annoy Tobio. "Should we ignore it?"

"As long as we're doing—things, it's going to stay like that. Right?"

Tobio swallows. "Yeah," he answers.

Hinata nods. "I don't want to ignore it, then," he says. "Let's do something about it."

Tobio eyes him critically. "Like what?"

"Any ideas?"

Tobio clamps his fingers hard against Hinata's scalp. "None. Shitbrain, you're the one who suggested it."

Hinata chuckles as he winces in pain. He then shifts. "Let me see..."

Tobio colors. "I'm not some porn star, okay?" he says, breath hitching. "It doesn't look—" He visibly flinches. "Good or anything."

Hinata laughs, eyes and nose crinkling. "I don't think they're supposed to look good," he says reasonably. "Still, it's yours, so I want to see."

Tobio brings the band of his underwear down. "Yank yours out, too!"

"'Yank yours out, too," Hinata mocks, though he pulls down his underwear as well. "Very classy, your kingliness."

"I'm going to strangle your dick," Tobio threatens. He watches eagerly as Hinata slowly reveals the dark orange curls below his navel before his purple-red cock springs free.

Hinata's right, for one thing. It doesn't look pretty, but it does make Tobio's own dick swell even more, his balls seeming to grow heavier at every second he spends staring at Hinata's apparent arousal. Tobio hadn’t expected that.

He peers at Hinata, and he appears to be having the same thoughts. Hinata stares at him helplessly. "What do we do now?" he says faintly.

"Dunno," Tobio says, just as lost.

"Should we—should we get back to kissing?"

"Maybe."

But Hinata doesn't make a move. His gaze keeps on flickering back to Tobio's dick, drawn to it for some weird reason.

So Tobio ambles forward, going for instinct, trusting that he can succeed in making them both feel good. He wraps his hand around Hinata's erection and crushes their mouths together.

Hinata follows his lead, and—shit, that really feels good. Hinata pumps him fast, hard, steady.

Tobio hits his head against the wall as he backs away, suddenly feeling overwrought by Hinata's eagerness and his body heat. Hinata pulls away immediately, free hand flying to palm at Tobio's scalp. But he doesn't ease his grip on Tobio's throbbing dick.

"Idiot. I'm going to finish early," Tobio tells him.

Hinata slowly grins. "Yeah? Me, too."

"But I want to last," Tobio says. "I'm going to fly back to Japan tomorrow."

"We're not going to do this one time, are we?" Hinata says. "We still have later. And tomorrow, before the sun goes up. Right?"

Tobio's heart feels too fucking huge for the space in his chest. "Okay," he croaks out.

"Hold me harder," Hinata says, and Tobio can't help but do as he's told.

Tobio licks the roof of Hinata's mouth, trying to keep the words he wants to say from singeing and spilling from his throat.

 

...

 

He and Hinata play that game with the wooden blocks again. Jenga, Tobio thinks the name is. They've been at it for about an hour, with Hinata only winning twice. Hinata keeps on accusing him of cheating, which Tobio shrugs off without a problem. It's a strategy game needing fine motor control of the fingers. Tobio's already an old hand way before Hinata challenged him to a death match.

"Gah!" Hinata throws his arms up when the tower topples over the table.

"Thirteen wins for me," Tobio says, crossing his arms smugly. "Still two for you. If we add up our scores the other day, it's twenty-seven for me and five for you. I win by a landslide."

"What? So you're good at math now?" Hinata grumbles. "Ugh, this table's uneven, is what it is." He ducks to check the underside and the wooden balusters. "This thing's older than me. I don't know why Dad won't throw this creaky thing out."

"No table defect will explain that risky shit you did this last round." Why would anyone pull the last block at the base? "Accept it. I'm just better at you. Probably at everything."

Hinata sniffs. "You're not better at me at everything," he says. "You can't even kick a ball over the sand properly."

Tobio's face heats. He immediately recalls that humiliating incident he had yesterday, trying futevôlei with the other tourists at the beach. "I told you, I tripped."

"Tripping means you had something to trip over. You just flailed, Kageyama-kun."

Tobio doesn't want to play Jenga anymore. He stands and sits so that he's next to Hinata. He must've sensed what Tobio wants to do, for he plucks off the towel slung around Tobio's neck and presses their chapped lips together.

"Bedroom?"

"Mhmm."

It's quite a struggle to make their way around the apartment and kiss Hinata simultaneously, but Tobio rises to the challenge. He keeps one hand out for the walls, an eye out for anything breakable they can bump into, his mouth firmly attached to Hinata's.

They make it without any accidents happening and they stumble to Hinata's bed with a loud thump. They pull apart to undress each other quickly, without any wasted movements—they're getting better at this, Tobio realizes. Repetition truly does wonders.

"Hand here," Hinata says, guiding Tobio's wrist to his chest. "Other hand here." He makes Tobio palm his dick.

Tobio's mouth follows the angle of Hinata's jaw, and Hinata moans unceremoniously. Tobio's dick twitches at the sound.

"Get on top of me," Tobio lets out hoarsely. "You can get more friction that way."

Hinata laughs breathlessly as he climbs Tobio's hips. "You want me to hump you?" he says.

"Yeah," Tobio mutters.

"Seriously?"

"Yeah. I'll thrust back at you."

Hinata kisses him again, mouthing some words against his lips that Tobio can't understand. Probably Portuguese. They sound sweet and filthy at the same time.

Hinata starts rucking down at him, and Tobio pushes back. Their pre-cum makes their cocks slick as they slide against each other. The heat and the pressure feel delicious. Tobio squeezes his eyes shut, savoring the sensation.

Tobio's fingers land again on Hinata's thick, wavy locks as Hinata presses his nose against Tobio's collarbone. He really hates Hinata's hair. He'll dream of it constantly back in Japan, without a doubt. He pulls Hinata's head up so that their mouths would meet again. Hinata's moaning and groaning a lot, and Tobio wants to feel the vibrations with his lips and tongue.

"You feel really nice," Hinata mutters raggedly. "Really good. Want to do this more with you."

More, Tobio agrees, repeating it deliriously in his head. More, more, more. He shoves his hand down and pumps Hinata's dick ruthlessly.

Hinata's eyes bug out as his spine arches obscenely. He spills in Tobio's palm.

Hinata mumbles something again in Portuguese. This time, it sounds like a curse. Tobio's dick swells almost painfully. He's still so hard.

"You didn't have to do that," Hinata says, though he doesn't sound particularly put out. "I wanted to come with you."

Tobio strains to get up, eyeing the tissues in the nightstand. His dick bobs at the movement and he winces.

But Hinata pushes him back down and wraps his fingers insistently around Tobio. "No, wait. Let me get you first." He squeezes Tobio's cock at the base and fondles the balls beside it, just as Tobio taught him earlier.

Tobio puts his arm over his eyes. He's not sure what expression he's making, but it's probably not nice. He also hears himself making weird—sounds, a cross between a grunt and a sigh. He's grateful when Hinata kisses him again, chasing the odd noises away.

He doesn't last for long; Tobio comes like a shot. He can feel the warm liquid leaking out of him in spurts. He removes his arm and opens his eyes. He's surprised to find his vision's a little blurry.

"Was that good?" Hinata says, sidling up to Tobio's right side, their bodies slick with sweat and their sex. Hinata's always fishing for compliments. Praises from Tobio, in particular.

"Yeah. It was fine," Tobio eventually says.

"Just fine?"

Tobio doesn't know where to put his hands. "We're only starting. Don't get worked up."

"Okay." Hinata, the little troll, wraps his arms around Tobio, completely uncaring of the mess he makes. He makes a pleased sound thereafter.

"Let's clean up."

"Okay."

Tobio amends, "After ten minutes."

Hinata hums, curling more into Tobio's side. After a beat, Tobio wraps Hinata in his arms, pressing his lips on Hinata's hairline. Strangely, he's starting to feel a lot more, like the orgasm has sharpened his senses rather than dulled it. He can see the dust motes swirling by the window. He can hear Hinata's breathing petering into a steady rhythm. He can feel Hinata's lips sliding over his like a phantom sensation. When he inhales deeply, Hinata's scent fills him up, just like that.

Hinata promised him more, and Tobio allows himself to feel this quiet burst of happiness. He's a bit certain now he's going to be given many chances to feel like this in the future.

 

~O~

 

Tobio's leaving Brazil on Christmas Day, apparently. Hinata tells him so when they're getting ready to leave for the airport. He wanted to surprise Tobio yesterday on Christmas Eve. But since they stayed inside the whole time, Hinata hadn't been able to buy him a present. It's fine since Tobio doesn't celebrate Christmas. Besides, they spent the entire time yesterday doing everything Tobio wanted.

And because it's Christmas, people are filtering towards the arrival terminal, while Tobio is heading towards the opposite direction. He hitches his duffel bags higher before turning back to Hinata.

Tobio stares back at Hinata's eyes, wishing he can stay longer to explore the depths of them. He doesn't know what to say.

But Hinata, who's always been so good at words, and braver than anyone gives him credit for, stalks closer to Tobio and utters, "Olympics, right?"

Tobio takes a step forward, too. "Japan will win," he says.

"Yeah. Silver seems like a good deal."

Tobio takes Hinata's hand and laces their fingers together.

"I'll watch your games!" Hinata says with a grin. "Give your parents and Miwa-san the souvenirs, yeah? Say hi to them for me! Oh, and your new teammates, too!"

"Even if they don't know you?"

"Oh, they will," Hinata chirps. "I'll be on TV in a few years. Months!"

Tobio can't handle people crying at airports. But Hinata's not crying. He's absolutely buzzing on his feet—he looks excited.

Tobio has to kiss him, and he does.

When they break apart, Hinata's grin grows even wider. It's strange, but he looks almost like he's proud of Tobio. It reminds him of someone clapping loudly at the rafters in Natori's training center, when Tobio had scored his first ever service ace. That happened over nine years ago. He's amazed he still remembers.

"Get better," Tobio says. "I'll wait."

"You should." Hinata waves at him, eyes shining. "See you later, Kageyama!"

Tobio ducks his head a little, cheeks warming, before waving back. "See you, Hinata." He ambles towards the metal detectors.

 

~O~

 

February 6, 2016

 

Kageyama!!!

I'm hitting at the peak of my swings so much better than I've been all these years! It's crazy how much faster and harder the ball zooms past the net. Even Diego, our best libero, has a hard time picking them up during practice matches. When I watch our tapes, it looks even cooler!!

Bothast-sensei's been switching me in all kinds of positions, but so far, we're settling with me being an opposite hitter. He says my receives are so clean now (!!!!!!!) but that my passes tend to get a bit shaky when I dig those that are aimed to fall at the seams. I'm working more on that with Lucio-sensei. He's making me play with kids more on the beach, so I am. They're really cute. Sometimes, I lose track of the ball because I get too preoccupied with making them laugh.

There are two teams here that are opening try outs! One's based in Minas, and the other's here in Rio. I know Belo Horizonte is the stronger team, so I'll try out there first. But playing for my hometown team would be so cool, too! Like destiny!

Good luck with your training, dummy! Don't pick fights with your senpais, even if they're so much cooler than you!!!

 

Your super awesome boyfriend who's gonna kill it at tryouts,
Hinata Shouyou

 

...

 

July 2, 2016

 

Hinata,

I'm writing to you from China. We lost at Worlds today against the host team. Yesterday, we lost to Slovakia. I only stood in the court one time during that match as a pinch server. It didn't help much. Slovakia had a 198 cm hitter who was good at receiving. But Coach said I did my part in throwing them off. We were able to score two points still.

Brazil was good, as usual. We didn't get far enough to play them, but I've watched their games a few times when the trainers leave and we can take a break. I think they're going to battle it out with France tomorrow. I hope France buries them.

I sent you a postcard from Egypt. Ushijima-san helped me pick it out. Tell me if you got it.

We're going home tomorrow to train for Rio.

Congrats on making it to the team. Cut your hair already.

 

Yours,
Kageyama Tobio

 

~O~

Natori, Miyagi

...

 

"You sure you got everything? Got yourself enough sunscreen?"

Tobio nods jerkily. "It's in here." He taps his luggage with his foot. "Uh. Somewhere. I followed the list you gave me."

"Good." Miwa pulls back and assesses him. "You nervous?"

"No."

Miwa snorts a laugh. "Alright, alright. When did you grow up so quickly?" she says. "Anyway, you know the drill. Be polite. Try not to get lost. Stick to your teammates, always."

"Yes."

"This isn't your first time abroad for a game, but this is your biggest match, hmm? There'll be a lot of people there from all over the world. Try not to get overwhelmed."

"I won't, Miwa-san."

Miwa places a hand on her hip. "Will Hinata-kun come to watch your games?" she says.

Tobio shakes his head. "He says he'll be in another city until the quarterfinals." Hinata still goes to São Paulo to train during their league's off days, even though he's already got a squadron of fitness trainers and club sponsored facilities to choose from.

"Uh-huh." Miwa narrows her eyes, tapping her lower lip with a delicate finger. "Is he choosing not to be there on purpose?"

Tobio can't fight back the blush that forms across his cheeks. "He says he'll get extremely jealous watching me."

"That's another good reason."

Tobio sighs as he rubs his nape. He doesn't know what else Miwa wants him to say here.

"Tobio," Miwa says quietly. "You do recall what I told you. About taking care of your appearance."

"I know," Tobio says stiffly.

"You and Hinata-kun have to be careful. I know you told me that the people in Brazil wouldn't care so much about your relationship, but you'd never know. You can't be too sure about these things. And here in Japan... The people aren't—"

Tobio doesn't want to hear the rest. "Yeah. I remember clearly," he breathes out. He draws up the handle of his luggage. "We'll try not to draw attention to ourselves."

Miwa exhales. She brings a hand over Tobio's shoulder. "You know what I mean," she says, patting him. "Me and Mom like Hinata-kun. Mom holds a very high opinion of him. And Dad will come around."

"Yeah."

Miwa opens the door for him. "Go show the world, Tobio."

Tobio bows at her and drags his luggage to the genkan. "Bye, Miwa-san."

Miwa nods. "Safe travels."

 

~O~

Flamengo, Rio de Janeiro

...

 

The ball comes hurtling towards the back line at a ferocious speed. Shouyou dives for it and manages to bring the ball back to Rodrigo. Rodrigo dumps it, but it gets blocked and easily dug by their opponents.

Shouyou spits out the sand from his mouth, waiting for a misstep, an opening.

The wind then blows southwards.

Now! Shouyou yelps in his head. Before Rodrigo could bump the ball to him, he runs across the half-court and yells, "Sixpack, Rodrigo!" He then jumps.

Rodrigo tosses him the ball fast, barking out a laugh as he does.

Shouyou grins wildly and swings, making himself look like he's going to hit the ball hard near the right sideline. The blockers' hands come up in that direction, and Shouyou presses his palm against the ball with less force than he usually does. With the wind, the ball lands at the left sideline.

"Ha!" Shouyou crows in amazement. That trick rarely goes his way. Luck seems to be on his side this morning.

Rodrigo laughs and cries, "You sneaky ninja, Shou!" He bumps their chests together.

Oof. Shouyou almost stumbles back at the impact, but thankfully, Rodrigo manages to steady him by his arm. They start roughhousing each other.

"Man, I almost forgot how it's like playing with you," Rodrigo says, chortling. "Always keeping me on my toes, you orange monster."

Shouyou beams at him. "And you're always making me jump higher to match your sudden tosses."

Their opponents extend their arms under the net for a handshake. "Good game!" the tall guy with ash brown hair says. He sounds like an outsider, the vowels in his Portuguese short and sharp, not melodic like a carioca's.

Rodrigo bows out from another round, saying he has to meet his girlfriend somewhere in Centro. When there are no longer any people walking up to the post for Shouyou to play with, he runs on the cycle path for thirty minutes, liking the feel of the August sun bearing down on his back.

He's on his way back home to hit the showers when his phone pings in his cargo shorts.

 

Kageyama:
I'm free. I'll wait in the bistro near Hotel Grand Mercure. I'll forward you the complete address.
Read 11:16 AM

 

Shouyou's stomach flips. He starts running across the crosswalk and laughs out loud at his eagerness.

 

...

 

When Shouyou opens the heavy glass doors to the bistro, he finds Kageyama hunched in between three kids and a beaming man and woman. They look like family. A server in black slacks and a white polo shirt takes their photo.

Shouyou waits as Kageyama signs more table napkins and bids them goodbye with a bland expression, before pulling out a chair and sitting across Kageyama. Shouyou eyes the Japanese flag patched on the arm sleeve of Kageyama's jacket and grins. "If you don't want to get mobbed, you might want to think twice about having your team's jacket on you," he says. Though Kageyama must look conspicuous even without the jacket on. He had really made a splash the other day, getting six service aces against a powerhouse country like France.

"Coach said I should wear it at all times. Just in case I get lost," Kageyama says.

"Well, you've got a local with you now. You're not getting lost under my watch." Shouyou eyes the menu and the crumbs on the empty plate before him. "You already ate here?"

"Had a sandwich."

"That can't be enough."

"I know," Kageyama says, standing up. "Let's eat at your place."

Shouyou can feel the smile stretching across his face. He pushes the doors open. "Does Team Japan's star pinch server have any preferences?" he asks.

Kageyama appears like he's preening, even though he is folding his jacket and tucking it under his arm. Apparently, he's only wearing a simple white cotton shirt underneath it, looking a size too small for him. "I want chicken and beef," he says after a moment.

As they walk down the streets, Shouyou suddenly becomes conscious of the people traipsing around him. He wonders if the distance between him and Kageyama are just right, if they really appear like good buddies, rather than two guys who've already shared a bed together naked, and are going on an impromptu date. He has to put in great effort to notice how people are seeing and perceiving him. It's not something he's used to. But it's an important skill he had to learn for volleyball, and it's something that he has to apply in real life as well. Maybe that's one reason why Kageyama always prefers staying indoors.

Shouyou and Kageyama have gained so much. It just makes sense that they have a lot more to lose.

 

...

 

"My parents are out covering the games," Shouyou says as he's washing the dishes. "I think they'll be back by morning tomorrow."

"And your sister? Is she still in São Paulo?"

"Yeah." Shouyou then laughs at the memory of Natsu's extremely lengthy e-mail about her forays in her fancy boarding school. "She's having a blast, alright. But she's already thinking of applying to a fashion institute in Italy, so she's working herself to death to get good grades. I'm kind of worried."

"Tell her that country sucks," Kageyama says glumly. When Shouyou looks back, he sees Kageyama downing his water in one go.

Japan had won against France in the quarterfinals, but they were knocked out of the semis in a deafening defeat: 3-0, Italy. Shouyou had watched the entire game from his laptop, and his heart twinged in sympathy when Japan kept on getting blocked at each attempt to even out the score on the final set. The bronze medal game had been yesterday, and the US won it over Japan, 3-2. The fact that Kageyama had seen action at least four times—four more than most of the benchwarmers in his team—for that knockout match didn't seem to cheer him up at all.

"You'll get 'em, next time," Shouyou says. "The Italian players wouldn't know what hit 'em."

Kageyama sighs. "Yeah, of course." His shoulders loosen visibly. "I'll be a starter, come next Olympics."

"Hooo," Shouyou whistles. "That's the spirit."

"When's your next game?" Kageyama then asks.

"Next game? Oh!" Shouyou places the washed dishes on the rack and leans back on the counter. He wipes his wet hands over his denim shorts. "We still have the league stoppage because of the Olympic games, but we'll continue in September. We're playing against Montes Claros the first week, then Belo Horizonte next. All the good Minas teams." A thought occurs. "Have you watched any of my games, Kageyama?"

Kageyama grimaces like he's in pain. "... No."

Shouyou guffaws, smelling the lie. "Well, our team's amazing. RJ's always been amazing, but we've got good people onboard this season!" They might have a chance of winning the cup. It'd be cool to topple Unimed Belo Horizonte, the defending champions for over three years, which incidentally, is the first team Shouyou tried out for. But after the prospect camp, the team development coaches passed over him in favor of a stronger hitter with a wide reach. Not that he's still bitter about it, but if RJ would win against them, it would be like fate manifesting. A highlight news story, like his dad would always say.

Kageyama then stills, a strange flicker of emotion passing in his eyes. He seems to have noticed something odd. "You cut your hair," he says.

"What, you're pointing that out now?" Shouyou says, aghast. "I had them cut two weeks ago! I even sent you a picture!"

Kageyama's face goes carefully blank.

Shouyou looks at him with suspicion. "Is it that bad?" he mutters, tugging at some of the hair strands. He had his fringe cut shorter, and the sides sheared off a good portion that his scalp is somewhat visible. The barber said he got him a low-maintenance hairstyle, which suits Shouyou greatly.

"A little," Kageyama says. He places his empty glass in the sink and looms over Shouyou.

Despite himself, Shouyou blushes. "You're not that much bigger than me, you know," he grumbles when Kageyama places his hands on the kitchen counter, caging Shouyou in. "Not scary."

"I'm not trying to be scary," Kageyama says darkly. His eyes flicker to Shouyou's mouth.

"You trying to make me start something?"

"Yeah." Then, Kageyama goes for the kill: "The organizers were giving away free condoms last week. I took twenty."

Shouyou almost chokes on his own spit. This guy! "Yeah? And who are you gonna use those twenty condoms with?" he tries to bait as Kageyama starts fiddling with Shouyou's belt loops.

"With someone."

"Yeah? Who?"

Kageyama seems to have run out of patience. He grabs Shouyou's face and tries to catch their mouths together, a bit off-aim. Shouyou aligns them and deepens the kiss.

Kageyama's pressing onto him rather forcefully that sharp pain keeps on lancing up from where Shouyou's spine meets the hard counter tiles. He taps Kageyama's arm, and remarkably enough, Kageyama gets the message; Shouyou nips at Kageyama's lower lip gratefully when the other man eases back.

"Want to use those condoms now?" Shouyou whispers over Kageyama's mouth.

Kageyama huffs in ascent. "I got us other stuff," he mumbles. "Things to help."

Shouyou has a vague idea what those are for. "Bedroom," he rasps. His burgeoning arousal is making his shorts feel suffocating. "We can't do weird stuff in our kitchen."

"Yeah."

They promptly relocate to Shouyou's bedroom. Shouyou falters a little when he sees Kageyama take out the... equipment from his maroon duffle bag. It does comfort him that Kageyama's usually steady fingers slip when he hands Shouyou a small bottle holding clear, viscous liquid.

Shouyou inspects it. This is lube, he realizes. His face goes red. "Kageyama..."

"Mhmm?"

Shouyou walks towards his bed and tugs Kageyama with him. "Do you know how to do this?" He wags the bottle of lube. "I've read stuff, but I haven't..."

Kageyama seems to understand that. "Yeah. Me too." He lays on top of Shouyou's chest, their legs tangled together and making a mess of the sheets.

Shouyou tries to squash his nervousness by kissing the corners of Kageyama's lips. They've talked about this before once on the phone, in the wee hours of the night. Shouyou had asked if Kageyama wanted to try to do more under the covers. The response took a while, but Kageyama said he did. He does.

"We'll be okay." Shouyou then laughs under his breath. "I think."

"You think?"

"Well, you'll have to give me your best toss, Kageyama-san."

Kageyama pulls away to look at him seriously. "I always do," he says.

"Yeah, okay." Shouyou laughs softly again. "Then I believe we'll be fine. It's going to be amazing." He pushes up Kageyama's shirt, and Kageyama complies. "Are we—who's gonna be..." Shouyou can't find the right words.

"I need you to fuck me, Hinata," Kageyama says, glaring at Shouyou from above.

What? "What?" Shouyou says.

"I've thought about it," Kageyama says flatly, but the flush spreading across his chest belies his true feelings. "And I'd rather have you fuck me. At least until we're sure we know what to do."

"Why?"

"I'd feel better that way."

There's a confusing mix of fluttering butterflies and hot lava in Shouyou's belly. Shouyou's fingers curl at Kageyama's biceps. "That's not the only thing, is it? Why? You have to tell me!" He digs his fingers in the muscles.

Kageyama makes a face at him, before moving to unbutton Shouyou's shorts. "I—I read something."

Shouyou reaches out and pushes Kageyama's pants down. "And?" he presses when Kageyama remains quiet.

They break apart for a moment to finish shedding their clothing. Now that Kageyama's completely bare and vulnerable, he mutters, "They said it would hurt, being entered, so I'd rather you do it to me when we try it out first. I—" He looks away. "If I fucked you, and it sucked—if I did terribly, then you would get..."

"Oh." Shouyou begins to notice how Kageyama's holding himself, trying to look docile and non-threatening. He garbles out a breath. He curls and uncurls his fingers on the sheets repeatedly. "Oh," he says again, realization dawning on him.

Shouyou knows Kageyama's middle school years had taught him as much as it had wounded him, but all these years, Kageyama made it seem like he was over it. He had talked about his years in Karasuno like it made up for that one time his teammates turned their backs on him. But maybe Kageyama isn't truly over it. Perhaps it still follows him around like that "king" nickname, which stuck so insistently to his skin that Kageyama had to learn to embrace it.

Kageyama's gaze flickers to his face uneasily, and Shouyou sees flashes of that young boy from almost a decade ago. Someone who had gifted him pressed ginkgo leaves and painstakingly collected pictures of Japan shrouded in white, all because Shouyou asked about snow in one of his letters.

Kageyama grew up, but the boy Shouyou got to know hadn't really changed so much. All the best, important parts of him have remained and settled. At the core, at the heart of him, Kageyama never wanted to hurt anyone at all.

Maybe Kageyama will never be over it. But Shouyou still wants to try.

"Okay," Shouyou says, entering Kageyama's personal space once again. "We'll try that first. But we'll try that other thing, too, yeah? Real soon. I really want that. I want to do everything."

Kageyama doesn't respond.

Shouyou goes to touch Kageyama's nape, feeling for wisps of smooth, black hair. "We'll try and try until it doesn't hurt anymore," he says. "I want you to fill me up, Kageyama. Over and over."

Kageyama makes a soft, strangled noise, and Shouyou kisses him. His shoulders are still tense. Shouyou pads his palms along the expanse of it, waiting until the knots loosen and the skin warms again. He then drags himself up and on top of Kageyama until most of them are touching.

Kageyama reaches out from the nightstand and hands him a condom. Shouyou pauses from tearing the foil packet.

"Doesn't this come in sizes?" Shouyou says, looking at the color of the cover. This one's golden yellow like most, but there are a few that are blue. "How do you know this would fit me?"

Kageyama jerks his head. "Just try it on."

Shouyou takes it out, frowning at the latex as he sheathes himself with it. When Kageyama helps him roll it up, a pleasured gasp escapes him.

It fits.

"Huh." Shouyou grins up at his blushing boyfriend. "What d'you know?"

"I have eyes. I made an estimate," Kageyama mutters, coloring even further.

"You sounded smart for a second there," Shouyou says laughingly. What was the next step again?

Kageyama points at the bottle resting beside Shouyou's hip. Lubricant. Right.

Wait a minute.

"I think I have to put my fingers in you first," Shouyou says. "I have to prep you, right?"

Kageyama's eyes widen. "Right."

Shouyou snickers despite himself. "At least I'm dressed for the show already," he says.

Because he's lame, Kageyama doesn't appreciate the joke. "Lube your fingers up and stick them in already," he grouches, though there's a reluctance with how he parts his thighs.

"You sure you wanna do this now?"

"I didn't humiliate myself and got us condoms and lube just for nothing, dumbass. Put them in."

"Okay, okay." Shouyou coats his fingers with a gracious amount of it, before sticking in one finger.

It's hot inside. Shouyou almost whines at the feeling, already imagining his dick in there. Maybe this is a bad idea.

Kageyama squirms beneath him.

"Is it painful?" Shouyou asks.

"No," Kageyama mumbles with a deep frown. "It feels weird."

"Oh."

"Put in two more. I can take it."

Shouyou slides in two more and makes a parting motion with his fingers. There's more resistance. Kageyama's face twists when Shouyou pries him apart at a certain angle. It's gotta hurt, he thinks frantically.

He tries to think back on the articles he read, and remembers that he has to distract his partner while they're doing prep. So Shouyou bends down and presses kisses all over Kageyama's stomach.

Kageyama seems to like it. His spine arches slightly, like he's quietly asking for more. Shouyou follows the shallow depressions lining Kageyama's abs with his tongue, before kissing the muscles with an open mouth. He does that repeatedly while he scissors his fingers in Kageyama's hole.

"Stretch me more," Kageyama orders, hoisting himself again for more access.

Shouyou nibbles on his lower lip, painfully turned on, and widens the gap between his fingers. He kisses the inside of Kageyama’s thighs and mouths soothing words over the sensitive skin.

Kageyama makes a strange gurgling noise when Shouyou curls his middle and index finger. He tries it again, rubbing on that area, and Kageyama’s eyes roll back.

Fingers tug at Shouyou's hair insistently. "That's enough," Kageyama says hoarsely. He motions towards Shouyou's straining cock. The flush of arousal has spread to the skin on Kageyama's arms, and the sight of it makes Shouyou's cheeks and chest burn.

Just to be sure, they remove the first condom and roll on another one. Kageyama does it for him, his fingers wrapped around Shouyou's girth. Shouyou moans at that, and Kageyama licks his lips, a distinct smirk on his face.

Kageyama steadies himself against the bed frame as Shouyou lumbers forward on his knees.

"Tell me if I should stop," Shouyou says seriously, lining himself at Kageyama's entrance.

Kageyama throws him a determined look. "Don't mess up so you don't have to," he says.

Shouyou pushes in, and he doesn't miss the immediate, sharp intake of breath Kageyama does, a shocked, gasping sound. Shouyou has to close his eyes in restraint. It's really, really hot inside. It feels amazing. He's probably going to come if he thrusts further; Kageyama won't like that, so he stills, panting over Kageyama's sweaty forehead.

He was right; "Oi. You better not come yet," Kageyama grits against his ear.

"I-I'm trying not to!" Shouyou wheezes, opening his eyes. "Give me a sec, will you?"

"Ugh. You're going to take forever."

"I won't!" Shouyou involuntarily moves forward, and Kageyama's eyes bug out of its sockets, hands flying to clasp at the meat of Shouyou's shoulders. "Eek, sorry!"

Kageyama glares at him. "Just keep doing that. I'm not fragile."

Shouyou exhales swiftly. "Yeah, sorry." He rolls his hips experimentally while trying to gauge Kageyama's reactions to his movements. But he's too unsteady, with Kageyama's walls clinging to him, hot and tight, slick from the lube. It's difficult to think through the haze. He can't make Kageyama feel better like this by himself. "Kageyama, talk to me."

Kageyama strains, "What?"

"Tell me what feels good," Shouyou says as he thrusts again simultaneously. They both groan. "Do I go slow, or..."

Kageyama takes a long time to reply this time. "No. Faster," he whispers in a very low voice, like he only wants Shouyou to hear, and that he's only going to mention it just once. Shouyou should better listen. "Put yourself in me all the way. I can't feel you enough."

Shouyou lets out a ragged breath. "Okay." He pushes in, deeper than he ever has. He peers at Kageyama's face—Kageyama's face has gone absolutely crimson, his eyelids fluttering. He must really like it deep.

Armed with a new resolve, Shouyou thrusts faster, all of him going in and out, piston-like. Kageyama hooks his legs around Shouyou's hips, pressing them together, that Shouyou could only make shallow stabs instead of deep ones. Kageyama's thighs and legs are big and heavy, a hot enclosure around Shouyou, keeping them connected.

Shouyou begins to feel overwhelmed, his breaths coming out loud and labored. Kageyama appears overwhelmed, too. He's got his eyes shut, one arm over his face. Shouyou gently pushes it off and kisses Kageyama with all the passion he can muster. Kageyama feels really good around him, his walls fluttering and clenching down on his dick at almost every thrust. Shouyou suddenly feels this impulse to taste Kageyama everywhere. Spit pools in his mouth.

Through the brain fog, Shouyou realizes, Wait, I think I'm supposed to do this. He wraps his fingers around Kageyama's leaking cock and squeezes as he pumps.

Kageyama's eyelids burst open. With the little afternoon sunlight filtering through the curtains, his eyes appear a deep ocean blue. Shouyou gets lost as he stares at them, the movement of his hips faltering slightly.

Abruptly, Kageyama makes an odd noise, like he's keening—"Fuck, there, that's it," he groans senselessly, thighs tightening around Shouyou, and Shouyou makes quick work to find that angle again and hit it. He knows he found it when Kageyama turns quiet instantly, like his huge moans have caught and gotten stuck in his throat.

"More," Kageyama manages, and Shouyou tightens his grip around Kageyama's dick in response. "Hinata, I..."

He finally orgasms, and Shouyou makes the mistake of looking down, watching Kageyama's thick cock pulsing madly in his hand, emptying itself. He can't hold out anymore. With a few more deep thrusts, Shouyou spills inside Kageyama.

Shouyou groans, loudly, not caring if anyone hears. He dips his forehead against Kageyama's. "Oh god," he whispers. That was intense. Kageyama is still clenching down on him in waves.

He can hear Kageyama gulp. "Mhhm."

"Was it painful?"

"At the start."

"Did I do okay?"

"Mhmm."

"I'll pull out now."

"Mhmm."

Shouyou moves as slowly as he can, but Kageyama still visibly flinches when he pulls out completely.

Shouyou's dick is spent and aching. He wraps the condom in a tissue and chucks it in a waste bin. He wipes his hands and gives Kageyama the tissue roll as he climbs back up the mattress.

Shouyou crashes into Kageyama's body, his head landing with a thud against Kageyama's chest. "Oh god," he repeats, mouthing at Kageyama's pecs.

Kageyama speaks faintly, "When did you say your parents will come back?"

"They said in the morning," Shouyou answers blearily. "Probably eight or nine."

"Okay."

Shouyou sighs, basking in the warmth of Kageyama's deliciously firm torso. "If you want to have sex again later, you're going to have to do the work," he murmurs. "I don't think I can anymore."

"... Alright."

A deal's a deal. Shouyou smiles a little to himself. It seems like he hadn't been terrible, or else Kageyama wouldn't have agreed to have sex with him again so soon. He wants to whoop in victory, but his limbs feel too heavy with exhaustion.

In a minute, he passes out.

 

...

 

Kageyama's turn comes at midnight, after they've made out for what seems like an hour on Shouyou's bed. Kageyama's initial reluctance hadn't eased until they started grinding against each other in earnest.

"Jeez, Kageyama. If you want it, just do it," Shouyou murmurs in frustration against Kageyama's ear. "And I want you to, okay?"

Kageyama rolls into him with urgency. "Shut up. Don't drag me to your pace."

"What's wrong with my pace? I hadn't hurt you too much earlier, did I? It was fine! It was great!"

"I'm bigger than you."

He knows Kageyama doesn't mean that as an insult, but it still succeeds in making Shouyou's color rise high to his cheeks. "So? What's your point exactly?" he challenges.

Kageyama slows his movements, glaring furiously at Shouyou, before shoving him away and grabbing the lube on the nightstand.

"Get on your back," Kageyama says firmly.

Shouyou does, kicking the sheets off and bracing himself against the headboard, just like Kageyama did earlier. He tries not to look too embarrassed as he splays his legs apart. Kageyama had done this for him earlier with no complaint, so Shouyou should, too.

Kageyama halts, looking stunned, before he lets out a shaky breath and pushes in a lubed finger, stretching the ring muscle there.

It does feel weird. Invasive. Shouyou involuntarily squirms, trying to find a comfortable position.

With a low warning, Kageyama adds another finger and makes a scissoring motion. Beads of sweat roll from his forehead and nose, his eyebrows scrunched together. "Do you feel okay?" he says.

"Not really," Shouyou answers honestly. The stretch doesn't feel so good, just a gnawing kind of pain near his butt. "But you can add in more now. I think that'll make it feel better."

Sporting an even deeper scowl, Kageyama adds more fingers, twisting them inside until Shouyou starts getting into it, his thoughts clearing. "Yeah, okay, I think I'm good," Shouyou says. "Let's go, Kageyama."

Kageyama glances at him tentatively, before rolling on the condom. His mouth parts a little before sinking in.

Shouyou gasps, very loudly, both in surprise and in pain. Maybe they should've prepped a little longer. Kageyama's definitely wider than three fingers, and he exhales just as harshly when he feels Kageyama's cockhead pulling out from his entrance.

The sheer look of panic in Kageyama's face is indescribable. Shouyou has to grasp his arm to keep him from scurrying away. "Hey, no, it's fine! Just get into me really slowly!"

"I was slow!"

"Yeah, but go slower than that!" Shouyou adjusts the pillow under him. "You can do that, right?" He then gets an idea. He holds Kageyama's cock near the base—Kageyama does a hiccuping sound at this—and guides it to his hole.

They both watch as Kageyama's entire length disappears, achingly slow, into Shouyou's entrance. Without meaning to, Shouyou bears down on Kageyama's dick, and Kageyama lets out a low whine, his arms shaking with fine tremors as he tries to catch his breath.

Shouyou grins in the darkness. There's no way Kageyama can deny that those soft, wrecked noises aren't spilling out of his mouth. He presses their foreheads together and whispers, "I want you to go slow, Kageyama." It feels a bit mean, but he wants to hear Kageyama making those punched out sounds again more than anything.

"Mhmm," Kageyama grunts, sounding a bit desperate. He pulls out almost all the way, with only the tip of his cock grazing the opening, before thrusting in again in a long, dragging pace. Shouyou moans into Kageyama's shoulder, feeling the burn of the stretch in multitudes. Every time his insides begin to ache at the emptiness, Kageyama slowly, carefully fills him. It's such a good feeling. The best feeling.

It's too good a feeling not to share. "See? I told you I'd like it if you fill me up," Shouyou says to Kageyama's hot neck, as Kageyama pushes in again, occupying that void that Shouyou hadn't before realized he wanted to be filled. A best friend. A strong rival. A devoted lover. "You feel really good with me wrapped around you."

Kageyama throws his head back and gives him a frenzied stare, before leaning in and smashing their lips together. The action makes him sink deeper into Shouyou suddenly, and Shouyou has to let out a guttural groan, his fingers clutching the back of Kageyama's head on instinct.

Kageyama starts touching Shouyou's neglected cock. "Should I... should I do this slowly, too?" he asks.

Shouyou tries to wade through his lust-muddled brain. "Fast," he decides. "Hold me hard like you usually do."

Kageyama grunts and begins to pump him with ferocious speed, grip squeezing at the base and then loosening near the tip. Unthinkingly, Shouyou bites at the hard muscle of Kageyama's shoulder, trying to quell a sudden, voracious urge.

"Shit." Kageyama's lost his pace; his rhythm has gotten noticeably faster. "Sorry." He tries to slow again, but doesn't quite succeed.

Shouyou feels so stretched and so full. "You wanna go faster?"

"Sorry." A yes.

Shouyou pushes himself down, bringing Kageyama fully on top of him. He and Kageyama share a meaningful look. Then, Kageyama kisses him tenderly on the cheek.

Kageyama works Shouyou's cock as he pounds into Shouyou, this time, with enough force for the bed frame to hit the wall with dull, repetitive thunks. Shouyou's jaw slackens as Kageyama hits him in that spot that makes his bones turn into mush, his skin all tingly and perfect. From this angle, he can see Kageyama's thighs are quaking at the effort.

Shouyou's close. He can feel something liquid hot pooling at the pit of his belly, everything tightening for release.

When he comes, Shouyou sighs, breath heavy with pleasure and a bit of pain. It's not too long when Kageyama comes as well, his knees almost giving out at the force of his orgasm. Shouyou can't help but laugh at the strangely reverent expression on Kageyama's face.

Kageyama disengages from him carefully, as Shouyou pulls a face at the mess they've made over his bed. He's going to have to do some intense scrubbing and washing to make up for all the things they did here today. Totally worth it, though.

When Kageyama sits back on the mattress, he winces. Shouyou tries to move himself up, and he winces, too, his insides sore and aching dully.

"That was something else," Shouyou proclaims. It's like he just ran five marathons consecutively and won in each of them.

Kageyama seems to agree. "Did it hurt?" he asks, his index finger unconsciously tracing circles over Shouyou's shin.

"Not as much as I liked it," Shouyou says. "I feel a bit sore, like I just had done an intense workout."

Kageyama's expression becomes pensive. "Me too." His eyes are in half-mast.

Feeling all glow-y and magnanimous, Shouyou offers, "Let's shower a bit. I'll soap you up."

It's a testament to how tired and sleepy Kageyama must be; he follows Shouyou and steps into the showers without a word.

It's hard to get them both under the showerhead, so Shouyou cleans himself up first, tiredly washing off the sticky cum over his abdomen. The place where Kageyama entered him stings when he soaps himself.

Kageyama's got his eyes closed, his head against the wet tiles. Shouyou would make a joke about his stamina, but he had been the exact same way just hours ago. He slowly prods Kageyama to get under the streaming water, with Kageyama's back facing him, and he feels Kageyama shudder.

There's a stark red mark blossoming on the spot Shouyou bit him. He presses a sheepish kiss on it before running the soap over the skin.

He's not done yet, but Kageyama turns to him, pushing them out of the water. He seems a little awake now. He then tilts Shouyou's chin up and kisses him, soft and slow, a hand against the jut of Shouyou's hip. Shouyou faintly shivers, melting like butter at how Kageyama keeps on skimming his thumb over his cheekbone.

When they break apart, Shouyou sighs happily over Kageyama's chest.

 

~O~

Flamengo, Rio de Janeiro

...

 

It's already eleven o'clock in the morning, but Hinata's parents aren't back yet. Tobio thinks of it as a good fortune, almost. He and Hinata had ample time to clear away any evidence of last night's activities. But it's a problem as well. The more time he spends with Hinata, the more difficult it is to leave. His flight back to Japan is tomorrow, but he has to be back at the hotel tonight.

Right now, he and Hinata are just sitting cross-legged at the foot of the couch, their palms pressed against the carpet while their fingers are laced together near the tips. Tobio's gaze keeps on landing at the happy portraits of the Hinatas over the table a foot away.

"I really don't like the idea of being someone's secret," Hinata confesses out of the blue. "I know that we have to do it like this, but I really don't like it."

Tobio sighs in response.

"Are you thinking of telling your teammates? About us?"

"No." Tobio honestly feels a little sick at the thought of it.

Hinata's fingers twitch. "None? Absolutely no one?"

"Maybe one person." Ushijima-san didn't seem like the type who would care so much about who Tobio likes. But what does he know, anyway? "I wouldn't tell him if I don't have to, but if I had to choose..."

"I think I need to tell someone," Hinata says. "Someone other than family."

He's not asking for permission. Tobio replies, "That's fine."

"If there isn't at least one other person who knows about us, it wouldn't seem like what we have is real. Or possible. I mean, that's just how I feel," Hinata says with a shrug. "Don't worry. I'd pick someone I'm sure I can trust."

"I know."

"I didn't think anyone would care so much, as long as we're playing well. But Dad keeps on saying... The headlines would be bad if we..."

"Yeah. My sister says that, too."

"I wish I didn't have to hide you," Hinata says, forlorn, and Tobio's heart aches in sympathy.

But the fact remains that nosy people can get in the way from volleyball, and Tobio doesn't want that for both of them. So he says, "It's just for now."

It won't be too hard to keep their relationship on the down-low, with them being apart far too often than them being close. Tobio resents that, most of all. But distance can't really stop Tobio from pursuing a relationship with Hinata. Nothing, and no one.

"For now, huh."

"I can wait, Hinata," Tobio says. "You should, too."

"I hope I won't wait long. Patience isn't my middle name." There's a smile now in Hinata's voice.

He's totally lying. Hinata wouldn't have gotten as far as he did if he didn't have the persistence to play the long game.

Tobio snorts, but he feels gracious enough not to call Hinata out on it.

 

~O~

 

September 22, 2016

 

Hinata,

We're winning a lot of games. Last night, we held off the Paper Mills, 3-2. One of them had a jump floater that almost had us. I'm not yet good at floaters, but seeing that guy up close made me want to start using that technique more often. I'll practice more 'til I can use it properly on an official match.

We're taking on the Black Jackals next week. They haven't won a game from us yet, but I'm wary of their setter. You remember Miya Atsumu? He was my teammate in the national team. He was also in my U-18 and U-19 team. He's good. He's better than me in floaters. He can rile people up. I don't know how he does it.

I think he knows about us. He said he saw you and I leave from the bistro and when you accompanied me back to our hotel. He asked who you were and I said you're my friend, but he seemed suspicious. So far, he hadn't asked about you or what I did during our free day after that. But I think he knows and he's keeping what he knows a secret. I don't know why. As long as he doesn't say anything, that's fine, right?

I'll tell you if anything happens.

 

Yours,
Kageyama Tobio

 

...

 

November 12, 2016

 

Kageyama!

You remember Pedro, right? Whenever my team's playing against a São Paulo-based club, I'd sometimes come out to eat with him after a game since he lives in the area. Yesterday I told him about us, and he was very cool with it!!! He was so touched I told him that he almost ended up crying in the diner. It was so funny. He works for the travel agency his parents own, and he said that if we ever want to go on vacation somewhere out of the country, he'd help us score some cheap flights!!

We still have ten more games to go, and we're third on the standings. The two powerhouse Minas-based teams are in the lead. All their veterans are so cool! And one of them is still playing at thirty-eight! Man, I want to play until I turn fifty! Or even wayyyyyyy past that!

Speaking of veterans, I got a signed jersey from James Boone. We played against Reunidas last month, and he was so nice. I said I had a friend who was a setter too and a big fan. He gave me that to give you! You didn't get his autograph last August, right? Hope you like it!

 

Your best boyfriend who shook hands with superstar setter James Boone,
Hinata Shouyou

 

...

 

March 8, 2017

 

Hinata,

My teammates bought me a cat as a prank today. Cats have never liked me. I don't know what to do with it. So far, it hasn't bitten or scratched or hissed at me. I'm writing to you now with this animal curled over my lap. It's sleeping, so I can't move.

I've heard about teammates in the pro leagues pranking each other when I was in high school, but it happens more often than I thought. It's my first time being on the butt end of the prank. Two months ago, Hoshiumi-san's shampoo in the locker room was switched with cooking oil, and Sokolov-san's sports bag had been filled with rocks instead of his uniform and his shower room stuff. He had to walk around the gymnasium in a towel for a fair amount of time. Mine seems milder than what the other players got.

I messaged my teammates about the cat, but they aren't replying. They're probably doing it on purpose. I'll ask my sister if she wants to adopt it. I can't take it with me during away games. I hope it doesn't die yet until she comes to pick it up. I had that mouse with me for over a year. Mom said that was impressive for me.

I sent you a postcard from Oita. They're famous for their hot springs. I think you mentioned before that you liked them.

 

Yours,
Kageyama Tobio

 

...

 

May 20, 2017

 

Kageyama,

My parents are thinking of getting a new place in Tijuca. It's not far from our current place, but apparently, Mom and Dad have been thinking about getting a retirement home for themselves. Which is crazy, since they aren't really that old yet! And Natsu's still in high school! But they kept on saying stuff about land prices or something. They said it's a good investment. But getting a place in Tijuca isn't exactly cheap, so I didn't understand what they were talking about. It's a good thing I don't have to worry about doing my own taxes just yet.

If that happens, and Natsu's plans for Italy will follow through, then I'm going to have the whole place to myself. Mom answered they've already discussed it and that they think it'd be good for me. They said living alone would make things easier once I decided to "bring people home", since I'm already at that age. Honestly, Kageyama, that was one of the awkwardest conversations I've ever had in my entire life. I wish you had been there to level the playing field a bit.

On second thought, it's probably a good thing you weren't there. You would probably just sit and say nothing, handing me to the wolves. Because you're mean and terrible at math.

They're not gonna move out just yet. They're still picking a place. I'm not gonna lie. I'm a little excited to be independent for once since I haven't really lived by myself before. But I'm sure I'm gonna get lonely in just a week, so I don't really want them to leave yet. Hopefully they get to it when I'm a bit older!

 

Your lovable boyfriend who's not gonna be homeless any time soon,
Hinata Shouyou

 

 

~O~

Kita, Tokyo

...

 

Tobio's adding more weights to the bench press machine when his phone buzzes. His hands are so sweaty that his phone slips from his fingers. He catches it just in time.

His shoulders hike up when he sees the name on the notification. Hinata’s sent him something. He opens the e-mail swiftly.

 

From: Hinata Shouyou
To: Kageyama Tobio
Subject: I did it!!!

Look what I got from the mail today!

I'll see you on the opposite side of the court, Kageyama! Better watch out!!! :>

 

Hinata sent him a photo. Tobio clicks on the thumbnail.

 

Certificate of Voluntary Relinquishment of Japanese Citizenship

I, Ito Kimuta, consulate general of Japan at São Paulo hereby certify that, to the best of my knowledge and belief, Hinata Shouyou, was born at Centro, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, on June 21, 1996.

He resided in Brazil; from 1996 to current
He resides at; Flamengo, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil
He acquired nationality of Brazil by virtue of: birth

He thereby expatriated himself on August 28, 2016, under the provisions of Articles 14 and 15, under the Nationality Law of 1985.

In testimony whereof, I have hereunto subscribed by name and affixed my office seal this 19th of March 2017.

Signed,

Ito Kimuta, Consul

 

 

Tobio smiles.

 

~O~

 

Hinata:
Look, Kageyama! An iguana!!!!

Kageyama:
Hope it bites you.

Hinata:
Mean!!!

Kageyama:
Are you in still in Buenos Aires?

Hinata:
Yeah! My teammates took me to this park. It's so cool here! If you ever face an Argentinean team, you should come visit!

And speaking of Argentinean teams... you were right about Oikawa-san. He's so friggin' good, ugh!!! So crafty!

Kageyama:
I told you not to let your guard down.

Hinata:
We'll beat them next year! Oikawa-san's pretty cool to talk to, though! He asked me to eat dinner with him later before our flight. I hope the restaurants near our hotel aren't so expensive.

Kageyama:
Are you nuts? Don't eat dinner with him. Don't talk to him.

Hinata:
Why not? He's the only foreigner in his team, and that's so cool. Plus he's Japanese. I think my Japanese has gotten a little rusty.

Kageyama:
Then talk to me more. Don't talk to him.

Hinata:
:P

Hinata:
We're not gonna talk dirty about you behind your back, don't worry :)))))) We're just going to eat and talk about volleyball and Japan! I don't get to interact much with other Japanese players, so it'll be fun!

Hinata:
I'll send you pictures! Oikawa-san seems great at taking selfies!

Kageyama:
Don't send me anything.

Kageyama:
Message me as soon as you meet him

Kageyama:
And after you meet him.

Hinata:
Roger! Have another picture of an iguana! :3

 

 

~O~

Natori, Miyagi

...

 

Tobio realizes he's forgotten his house keys when he came back from getting groceries. He was about to fish his phone from his back pocket to call for a handyman or someone who could help when Father opens the door for him. Tobio jerks back in surprise. He didn't know his dad would be here this weekend.

"Thought I heard you come in," Father mumbles, turning his back.

"Thank you," Tobio says. He enters the kitchen and places the bags over the table. He puts the carton of milk and eggs inside the fridge, the vegetables in the crisper. He takes an apple from the fruit basket as he dumps the plastic bags in the recycling bin.

He's back in his room, opening his laptop to watch a game, when someone knocks on the door.

"Yes?"

The door unlocks, opening slightly. It's Father. "May I come in?"

Tobio nods.

Father purses his lips, gaze on the dumbbells Tobio has set aside at the corner of his room, before looking back at him. "When are you going to have us meet your... partner?"

Partner? Judging from Father's expression, he's not talking about volleyball. Then he must mean... "Hinata?" Tobio asks.

Father nods. The wrinkles on his forehead deepen. "Yes. When are you bringing him home?"

Tobio gapes. He can't help it. "I-I..." he flounders. "He's in Brazil."

"Mhmm. Then when can we meet him, your mother and I? Personally?"

Not knowing what to say, Tobio settles with his go-to response when in dire straits: "I'll ask Hinata."

"Alright. Tell him I want to meet him," Father says as he ambles out of the door. He then pauses, hand on the knob. "Has he seen much of Miyagi yet?"

"I don't think so. He's only been here before for five days, I think."

"Does he like yakiniku?"

'Like' is an understatement. "He gobbles down any kind of meat pretty easily," Tobio says.

"Alright. I'll keep that in mind. And you said he's a professional athlete? Like yourself?"

"Yes."

"Then he must be a busy man. Ask him to come at his own time."

"Oh. Yes."

When Father leaves, Tobio immediately takes his phone out and messages Hinata, Are you there?

Hinata responds after three minutes. I was just about to take a shower! What's up? :)

Can I call you? Tobio types back.

Suddenly, his phone vibrates. Tobio picks it up. "My dad wants to meet you," he says in a rush.

"Oh!" Hinata says. He then chuckles. "Hello to you too, Kageyama-kun. What's that about your dad? I didn't hear."

"My dad," Tobio tries again. "Wants to meet you. Personally."

Hinata gasps theatrically. "What? Seriously? Woah. He's not gonna murder me for having the hots for his son, is he?"

"I don't know. He doesn't seem angry when he asked."

"What do you mean, 'I don't know'? You want me to walk into my death without knowing?"

"Quit it, dumbass, I'm not joking!" Tobio snarls. "He really wants to meet you. He wanted to know if you've been around Miyagi."

Hinata seems to have heard the urgency in Tobio's voice. "Well, I want to meet your dad, too. But it's not like your house is just a bus ride away. I'll check with our team's schedule if I can squeeze a trip there next month."

Tobio sighs. "Okay. Do that."

"I can't believe I'm finally meeting your dad! Like, woah!" Hinata exclaims. "Your mom was super nice and a super awesome cook! He must be great, too! Though I think you got your grouchiness from your dad."

Maybe. What Tobio does know is that they look frighteningly alike, and that they take their tea the same way: with a lot of milk and a touch of honey. It's something his dad picked up from all the time he spent in England, and young Tobio started to drink tea the way he did.

"Is this like a usual Japanese household thing? Parents meeting their children's boyfriends and girlfriends?" Hinata suddenly says.

"Uhh. Not really." Parents usually meet their child's significant other when it seems serious enough to lead to something more. Tobio licks his lips and clears his throat. "But for some families, it's important," he opts to tack on instead.

"Then I'll fly there as soon as I can! Soonest!" Hinata says cheerfully. "I'll send you all the details."

"Yeah. Do that."

"Bye, Kageyama!" Hinata says. "I'll tell you how practice goes!"

"Mhmm." Tobio ends the call.

He's opening his laptop again when he realizes it's been a year since he told his parents about him and Hinata. He thinks his sister must have some kind of magical powers. She did say it'd take at least a year for his father to start talking to him normally again.

 

~O~

 

November 27, 2017

 

Tobio!!

You remember last month, when I told you about the open tryouts for the national team? It's for everyone who didn't get the invite from the selection committee, and we just had it a few days ago. I got my scouting report back this morning. I didn't get in. They said I was promising, though! All I had going against me was my height, which is good. I'm used to that. I'll just have to find a way so that height won't be an issue anymore. I vow that Electrobas-RJ will make the playoffs again next season, and I'll play like mad so they'd have no choice to invite me for another tryout. And I'll get in, for sure!!!

They're only seventeen players in the team with five roster spots left to be filled. I think there were twenty-nine of us who went for tryouts. They're all huge. One of them was above the 210s. Crazy! There was also one super nice guy who tried out to be a hitter. His name's Aurelio, and he's playing for one of the collegiate teams in America. He had a super sick straight, and he taught me how to do it during one of our pre-games. I thanked him by teaching him how I improved my vertical.

He's a cool guy. He said he knew he wasn't going to get in, but he still came so he could "talk shop with other great players". He said it was commonplace in the U.S. for strong players to gather in unofficial matches and interact and play casually. That's why some players like going to All-Star tournaments so they could pick each other's brains and learn how others see the game. Aurelio said that even though his chance hasn't come yet, he'd make it come to him soon! That's so cool! Ugh, I'm going to steal his line and say that to someone else some time.

I hope that next year, Aurelio and I will get in! I'd love to play with him soon!

Pedro forwarded me this feature news ranking male pro volleyball players all over the world according to their attractiveness, and I'm so pissed! They had you at number seven! You? Kageyama Tobio? What? The author must have had pelican poop stuck on her glasses when she was typing that article. For one thing, I'm super hot, so I should've been on that list. And I'm definitely hotter than you. I have nicer calves, and my hair is orange, jeez!!!

Plus, Oikawa-san should've been ranked way higher. Pretty girls were all over him the last time I came to Argentina. I sent him that article, and he was pissed, too. Rightfully so! Someone really needs to set the record straight.

 

Your pipin' hot boyfriend with a killer straight shot who's gonna make it to the national team,
Hinata Shouyou

 

...

 

February 19, 2018

 

Shouyou,

We won 3-0 against the Red Falcons today. They're a very strong team, but the new player our team signed for a one-year contract overwhelmed them. He used to play for a club in South Korea. He's very strong. It felt good using him to bait other blockers.

My parents came to watch. This is the first game they saw me play in, so it's good that I played well. My dad's thinking of retiring from work, but I don't think he'll follow through. He likes his work a lot.

I got called up to play in the World Championships again next year. I forgot where our first games are going to be. I'll let you know when I find out.

I sent you a portable vacuum cleaner. I bought it yesterday. You did mention that last week you haven't bought a replacement yet. Has it been five months since you broke your last one from all the sand? You sure are lazy. I'm not going to buy another one for you if you break this one, too.

 

Yours,
Kageyama Tobio

 

~O~

Kita, Tokyo

...

 

Even though he's been in this building for probably more than ten times already, Tobio still gets lost in the national training center. There are so many doors and hallways that look similar, and the signs are of little help. He reluctantly admits he's not the best guy when it comes to directions.

He's been getting better, however. He finds the east wing where the dorms are under ten minutes. It's easier when he starts off from the cafeteria. Right, then a left, then another right. The room he shares with Ushijima-san would be at the end of that long hallway, the door a pale beige color.

Before he does a left turn, he has to stop when he hears a soft mewl, and the distinct sound of lips smacking. Pink dusts Tobio's cheeks when he hears a low voice say, "Sshh. I think someone's coming."

"Mhmm. Can't hold it off when you keep on sucking my—"

"Ssshh! Shut the hell up, I really think someone's there. I heard footsteps..."

Tobio's about to make a run for it—Why can't people keep it in their pants? he thinks in annoyance—but the culprits step out of the shadowy, narrow corner.

They're two boys. Tobio recalls them from the U-19 youth prospect camp; he was watching their practice matches earlier along with other senior players of the national team. The brunette guy with the glasses is a spiker, and the blond kid a libero. Their shirts are wrinkled. Their lips are red and slick with spit.

They recognize Tobio, too.

"Ah, Kageyama-senpai, hello!" Brunette bows frantically, and slaps his companion to do the same. "Umm, we were just..."

Tobio's joints seemed to have been frozen stiff. His muscles too. He can't move. And he's no longer blushing. It's like all of his blood has been drained out of him.

Brunette bows lower. There's almost a sob in his voice when he says, "We're so sorry, Kageyama-senpai! P-please don't get mad!"

"Please," Blond guy says, barely audible. "Please, senpai. Don't tell anyone. I beg you. We're... we're not—I'm..."

The expression Tobio is sporting must be disconcerting. When the boys look up, their faces twist. They're trembling under their gym clothes, hands fumbling, like they don't know where to settle their own limbs.

Frightened of Tobio. Frightened of being found out.

"Don't do it in the hallways," Tobio finally manages, voice hard and as frigid as he felt.

Brunette flinches at Tobio's tone. "Kageyama-senpai..."

Tobio leaves them. He has to. He can't look at them in the eye without feeling nauseous, the contents of his stomach trying to force themselves up, singeing his throat. His hands are awfully cold.

He's lost now. He forgot to make a left turn in that hallway he was in before. Walking aimlessly, he spots the washroom. It's just his luck. He can't breathe properly.

He splashes water over his face, but it's not enough. He opens the door to one of the stalls with a bang. No one else is in the room, or else they might have shouted at Tobio for being an inconsiderate jackass. He locks himself in the stall, trying to catch his breath.

It's fine, Tobio thinks. It's fine. It's fine. It's fine. He keeps on chanting the words until he starts to believe it.

But he needs to be sure. He needs proof.

Fingers shaking, he takes out his phone.

 

~O~

Flamengo, Rio de Janeiro

...

 

Shouyou groans, palming the side of his face when his jaw cricks. His phone's vibrating on his pillow. It must not be six in the morning yet; it's too dark outside.

When he looks at the caller ID, he decides to pick it up. "Tobio?" he says blearily.

No one speaks for the longest time. Shouyou groans again, mostly in frustration, when he pulls away briefly to look at the time. "Tobio, it's three in the morning—"

"I saw two guys kissing," Tobio says swiftly.

"Huh?"

"Two guys were kissing in the hallway—"

"You did—? Wait. Slow down a bit. You saw them making out?"

"Yeah. I walked in on them," Tobio says. "Here in the national training center in Tokyo. They're one of the U-19 picks."

"Oh. Okay. Tokyo. U-19. Talented, horny kids. Got it," Shouyou mumbles nonsensically, blinking away the sand in his eyes. "They're just kids, Tobio. You do know how teenagers are. It's normal. Here in Rio, the things they get up to are just—"

"Are you listening to me?" Tobio interrupts, hissing. "I saw two guys."

The distress in Tobio's voice is almost an inch away from hysteria. It jolts Shouyou into wakefulness. He sits up slowly and opens the lamp on. "Okay," Shouyou says cautiously. "What… what happened exactly?"

"Our practice just finished and I was going back to my room. I was going to get something. A fresh set of clothes, I think. I heard... noises. While I was walking down the hallway to the dorms. They were in the corner. Kissing."

"Alright. And then?"

"I wasn't supposed to see them. I was going to leave them alone, but they sprang out suddenly and saw me. They kept on apologizing. They were scared of me," Tobio says. "They thought I was going to tell on them, which is fucking ridiculous, because it'd be like I'd be telling on myself. But they don't know that. They don't know anything. I love you, but they don't know that. They thought I'd tell."

Shouyou can hear Tobio's shallow intakes of breath from the receiver. "Okay," he says quite hoarsely. It's a challenge to say anything now with how hard his throat is clenching up. "Okay. What else happened? Did you say anything?"

"I didn't know what to say. I couldn't say 'I understand'. That's just stupid. I wouldn't be caught kissing anyone in the hallways. So I said, 'Don't do it in the hallways'. That's it. Was I wrong? They didn't look less afraid. Maybe I should have told them about us, but I promised myself I wouldn't, and what if things go wrong? What if our teams find out, and they won't let us play volleyball anymore? What if they break us up? Shouyou. Shouyou, are you there?"

"I'm here," Shouyou whispers. He gathers the sheets close, wrapping himself around it.

"Should I have said something else?" Tobio says after a long moment of silence.

"Maybe," Shouyou replies. "But you weren't comfortable enough to do that, so it's okay. It's fine. You should say what you want to say. What you can make yourself say. You know?"

"Alright." He doesn't sound convinced.

"Tobio," Shouyou says. He wonders if Tobio can hear by the phone how much Shouyou loves saying his name, his lips uttering the word in a caress. So he says it again, "Tobio."

"Yes?"

"I love you, you know," Shouyou says. "Nothing else matters."

Tobio doesn't respond.

Shouyou nibbles on his lower lip, before saying, "If you want people to know, that's fine. If you don't want them to know, that's fine, too. Right now, I just want us to stay like this for a long time. But if you want something else, you can tell me now. Yeah? You can tell me, Tobio."

Tobio's next words are a stab to his chest: "I want to fly there right now and be with you."

Shouyou sighs. "Me too," he says. "I'd like that."

They stay silent again for a long time.

Tobio then says, "Should I have said that?"

"What?"

"'Me too'," Tobio clarifies. "To those punks."

The air in his room is cool when Shouyou breathes in. "Oh," he whispers. "Maybe they'd be a little less worried if you said that. If you trust them to keep it a secret."

"Yeah. I guess." Tobio pauses. "But I'd probably be lying. I've never felt about guys the same way I feel about you. Or anyone else."

Shouyou blinks. "O-oh. That's... that's fine." It's not bad, definitely.

The sharp, perturbing edge in Tobio's voice is back: "People wouldn't want me to be with you."

"What? Why?"

"'Cause you're you. Better. And I'm not that... I can't tell people about us, Shouyou. I can't do it yet," Tobio whispers. "Don't break up with me."

"I won't," Shouyou replies, then amends with, "If you don't say anything stupid again. We're better together than apart. People would realize that if they knew. If they think otherwise, then they're just dumb. Just..." He blinks rapidly and sniffles. "If you want us to work, I'm gonna need you to believe that, too."

Tobio answers, "Okay."

"Then we'll tell people when you're ready." And if people aren't ready for him and Tobio, Shouyou doesn't care. Sucks to be them, thinking that Tobio isn't amazing. That they don't deserve to be together.

Shouyou stares at his own shadow on the floor as he waits and ponders. And decides. If he's asking Tobio to be honest, then maybe he should be, too.

"That one year you didn't write to me was the worst time of my life," Shouyou says. "Back then, I was already so far gone in this thing we have, but I didn't realize. And I had been thinking... I'd rather have small pieces of your thoughts every day rather than none at all. So I'll do everything to make this work."

"Okay."

"Just think of me. And I'll think of you. We'll write down our thoughts and tell each other."

"Yeah," Tobio says, voice much softer now. Calmer. "Alright."

Shouyou hums in agreement, wiping the tears brusquely with the back of his hand. They're going to be alright. "Where are you? You're not feeling sick or anything, are you?"

"I'm fine. I'm in one of the bathroom stalls."

"What if someone catches you there?" Shouyou says. "You'd look even more like a weirdo for sure."

Tobio huffs in annoyance. He really sounds better now. "I'm going out."

"Wash your hands."

He hears the tap open. "Of course, idiot. I'm not gross like you," Tobio says.

"Uh-huh. Sure you’re not," Shouyou says. "Those kids you saw. Were they good players?" He lays back down on the mattress as he listens to Tobio talk about volleyball. He keeps the light on.

 

 

~O~

 

September 5, 2018

 

Shouyou,

A veteran Brazilian joined our team. Nicolas Romero. I'm sure you know him. He's the star spiker for Alves, wasn't he? He used to completely toy with Rio's blockers. Definitely leagues better than you.

Hirugami-san is helping me communicate with foreigners using English. I hadn't thought I'd be using it so much. It's never too late to pick it up, I guess. Hirugami-san said the basics might be enough to get us by. But Romero-san is such a high-caliber player, it'd be a waste if I don't get to use him properly. So I have to put more effort into it.

If I ever ask you to translate something in Portuguese, you'd better reply immediately. And you'd better not laugh.

The two punks from the U-19 team gave me something after we had a game with the Green Rockets. It's a dry-fit shirt for training. They sell it in stadiums during pro games here in Sendai. I think they gave it to me as a present since I told them I wouldn't tell a soul about their relationship.

I already have a blue one so I'm sending it to you. You can have it. Orange is your color anyway.

 

Yours,
Kageyama Tobio

 

...

 

December 15, 2018

 

Tobio,

My phone bill just came in. I think I've been bothering you more these past three months. I've been calling you at inconvenient times, haven't I? You can complain, you know. It's really weird you haven't yet.

I try really hard not to call you at night since it's so early over there, but I miss you more when I'm about to go to bed. I can't sleep. Yesterday I gave in. I called you when you were supposed to go out for a run, right? And you talked to me until I fell asleep. Thanks for not scolding me about that. I really needed to hear your voice last night.

I'm doing really well, so don't worry! Sometimes I just really want to see you that I don't know what to do with myself. It's crazy. You did say I'd be wanting a lot more than just talking to you once we got together. And you were so, so right. I'd get up at like three o'clock in the morning 'cause my heart was aching so bad, and I'd look at the airline websites for a ticket to Tokyo or Sendai. If there was any quicker way to see you, I'd do it.

I hope you miss me too, but I wish that it's not as bad. It's really something I wouldn't want other people to feel, even my enemies on the court. It feels awful not being able to breathe right at night.

 

Your boyfriend who loves you and misses you a lot,
Hinata Shouyou

 

...

 

February 13, 2019

 

Shouyou,

I was in Kobe this morning. We had an away game and we were given a day off to look around the place. I was with Ushijima-san and Hoshiumi-san in a shopping district. Ushijima and I were waiting for Hoshiumi-san to finish buying shoes, then I thought I saw you. I saw someone with hair the same shade as yours. I followed him. I know it's stupid. You would've told me if you were in Japan. But I still did.

When the guy turned around and I saw his face, he wasn't you. So I stopped following him. Then I realized I got lost. It took me thirty minutes to find the team again. By then, Hoshiumi-san was already finished shopping and he was laughing at me for getting sucked into the crowd. I didn't tell him and Ushijima-san I mistook someone else as you. I wasn't sure how they would react.

I'm aware it was really stupid. No need to make fun of me for it.

I sent you more red ginseng tea. They said it'd make people sleep better.

 

Yours,
Kageyama Tobio

 

...

 

April 2, 2019

 

Tobio! :D

Lucio-sensei was out with the sneezles last week and he asked me a favor. He wanted me to teach beach volleyball to kids and tourists, and I agreed since I had the time after all. It's sooo fun! There was one time I told the kids to find a way to "fool the blocker" and a girl juggled the ball like a seal before smashing it to the other side LOL. It's an illegal move but it's definitely very creative, I'll give her that! Kids are awesome!

And there was this one sweet girl who wants to become a pro in beach. She's sure on her feet and I could tell she's been playing for a while already. Usually, her mom picks her up after class, but yesterday her dad came too. And you wouldn't believe who it was!!! It was Vincent Alves! He's a beach volleyball legend here in Brazil! He's my hero!!! I couldn't believe it! He shook my hand and told me he watches Electrobas games with his daughter!!! He's a fan! Tobio, I almost died!!

Lucio-sensei didn't know that he had been teaching Vincent Alves' kid, all this time. His reaction was as priceless when I told him.

 

Your boyfriend who shook hands with Beach Volleyball God Vincent Alves,
Hinata Shouyou

 

...

 

Shouyou:
Tobio, I got in.

Shouyou:
I got in the national team. I got in.

Shouyou:
I got in! I got in!!!!

Shouyou:
Oh my god. I can't believe it.

Shouyou:
I GOT IN!!!

 

~O~

Kita, Tokyo

...

 

For once, Tobio doesn't get lost in the training center when he's heading for somewhere other than his room, the cafeteria, the practice hall, or the gym. Maybe because tonight, he's a man with a purpose.

He knows Miya Atsumu rooms with one of his teammates on the Black Jackals. Sakusa Kiyoomi, one of the trickiest players to defend against in the entire V. League. But when they're playing for the national team, they're all on the same side of the court.

Tobio's not sure, though, where Miya stands. That's why he's going to find out.

The door's slightly ajar when he knocks. Sakusa barely opens the door wide enough for him to enter.

"If you two are going to have a lovers' spat, do it outside," Sakusa says. His words are muffled behind his white face mask.

"Omi-kun, don't be mean!" Miya says from over his bed. He's only half-dressed, his blue blankets barely covering his naked torso. "Be more happy 'bout this! Hardly anyone comes to visit us." Miya's russet brown eyes begin to glint. "And it's Tobio-kun, of all people."

Sakusa throws the other man a dead-eyed stare. "I don't want visitors. And put on a shirt if you're gonna talk to someone, you slob."

"But it’s hot!"

Sakusa ignores him. "What do you want, Kageyama?"

Tobio responds, "I just want to talk to Miya-san for a moment."

Sakusa studies him, before sighing in resignation. "Make it quick. Practice starts early tomorrow."

Tobio bows as Sakusa steps out of the room. When he leans back, Miya is putting a shirt on.

"So?" Miya says as he sticks his arm in the shirt holes. "Whaddya need to talk to me about, Tobio-kun? Goin' all serious and stuff..."

Tobio inhales. "Coach told me this morning. He wanted me to play starter for Monday's game."

"So?"

Tobio narrows his eyes. "It wasn't his choice."

Miya smirks. "'Course it wasn't. He ain't gonna let anyone play my role if I ain't sick or anythin'." He flicks his hand. "Just for special occasions. I told him I could sit this one out."

"But why—"

"Keep up, Tobio. Who'd we be playin' against again?"

Involuntarily, Tobio clenches his fists as his thoughts swerve into panic. He knows! he exclaims in his head. He knows about us. "Shou—Hinata's not in first string for the Brazilian team."

Miya snorts. "I know that. Shouyou-kun only got in recently, didn't he? He's young and untested." He crosses his arms over his chest and smiles. "But I'd bet they'd match him against 'ya, if you're startin'."

Tobio flushes deeply. "I still don't understand," he grits. "Why you're doing this."

Miya wrinkles his nose. "You're makin' me sound like a villain." He halts, then lets out a booming laugh. "On second thought, go ahead. Keep on makin' me out like a villain, Tobio-kun. Does it suit me, 'ya think?" He stands up and faces Tobio properly. "Hmm, well. My motives ain't that difficult to understand. I do want to see the two of 'ya rip each other out there like hyenas. Fated lovers, forced apart by their devotion to their countries, reuniting to battle it out in the greatest match of the century! Ha! Pure entertainment! But I must say... Mostly, I just want to watch Shouyou-kun play outta his mind against us. And I think he'd be more motivated to do that when you're on the other side of the net."

Tobio wasn't expecting that. "You're interested in Hinata?" he says, incredulous.

"Yep!" Miya chirps. "But not in that extra gooey way you are, though. So quit lookin' at me like that. You're makin' me all shy."

"Then what kind of interest?"

"The volleyball kind. Obviously. I was lookin' at Brazil's full roster the other day, and I did a double-take when I saw Shouyou-kun's picture on their website. He looked familiar, and then I remembered!" Miya grins. "He was the shrimpy beach boy I saw 'ya with in Rio. Hard to forget that hair, 'ya know?"

Tobio inwardly curses. He really hates Shouyou's distinctively orange bird's nest.

“I didn’t need to ask 'ya twice to know that you two are very close. So I was curious. I watched his games," Miya says, shaking his head afterwards in half-awe, half-amusement. "He just does whatever he wants on the court, doesn't he? You two might be cut from the same cloth. Or rather, Shouyou-kun might be a tad crazier than 'ya. Haf'ta be, blustering around like that, and in that insane speed..."

"He's a good player," Tobio says roughly. "That's why he got in the national team."

"He's crazy good," Miya acknowledges. "S'why I'm interested. I ain't gonna go this far for some scrub. I'll sit out for this one game, see how much he can do." He points at Tobio. "And I want you to bring it outta him. I'll be anticipatin' it, so do your best. Japan better win."

Tobio nods stiffly. "We will," he says.

Miya laughs loudly again. "Just this once. But next time, I'll beat your cute boyfriend in a proper match." He then claps and snaps his fingers. "And then maybe we can do a lil' speed bump, hmm? Aaahh, all the things I can do with that monster eatin' outta my hand! Settin' for the lil' guy must be fun!"

Tobio has to point out, "You'd have to be teammates to get to set for him."

"Judgin' by how Shouyou-kun plays, he ain't gonna stay put and play for one team and league for his entire career." Miya winks. "I maybe ain't speakin' for myself, but better keep on your toes, Tobio-kun. Ninjas steal hearts like a thief in the night, if 'ya know what I mean."

Tobio doesn't, but he bows as low as he can. In a scratchy voice, he says, "I won't let this opportunity go to waste, Miya-san."

Miya beams at him, eyes shrinking. "Just so 'ya know. Whatever happens, I ain't gonna lose to 'ya," he says. "You can serve them all fast balls 'ya want, but I ain't gonna relinquish my starter position. Ever. You can count on that."

Tobio nods. "I'll win it from you, fair and square. I'll prove I'm the better setter." He bows again. "I'll head out now."

Miya titters. "Good talk. Give my number to Shouyou-kun, eh?"

"I'll ask him if he wants it."

Miya scoffs. "Smooth, Tobio," he says dryly as he waves him off, padding towards his bed. "You can do better than that."

"Good night, Miya-san." Sakusa's nowhere to be found in the hallway, so Tobio shuts the door behind him.

He does immediately ask Shouyou if he wants to be friends with Miya, because Tobio doesn't know how to say thank you properly to his rivals.

 

~O~

Naku, Hiroshima

...

 

"Monday night rivalry is surely something all volleyball fans are looking forward to. Isn't that right, Sato-san?" Natsume Daisuke says as he adjusts his lapels.

"That's right, Natsume-san!" Sato Eishun cheers. "And this rivalry is shaping up to take the volleyball world by storm! Japan and Brazil hadn't been that classic match-up that'd get our viewers teetering and jumping from their seats. I'd say that honor used to belong to Brazil and USA or Italy, and Japan with China or perhaps the rising powerhouse South Korea!"

"I agree! But we're entering a new era of volleyball, Sato-san. While height is arguably the most valuable attribute a player could have on the orange court, it doesn't mean that it would be the only determining factor in a game. And looking at the line-up from both teams, I can truly say that we are starting to lean away from that dictum. Isn't that exciting?"

Sato laughs lightly over his microphone. "Exciting is not enough of a word to cover it! What more can you tell us about our starters for each team, Natsume-san?"

"It is with great pleasure that I introduce the starting line-up of the host of this year's Men's World Cup. We have Hibarida Fuki's go-to stars when faced with such international giants. We have human tank Ushijima Wakatoshi on the right, and veterans Meian Shugo and Heiwajima Toshiro, guarding the front court and the backcourt, respectively. With trusty middle blocker Hirugami Fukuro out with a lower body injury since August, Suna Rintaro is in for number seven, who's made quite a name for himself with the Paper Mills this season."

"The news about Hirugami-san had been most unfortunate," Sato says.

Natsume makes a sympathetic noise. "But it does open the stage for this monster generation to shine! We had been discussing height earlier, and Hibarida-san's betting his everything on his wispy haired point-getter, master of mid-air battles, Hoshiumi Kourai!"

"I've interviewed him loads of times, and I gotta tell you. He's small in stature only," Sato attests. "His personality absolutely towers over the rest of his team. And his mid-air tactics are truly top-notch!"

"Coupled with Sakusa Kiyoomi, the highly talented spiker who can score wherever you put him, coming fresh from his rookie year success with the Black Jackals, this team is well-stacked."

"But we do have an interesting development in Japan's line-up tonight for this World Cup game. Devious setter Miya Atsumu will be sitting out this game. But don't fret, Miya fans! Front office says that Miya-san is not injured or has sustained any sickness at this moment. But why then would he be watching from the stands tonight, Sato-san?"

Sato grins at him. "Oh, I think it's better if we introduce the opposing team's match-up first," he says. "The Brazilian National Team is packed to the gills with all kinds of powerful players. As usual, our front-liners for tonight include the decorated Oscar Morais as their setter. Jason Azevêdo and Jose Martin Romero will be blocking and attacking from the left and center. Fearsome libero Tristão Almeida will be guarding the flank. We have newcomer outside hitter Aurelio Sousa, and... hmmm. Very interesting indeed!"

Natsume cackles. "The fans are at the edge of their seats, Sato-san!"

"Playing up the drama is our job, Natsume-san!" Sato titters. "The Japanese National Team has elected to start twenty-two-year-old Kageyama Tobio as the team's control tower for tonight. A casual fan would think of this as Japan taking a huge risk this late in Round 3, but Kageyama has proven himself time and time again in the international stage. Those six big serves in the Rio Olympics against France was the talk of the town for about a year!"

"And he's no slouch as a setter either," Natsume says. "The Adlers has never failed to secure a playoff spot ever since Kageyama-san has signed with the team, and they were the defending champions for three straight years."

"An impressive resume for such a young player," Sato agrees. "But what about Brazil's new opposite hitter?"

Natsume grins slyly as he adjusts his headphones. "Oh, I think Kageyama's devoted squadron of fans can tell you more than I could."

"I'm sure they could! But I was lucky enough to bump into Kageyama-san this afternoon while he was exiting the media room. I gave him a few questions, and he was gracious enough to reply to all of them."

"Did he now?" Natsume says. "Isn't he quite taciturn?"

"He's perfectly mum about his personal life, for sure. Keeps all the talk restricted to volleyball," Sato divulges. "But this time around, volleyball has quite intersected with his personal life. In a very odd fashion, I must add."

"Odd, you say. Well, I think the better word is 'star-crossed'."

"You are better at words than I am, Natsume-san!"

"Ahh, that is not true at all! But you were saying something about chatting with Kageyama-san? You were indeed gone for quite a while this afternoon."

"That's because Kageyama-san had a lot to say about Team Brazil's rising player." Sato clears his throat. "There had been rumors circulating online that Kageyama and this player knew each other for quite a long while, way before they even broke out into the professional scene. I asked Kageyama-san earlier whether that's true, and he confirmed it." He then chuckles. "Though the words he used were a bit unusual to hear coming out of his mouth."

"What did he say?" Natsume says, intrigued.

"He said, and I quote, 'That dumbass annoyed me for years so much that I pledged to beat him. So here we are'."

Natsume laughs. "Really now? That doesn't sound like Kageyama-san!"

"If you were to only consider Kageyama's words and his expression that time, you would definitely think they hated each other immensely," Sato says. "But those two shared a lot of history together, apparently. People who claimed to be Kageyama-san's classmates from middle school said that he and this Brazilian player have been sending letters to each other."

"Letters?" Natsume exclaims. "Did you mean they were pen pals?"

"Are," Sato clarifies. "I asked Kageyama-san about it, and he said they still keep a regular correspondence despite their busy careers."

Natsume's jaw slacks. "Now that is something else."

"Well, they are very dedicated players. I suppose that shouldn't be a surprise," Sato says with a smile. "There is obviously a lot of respect between the two, as rival athletes and long-time friends. Kageyama-san might have been a bit grudging with his praise earlier, but I deem it stemming more out of his infamous competitive streak than anything else."

Natsume's gaze flickers to one of the monitors above them, the screen showing the diminutive spiker grinning from ear to ear, his bright orange hair sticking out in tufts under his headset.

"And now we have live, our new challenger Hinata Shouyou from Team Brazil. His teammates are getting ready behind him. So how are you, Hinata-san? Are you nervous? I believe this is your first game with the national team, correct?"

Hinata nods enthusiastically. "Mhmm! I'm so excited to be here and play with lotsa strong players!"

Sato leans on the dashboard. "Let me just clarify a few things. You are of Japanese descent, am I correct?"

"Yes. But since I was born in Rio, I'm Brazilian, too. But I had to choose between Japan and Brazil eventually, and I ended up keeping my Brazilian nationality."

"That's interesting. Can you tell us why?"

"Oh." Hinata laughs. "You'll have to thank Tobio for that actually."

"Kageyama-san?" Both the announcers look surprised at this. Natsume then asks, "Did Kageyama-san factor in on your decision?"

"A little bit. Well, we started out hoping we can play together, but we found out that we were more excited about beating each other than being on the same side of the court." Hinata laughs again as a thought occurs to him. "He told me it'd be a dumb idea to renounce my citizenship if I want to take him on in the Olympics."

"So you two... facing off in the Olympics has always been your goal?"

"For sure!" Hinata yelps. "It's a huge part of it! I want to face strong players, and Tobio's one of the strongest. And he's always been on my back about my game—he nags more than my mom, and that's saying something—so it's time for me to show that grumpy sore loser what I can do."

Sato and Natsume laugh, charmed by Hinata-san's cheerful candor.

Natsume then questions, "Despite you two living so far away from each other, can you say that Kageyama-san had a good degree of influence on your formative years as a volleyball player?"

"Yeah, no doubt about it! And he's still pushing me to be better," Hinata replies. "I'm blessed to have excellent coaches and teammates, obviously, but Tobio showed me that I can still fight with this body. I wouldn't be here if he hadn't pushed me." He settles his hands on his hips and stands straighter, declaring, "That's why I'm going to return the favor and give him a game he'll never forget. A first taste of the Olympics. My team is going to beat him tonight, and we'll win it all."

 

...

 

"Oh my goodness!" Natsume crows at the microphone. "That must be the longest rally in the entire game! Absolutely ridiculous happening this late in the final set."

"I think both the stadium audience and our viewers at home need a time-out! I sure could use one, too!" Sato guffaws, bringing his swivel chair closer to himself as it slid away during the commotion on the court. "Aurelio Sousa scores from a quick attack while Hinata and Romero pry Japan's blockers away, and the score is now 21-20. Brazil needs one more point to end this match in their favor. Both teams have used up all their time-outs. Truly a point of no return."

"Indeed. Now here comes Morais with the serve... Ooohh, right at the libero! He wasn’t aiming there for sure."

“Japan gets to attack. Kageyama sets to Sakusa—score! Oh my, that was a killer wrist shot near the left paint! That ball must have swerved at the last minute! Incredible! Sakusa Kiyoomi makes it 21-21 for Team Japan!"

“Kudos to the Brazilians for that impressive mental strength. They don’t seem fazed at all. They look ready to take back that point.”

"But big server Kageyama isn't going to let Hinata-san and Brazil have the last laugh. He tosses it high..."

With immense speed, the ball drops on the other side of the court without any of the defenders getting an arm on it. The stadium erupts.

"Service ace!" Natsume bellows. "What a ridiculously sharp angle! Kageyama Tobio scores and Japan takes the lead, 22-21, leaving the Brazilians dumbfounded! The crowd is going nuts!"

"How many service aces has that been already? All the young volleyball players around Japan must be taking notes. What a marvel Kageyama Tobio has been for Team Japan!"

Then, the cameras show Hinata Shouyou's red and peeved face, and Natsume and Sato chortle in unison.

"Looks like Hinata-san isn't happy about that," Natsume says gleefully. "The heat down there must be intense, Sato-san."

"Ohh, now they're yelling something at each other!" Sato has to fight back another thunderous laugh as he watches Kageyama and Hinata glowering and screaming their heads off from opposite ends of the court. "What do the viewers wager they're saying?"

"Must be making dinner plans." Natsume drinks from his bottled water. His throat feels scratchy now from all the talking and shouting he's doing. "The umpire seems to be looking the other way, though. Both teams haven't been given a warning."

"Yamamoto-san, who's been an umpire for twelve years running, must be getting swept by the incredible energy from the two generational talents. They've absolutely been all over the court tonight. I don't blame him one bit."

"Now we're back to Kageyama-san serving. He tosses the ball high again..."

"Another intense serve! But Morais gets it! Very crafty, making the setter pick it up—uh-oh, Azevêdo tosses it low—Romero's hit gets picked up by Hoshiumi! Who's Kageyama gonna use—"

"Ushijima unleashes a powerful cross spike, but Hinata gets it!"

"A perfect pass to Morais! Oscar Morais is going for—"

"Score! And that was fast! Hinata Shouyou makes a difficult line shot in between twin towers Meian and Sakusa, evening out Kageyama's earlier point with much spite!"

"Scoring from his own receive! That shot underscores Hinata-san's immense grit and determination, and it pushes Brazil back on the scoreboard, 22-22." Sato wipes the sweat off his forehead with his handkerchief.

Natsume grins at his co-announcer. "The pressure from downstairs is already seeping up here in the press box, eh, Sato-san? D'you reckon this fifth set will push to thirty points?"

"For the sake of my ailing heart, I do hope not."

"It's now Aurelio Sousa's turn to serve. Another fresh face. I believe he came along with Hinata-san... The whistle blows, and Aurelio tosses the ball..."

"A jump floater! It's the first time in the game Sousa's done it! It succeeds in Japan's formation scrambling—Suna Rintaro attacks from the center—and it's picked up by Almeida! But the receive's shaky... all of Brazil's attackers are doing their run-ups. Japan looks unsure who's going to attack—"

"It's Azevêdo going for a line shot, but libero Heiwajima gets a hand on that easily! And Kageyama's quickly in position, my goodness, that agility..."

"Kageyama sets to Hoshiumi, he hits—oh my! Stopped by Jason Azevêdo at the front gates! What a block! What amazing reflexes! Japan is now down by one point again! The Brazilians are going crazy on the court!”

"That was a pivotal block by Jason Azevêdo!"

"Indeed that was! Now Sousa serves once more… Ushijima gets it up with a clean pass to the attack line! Kageyama isn’t disheartened and uses Hoshiumi again, oh bummer they almost score! But Almeida dives to retrieve it just in time! He sends the ball up high! Now, Morais is waiting for the ball to come down while all the players wait anxiously... he tosses to Hinata, who's flying from the back court—my, look at him jump—"

"Oh my goodness—"

 

~O~

Naku, Hiroshima

...

 

When the ball landed with a resounding boom behind Tobio, he glanced immediately at the linesman, hoping for something. He can't recall now what he was hoping for, but when the official drew the flag down—inside, a point for Brazil—he stood up abruptly from his crouch and searched for a face across the court.

Shouyou was staring back at him, arms outstretched, having just landed on the floor from that incredible jump. His expression wasn't jubilant like the rest of his teammates, who had all begun to topple over him in a sweaty human pile. His eyes were mournful, like he couldn't accept that the match was over.

Tobio might have been wearing the same expression as well. He hadn't had that much fun with volleyball in years.

If that was how volleyball could be like...

More, Tobio had thought, as he walked over to their bench. One more, he thought again as Coach Hibarida patted him on the shoulder and said, "That was one of the best games I've ever witnessed. It's a pleasure to have you onboard for a long time, Kageyama-san."

Tobio had breezed through the locker room pep talk, only half-listening, and afterwards went back to their hotel and packed his bags. He has to return to Miyagi by midnight. They have morning practice tomorrow in Sendai stadium, then a game in the afternoon against the Red Falcons. All the other Adlers in the national team can sleep in the club-sponsored car, though Tobio doubts he would be getting a wink of it, seeing as how keyed-up he still is.

Now, Tobio's waiting with Ushijima and Hoshiumi at the lobby, dead tired but widely awake. His phone then vibrates in the front pocket of his windbreaker.

Tobio picks it up. "Hello?"

"Tobio! It's me!"

Tobio pulls away and gapes. It's Miya's number. "Shouyou?" he says.

At this, Hoshiumi and Ushijima stir from their seats.

"Where are you?" Shouyou says. "You weren't in the locker rooms, and Atsumu-san said you and a few others are leaving—"

"Yeah, we have a home game tomorrow. We're already in the lobby at the hotel." Tobio sits up straighter. He can hear the fast tip-tapping of footsteps— "Idiot, our ride's almost here! Why the hell are you running?"

"Are you seriously asking me that?" Shouyou shouts at him.

Tobio's throat tightens. "Don't run," he says hoarsely.

"Then how the heck would I catch up to you?" Shouyou says. "Let me see you off, at least!"

Hoshiumi waves to get Tobio's attention. "Kageyama," he says, lips curled into a smile. "Go meet him. We'll cover for you."

Ushijima nods, gesturing for Tobio's bag.

After a pause, Tobio stands up and hands it to Ushijima. "Thank you," he tells them, bowing slightly.

Hoshiumi laughs and does a shooing motion with his hands.

Tobio puts the phone back on his ear. "I'll meet you half-way," he tells Shouyou. "Where are you?"

He hears Shouyou skid to a stop. "Uhh. There's this big white wall that says 'Hiroshima Museum of Art'. Or wait. Is it yellow? Brown?"

Earlier, Tobio had looked out of the window while they were on the bus. He remembers having passed that. It's not far, he thinks. "Okay. Stay there. I'll go to you." He prays that he won't get lost.

"Okay!"

"Stay on the line."

Shouyou laughs. "I'll have to pay back Atsumu-san all the minutes I've used up."

Tobio has to snort at that. "Like he needs it. The Black Jackals are already paying him well enough." Going by instinct, Tobio makes a left turn, following the line of chaste trees.

"I'm the handsome dude with the super cool orange hair, by the way."

"Uh-huh," Tobio mutters absently, eyes scanning for nearby signs that can tell him where to go, but he finds none. He walks further out, taking a chance, and after a minute Tobio sees him.

Sighing with immense relief, Tobio jogs across the crosswalk. Shouyou's grinning with relief, too, pocketing the smartphone and waving at him like a kid. The wall bearing the words Hiroshima Museum of Art is white.

All the words Tobio wants to say get stuck in his throat when Shouyou greets him with the tightest hug he's ever gotten. Instead, he sighs, heavier than he had before. Tobio can feel all the tension bleeding out of him, along with the frustration from the loss, the disappointment of playing only one full game. The sadness at the thought of not seeing Shouyou again until the next international stage. He hadn't realized he had been feeling all that until Shouyou's wringing it out of him.

"Missed you," Shouyou mutters, cheek flat against Tobio's chest. "You played awesomely out there. We thought we were going to lose."

"You will next time," Tobio vows. There are a handful of people milling about in the streets, but he hazards a soft brush of his lips on Shouyou's forehead. He pulls away, chest buzzing.

Shouyou's smiling wide at him, eyes shining, and Tobio thinks that maybe this is what being in love means. His throat burning. His gut clenching. His heart hurting. Everything hurting. Every piece of him aching to give so much to someone else, even if it means getting nothing in return. Are selfish kings capable of such things? Tobio doesn't think so.

But maybe he's not a selfish king anymore. Tobio badly wants to believe that.

Tobio flicks Shouyou's ear. "Don't you run around like that again. You're going to get in an accident."

"Yeah, mom," Shouyou chirps. "Good luck tomorrow! This time, I'm hoping you'd win." Furtively, he laces their fingers together behind their jackets and squeezes.

Tobio squeezes back before letting go. "Don't get lost. If you need to, find Sakusa Kiyoomi's number there and call him. He'll most likely be with Miya-san."

"Roger!"

Their ride must be waiting for him already. Tobio mutters, looking back, "See you, Shouyou."

"Soon!" Shouyou waves at him again.

Tobio walks away. As he crosses the pedestrian lane once more, he thinks he hears Shouyou's warm laugh being carried by the night wind.

 

~O~

 

December 29, 2019

 

Tobio!!!

A lot of things have happened this week! We had a fan meeting in Urca on the 20th. I wasn't really expecting to have to sign jerseys, probably only one or two, but I had to sign so many! Seriously! I lost count at twenty, because the line just kept getting longer and longer.

It would've been nice and all, but there were also around five custom Schweiden Adlers Kageyama jerseys that I had to sign. No one's selling Adlers jersey replicas here, so they must've gotten it on the internet. I don't get why they made me sign them, though. I'm obviously not you!!!! And there was one girl who stopped me on the street 'cause she wanted me to ask if you're planning on getting married soon. Ugh!!! Next time someone comes to me asking about your marital status or requesting to sign a Kageyama jersey, I'm going to riot!!

We're getting our butt whipped by Unimed Belo. We haven't won a single game against them yet. It's kind of frustrating. Minas teams are just so good!!! They always manage to take the flow of the game away from us. But RJ's signing this awesome libero. Our coach says he's from Serbia! I think he's won awards in the Italian league where he used to play in. I'm sure we can secure a playoff spot, but maybe we'll have a real fighting chance against Belo this season.

My mom quit her job to be my full-time agent, and I honestly feel bad. It's her dream job, you know? But she says she'd sleep better at night if I had someone behind me who knows what they're doing. Reading the fine print in contracts isn't really my thing, and we both know that. She does have a business degree and I trust her. So I guess it's all going to work out.

Speaking of contracts, yesterday I checked my bank account since I wasn't sure if I had money to pay for my phone bill, and I almost screamed in the locker room when I saw how much I have. I've never seen so many zeroes! I called my mom after, and she said that she bumped up my "entry-level deal" into a "regular one with performance bonuses". Oh my god.

I honestly don't know what to do with all that cash. Put it in a bank, maybe, like Dad does? Buy a car? A new treadmill? Go on a cruise ship with my family and friends? Maybe I can sponsor Natsu's schooling in Italy. That'll definitely guilt trip her into knitting scarves for me.

 

Your gazillionaire boyfriend,
Hinata Shouyou

 

...

 

March 7, 2020

 

Shouyou,

My sister's getting married next year in the fall. The guy's an accountant in a big company in Sendai. I met the guy once for a family dinner, and I was surprised why she chose him. She didn't seem like her type. She used to like race car drivers and army pilots. The guy seems tame and normal.

She made me go through her guest list. My current teammates are there. She doesn't know them personally, but she said that since I work with them closely, it just makes sense to invite them. She was asking if there was anyone else I wanted to come, and I said I'll think about it. Do you think it's okay to invite former teammates? Oh, and she told me to invite you, too.

The Olympics are just a few months away. Since it's going to be held in Tokyo, players are expected to do well on home turf. More pressure to win medals. The training center's packed sometimes when I come for practice matches so the dorm rooms are full. The cafeteria's crowded too and we share tables with other players. I didn't know sailing was a sport. Their athletes have good core muscles.

Better give up now. Japan will win by a landslide.

 

Yours,
Kageyama Tobio

 

...

 

May 14, 2020

 

Tobio! :D

We're doing a lot of crazy things to train! I can't tell you Brazil's trade secret, though, but just know that they're craaazzzzyyyy!! Everyone in the team is so hyped for July, and I get to hang with the coolest people! Sometimes when we're on a break, we watch a couple of movies together. Yesterday, we watched Top Gun, since it's Oscar's favorite movie. It was soooooo hyppeee!! You need to watch it with me next time! Did you know there was a beach volleyball scene there? That Tom Cruise guy sure can hit a ball!

Man, I miss competing in beach. There's so much open space for me to use and practice defending, and I get to play with the ball more. Plus I can throw myself around the sand without worrying about getting hurt. I'm thinking of squeezing some time to play on the beach with a couple of guys. Don't worry! I won't overdo it!

 

Your boyfriend who's gonna work hard to get Tom Cruise's biceps,
Hinata Shouyou

 

 

~O~

Ariake, Tokyo

...

 

Brazil lost to Italy in the semi-finals, and then managed to win in the bronze medal game against USA. Japan had pulled ahead to sneak a win against Russia in the quarterfinals and USA in the semis, but has now lost to Italy in the gold medal game. Shouyou watches numbly as Italian middle blocker Tomas Pellegrini smashes the ball to the small open space the Japanese players haven't been able to cover. The fifth set ends at 19-17.

Shouyou files along with his teammates as they leave their seats. His palms are clammy.

"Sucks," Tristão mutters from behind him. "That was supposed to be us over there."

"Yeah," Shouyou says, eyes cast down. Almost. Almost. Tobio was able to fulfill his side of the bargain, bolstering Team Japan's offense and catapulting them to the gold medal game. Shouyou was supposed to be on the other side of the court, beating Japan as he had promised. He had failed to win gold. He'd lost.

Tears start to well up in his eyes.

Coming out from the stadium tunnel, the Japanese players are also heading back to their locker rooms. They then lumber through the same dimly lit hallway as the Brazilians. One of their reserve players is crying into his jersey sleeve, while Ushijima pats him on the back, still with a nonplussed expression on his face.

Shouyou and Tobio lock eyes as they pass each other. He doesn't say anything, locking his jaw tightly, and Tobio says nothing back. They tear their gaze away after a beat and walk away from each other.

One more, Shouyou thinks, blinking back the angry, bitter tears. He tries to imprint on his mind Tobio's steely gaze on him earlier. He's not going to stop. One more try.

No matter how long it takes.

 

~O~

October 21, 2020

 

Hey, Tobio,

I know you told me not to read my own press, but Natsu told me the other day not to log on the internet for a while, so I got curious. There's this article about the national team that had been going viral. It said that this year's roster was the worst ever in Brazil's history, and that getting a bronze medal in men's indoor volleyball is equal to the country underachieving, and another international game away from humiliating all Brazilians. It then said something about the selection office being crazy for signing me on, since I'm a short guy battling against huge players in the biggest sporting event in the world. Even if I scored thirty-one points in that game against Italy, I still stand at only 172 cm. I was too much of a liability on the court.

So I spent that entire day looking myself up and reading what people said about me. A lot were really nice. I think the nicest ones came from Electrobas-RJ fans, so I guess they might be a bit biased. But there were a couple that broke my heart. Sometimes, I'm not really sure what else I should do to prove myself. That I should be there standing on the court fighting with the strongest players in our country.

I had a game yesterday against Reunidas, and it was great. We won! I think my whole family knew I was in a bad place, and they all came to watch and cheer on me. Even Lucio-sensei, Pedro and Lucas came. I felt really good getting hugs from everyone afterwards.

But what really brought my whole mood up was when someone from PR called me after doing a press junket with my teammates. People were waiting in the other media room to see me. Fans!!! Most of them are kids who want to go pro. One of them was a thirteen-year-old. He told me that even though he's short for his age, he wasn't going to give up, since I was able to do it. He wants to stand on the world stage like I did.

I'll try not to search myself on the internet next time!

 

Your boyfriend who's so lucky to have great family, friends and fans (and you, maybe :D),
Hinata Shouyou

 

...

 

April 12, 2021

 

Shouyou,

I keep getting these weird packages sent to my house. Some of them are lewd. At first I thought my teammates were pranking me again, but they said they wouldn't go as far to send me adult films and undergarments in the mail. So I just ignored it since the packages didn't have return addresses on them. Fortunately, my sister was visiting last week when I got another one. She knew what to do with them. I threw the briefs and panties into the fire and she took the DVDs to give it to someone who'd appreciate it better. She then told me to talk to the front office about it, so I did yesterday. They said they'd take care of it. Last year, someone in the league had been receiving stuff like that too. They're from stalkers. People are really weird.

I hope you aren't getting stuff like that in the mail either. Tell me if you are.

I'm getting asked about you a lot lately whenever I'm called for interviews. One man wanted to know if I ever saw you in pajamas. But before I could answer 'yes', Sokolov-san told the guy that we sometimes do video calls in the locker room, and that the entire team already saw you in pajamas. I don't remember that happening, though.

Hirugami-san told me that I should be more careful in answering the press. He said he thinks they're waiting for me to say something that would "spin the narrative" and make the two of us seem like we're dating. Maybe I should tell them we really are so that they don't have to spin anything.

I haven't told anyone from the Adlers. But with how much they're covering for us, I think they know. Or at least they suspect something. Sometimes I get tempted to just blurt it all out in the open so they don't have to lie for me. But if I do that, they'll start getting questions about us, too. I don't want that. I’d be a distraction. I just want to play good volleyball with this team.

They don’t seem to have a problem with us being together. I guess. I’m not sure. But I won’t say anything just to be safe.

 

Yours,
Kageyama Tobio

 

~O~

 

July 14, 2021

 

Tobioooo!!!

Natsu's flight to Milan is tomorrow night, so I helped her pack and clean the house. I was clearing out my closet too when I found an old shirt of yours at the bottom of the pile. It's been here for five years already, so technically it's mine now! :>

Man, I miss Natsu already. It's going to be so quiet in the house for sure.

Also, I once mentioned to Lucas that I'm going to Japan to attend your sister's wedding, and I think he got an idea from that. He's now thinking of proposing to his longtime girlfriend, but he's roping me into planning it with him. I have no idea how proposals should go, but he still wants me in on the whole thing.

What if I screw up? Help!!!

 

Your boyfriend who's gonna help plan a proposal (and hopefully a wedding!!!),
Hinata Shouyou

 

...

 

November 1, 2021

 

Shouyou,

My sister's moving to Sendai permanently with her husband. She's already been living away ever since she went to get her certification to become a hairstylist, but she didn't take much with her before. Her room became completely empty next to mine when she left this time. It looked weird. So Mother got some of my old bedsheets to cover the mattress and she placed Dad's suits in the closet.

Are my aunts still bothering you? Sorry about that. They've been setting me up with their friends' daughters all these years so I should have anticipated they'd try to put you in blind dates with their own kids. You should've said you were already seeing someone when they asked you if you were still single during the wedding reception. Do that next time.

My cousin kept on asking me to introduce you, but I refused. She can be very persistent, though. If someone with the name Kageyama Kaori is messaging you online, that's her. Don't encourage her. My aunt says she falls in love easily.

I know you already have copies of the pictures from the wedding, but my sister gave me printed ones. I don't know what to do with them, so I'm sending them all to you except for one.

 

Yours,
Kageyama Tobio

 

 

~O~

Alto da Lapa, São Paulo

...

 

"It looks..." Shouyou scrunches his nose, trying to find an appropriate word. "Er... Sunny?"

"You mean jaundiced," Pedro says. He groans at the fluorescent yellow walls. "Jesus. This is why I don't want Ma taking over the place while I'm away. Everything turns into a passion project for her. Last year, it was my dad's condominium unit that got caked with the beach motif."

Shouyou grins at him. "So how do you want to go about this?" He gestures at the princess canopy bed. "I could have that shipped to Natsu if you want."

Pedro throws him a grateful look. "Shoot me an address, Shou, and it's a done deal."

Shouyou chuckles as he keys in his address and sends it to their private chat. He then takes a picture of the bed and forwards it to Natsu. Pedro's early christmas gift. You like?

They haul the treasure chests and the massive ship steering wheel into the living room; there's already little space for them to move around, and it's gotten even more cramped when they relocate most of the things Pedro's mother got for him. The movers would be coming in tomorrow but Shouyou would already be gone by then, and so he came in to help as soon as Pedro video messaged him about the situation.

"Thanks for doing this, Shou," Pedro says, slumping against the mustard yellow chair draped in afghan throws with seashell designs. "Remind me to get you a ticket to the Bahamas for this."

Shouyou wipes the perspiration off his forehead with the sleeve of his shirt. "No, seriously, it's fine." He laughs. "If I ever need a hand in furnishing, you'll be the first one I'll bother."

"Please do." Pedro throws his head back and groans once more. "God. I don't think I've ever moved this much since high school." He looks on at Shouyou's arm muscles in envy. "Maybe I should hit the gym."

Shouyou's eyes glimmer. "I definitely can get you started, Pedro!" he enthuses.

Pedro suddenly looks ill. "Get me a lite version of whatever monster workout you're doing. I can't stand on my head like you can."

"What? You know I can't do that."

Pedro waves his hand. "And you know what I mean." He smiles. "Your fans will crucify me if they ever learn about this. 'Electrobas-RJ star Shouyou Hinata Does Home Improvement With Unknown Friend At Horizons'. God, your life."

Shouyou laughs despite the burgeoning warmth in his cheeks. "I don't get recognized that much when I go out, honestly." He does find that he's getting stopped more often when he eats out or does groceries than during his rookie year, and perhaps it's to be expected. RJ's winning more games this season. But the fact that he's got fans is still a thing Shouyou can't wrap his head around.

Pedro's right. His life, indeed.

"Your hair makes you stand out more, you know. Much more than you realize."

"My hair?" Shouyou tugs at the ends. It's gotten significantly longer now. "Do you think I should dye it?"

Pedro shakes his head vigorously. "No, are you nuts? That's your brand, Shou. You're gonna lose some of your endorsement deals if you dye it."

"I don't think I've seen that in any of my contracts."

Pedro laughs, tossing a throw pillow at Shouyou. "It's on the fine print. Trust me on this."

Shouyou smiles back. "I'm glad I have such smart friends!" he quips.

Pedro reddens and rubs his nape. "Hey, Shou," he says. "You still dating that Kageyama guy?"

Shouyou quirks an eyebrow. "Tobio?"

Pedro ducks his head and laughs under his breath. "Oh man, you two getting serious now, huh?"

Shouyou's voice hitches when he answers, "We've always been serious." He sets the pillow back to Pedro.

Pedro catches it with ease. "I guess," he says. "Just checking in. You hardly talk about Kageyama. Even with me."

Shouyou pauses. "O-oh," he breathes out.

"I mean, I totally understand why, obviously!" Pedro says, seeming as equally as embarrassed as Shouyou is at this sudden turn in the conversation. "But... not all people know you're committed, right? Which is a good thing. Or a bad thing. Depends on how you look at it."

"Oh. Yeah."

"Well, just so you'd know," Pedro says. "People ask about you sometimes. You're no Coutinho, maybe, but people do get curious." He then snorts, recalling something. "My sister's best friend puts on make-up whenever we come see you at your games. It's a thing you should know about, Shouyou. I think Kageyama gets a lot of that, too."

Shouyou smacks his lips which have suddenly gone dry. "Ahh," he says. "Right. Got it, Pedro."

"So," Pedro says, shrugging. "I guess what I'm trying to say here is you can talk to me about it. Or complain. Kageyama's not an off-limits topic, yeah? So you can tell me all about him. Hey, Shou? Dude, oh my god." He guffaws. "Don't cry on me, man."

Shouyou sniffles hard, pushing back the snot in one swift inhale. "I'm not!" he lies.

Pedro falls over the chair, laughing still. "Oh man, I guess this is why you don't talk about him," he rasps as he curls at the carpeted floor. "Do you miss him? Are you having feelings, Shou?"

"I'm touched, so shut up," Shouyou attests, getting up to throw a pillow at Pedro's face. "At least I didn't cry in public like you did."

"I've already burned that memory to the ground," Pedro says. "Nothing can hurt me now."

Shouyou doesn't buy that one bit. "Leorio doesn't deserve to be a hunter," he claims.

Pedro gasps, sitting up. "You take that back."

They then delve into a passionate discussion about whether or not Leorio really lucked out in getting his hunter license in Hunter x Hunter, and thankfully, Shouyou doesn't feel like crying anymore.

 

~O~

Natori, Miyagi

...

 

"Son," Father says. He's in his overalls. "Are you busy?"

Tobio presses the spacebar, and the stream of the Poland vs. Russia game pauses. "No."

Father shows him an unopened can of paint. "Can you help me paint the fence?" he says.

Tobio closes his laptop immediately. "Yes. I'll go change first."

"I'll wait for you downstairs."

Tobio turns over his dresser until he finds his tattered sweatpants and a white t-shirt he used to wear during the summer when he was still starting out in the league. It's a tight fit, but it'll have to do.

Mother makes them refreshments while Tobio and Father work on the garden fences, masking off the periwinkles with a tarp before coating the wooden panels with asphalt black paint. Tobio doesn't know how to use a roller, but he watches his father closely as he brings it up and down the flat surface. Tentatively, he tries to copy the motion, though after four tries, he's quite sure he's not doing a good job so far. His strokes look uneven. Father doesn't seem to mind though.

After thirty minutes of working in complete silence, Father speaks up, "So, what's the next step for you?"

Tobio assumes he means volleyball. "Egawa-san said he's still looking into the clubs who offered me a spot or a chance to try out. He says he'll be giving me a shortlist in a week or so."

"What country?"

"There's a couple. There's one in France, I think."

"Is it a good country for volleyball?"

"Yes. Their league is very competitive."

Father gruffly says, "Good." He abandons the roller and takes a regular brush, coating the edges of the fence. "Tell me if a deal starts to follow through."

"Yes."

"Mhmm." He instructs Tobio to stir the paint inside the can, before pouring a good amount of it into the plastic tray. "How's your French?" he then asks.

Tobio sputters, "I'll try to get by." He spots a couple of spaces he's missed, and goes over them again.

"Does Hinata-kun know French?" Father says.

"Shouyou speaks Portuguese," Tobio says. "But Brazilian Portuguese is a little different from Portugal Portuguese." He thinks Shouyou explained the differences to him before, but he's completely forgotten now.

Father nods. He gives Tobio the brush and shows him how to paint the valleys. Father says after a while, "I like Hinata-kun."

Tobio turns to him at breakneck speed. "Y-yes?"

"I like Hinata-kun," Father says again. He smiles a little, disarming Tobio. "He makes you act like a kid."

The tips of Tobio's ears turn pink. He recalls Shouyou dragging him to the karaoke machine and goading him into singing Love So Sweet to the newlyweds, much to his sister and relatives' delight. "Sorry," he mutters.

Father snorts as he bends down to take the roller. He groans quietly, palming the small of his back. He says afterwards, "For you, Tobio, it's a good thing."

"Oh." Tobio goes slack-jawed as Father takes off his gloves and steps back, studying their work.

"Hmm," Father says, eyeing Tobio's ghastly effort at the side panels. "I think we did alright, son."

 

~O~

Flamengo, Rio de Janeiro

...

 

"No, wait. Stop. Say that again."

Shouyou's forehead creases as he glances at Tobio's face on his phone screen. "A club from Italy's SuperLega asked me to sign with them."

"Italy?"

"Uh-huh. My contract with Electrobas was ending. Didn't I tell you that, like, seven times already?"

"I knew that, dumbass. But you didn't say anything about Italy!"

"I just found out minutes ago before you called! I almost burned myself at the stove when I saw the news," Shouyou ripostes before taking a spoonful of rice. "My mom sent me an e-mail. Which is weird. They didn't even ask me to tryout for them! Is that how Italian clubs are?"

The ends of Tobio's lips twitch. "Which club?" he says.

Shouyou licks the ketchup from his thumb and scrolls through his e-mails. "Hmmm, it says here that it's a club based in Trentino? I don't know where that is, though. Uhh, the team's called 'GRH Volley Trentino'." He closes the app and starts eating again. "Whet ded chu sey yur new teem wuz agen?" he says, rice sputtering from his lips.

"GRH Volley."

Shouyou stills, swallowing his food down forcefully, then whips his head to Tobio. "Wait. GRH Volley?" Is this for real? "Are you sure?"

Tobio snorts. "I'm pretty sure. I just signed with them yesterday."

Shouyou's mouth falls open. "Oh my god," he mutters. He places down his chopsticks slowly.

"Yeah," Tobio says. He looks like he's stopping himself from bursting, his cheeks almost burgundy. "So? Are you going to sign with them or not?"

"Tobio," Shouyou says in a daze. "Are we going to be teammates?"

"If you sign with them. So are you really going to or not?"

"Do you want me to?"

Tobio looks unimpressed. "If I told you I don't, would that stop you?"

"No," Shouyou admits, wiping his lips with the back of his hand.

"Then don't ask that, stupid," Tobio says. "What do you want?"

That goes without saying, Shouyou thinks. He wants to play more volleyball, to play in more stages. But this time, that means... "I'll look them up, see whether they're a strong team," he says, though it's mostly him not wanting to say 'yes' directly. If Tobio wants to play for the club, then that's already a good sign, right? "If they really are, then I'll sign."

Tobio nods in approval. He looks significantly more excited now than he was when he first called to ask for help in buying furniture for his mom.

 

~O~

Trento, Trentino-Alto Adige

...

 

"Woah." Shouyou gapes as he lifts his luggage off the sidewalk and brings it over the step to the gateway. The house they'll be staying in is a two-story cream-walled villa, with a balcony mantled by overgrown clematis hanging from the pots. It has a spacious garden with tall hedges and a single tall palm tree overlooking it.

"Woah," Natsu agrees, eyes wide, as she walks to a stop beside him. "This is definitely way better than my crummy apartment, onii-chan."

Natsu came all the way from Milan to meet them at the airport in Venice, accompanying them as the club official drove them to Trento for three hours. She looks exhausted. Shouyou resolves to give her something huge and out of this world for her birthday.

The club official hands Tobio house keys, a business card, and a brochure. He says in heavily accented English, "This is your home." He points to the card. "You can contact anyone there if you need help settling in."

Natsu then talks to the official in Italian, who responds very quickly and animatedly. Natsu laughs and says something cheerfully back.

Shouyou whispers to Tobio, "We really need to learn a bit of Italian soon." They've tried to memorize a fair amount of phrases that could get them around the city, like and But they haven't had the chance to use any of them yet. With Natsu going back to Milan tomorrow afternoon, they're going to be on their own, and that's when the real challenge is going to start. Shouyou's grasp of conversational English is shaky at best.

The three of them bow at the official, who then shakes their hands again with a firm grip and bids them farewell.

When they come inside, Shouyou wipes the floor with his jaw. Everything is just so picturesque, from the rustic chandeliers to the tall bookshelves filled with thick, leather-bound tomes. There's even a fireplace in the living room. "Somebody pinch me," he says.

Tobio elbows him in the rib. "Move it, dumbass," he says, walking ahead. "Don't make your sister carry your stuff."

Natsu grins fitfully at Shouyou. "Told you Tobio-san will treat me like a proper lady!" she crows before bounding for the stairs, her mint-colored scarf flapping behind her.

Shouyou rolls his eyes at the high ceiling as he lugs his bags up.

 

...

 

"This looks like I'll be paying for this with my entire rookie contract," Shouyou says, looking down at his plate. There are sliced pieces of smoked and cured meat, roast pork, cheese, and a fragrant bread roll. Next to it is a bowl filled with something that has the consistency of porridge, and smells strongly of corn.

Tobio blinks down at his plate as well. "There's no rice," he mumbles. He pokes his fork at the sausage.

Natsu throws up her hands. "Oh my god, you two. Just try it! This place serves the best roast pork and wurstel in the city. It's really good."

Shouyou doesn't doubt that. Everything here seems crazy expensive. He glances at Tobio, who luckily seems to share his wariness.

He takes a bite, and—oh. The meat is good. "Tobio, hey. Give me your wus-something," Shouyou says, angling his plate towards Tobio. "You can have this funny-looking bread or the cheese."

Tobio nods fervently and stabs his fork at the cheese on Shouyou's plate, before dumping all of his sausages over Shouyou's roast pork.

Natsu shakes her head and hides her face in her palms.

 

...

 

There are only two rooms inside the house, but fortunately there's a spare mattress behind the closet. After dusting off the mattress at the balcony and dressing it with fresh sheets, Shouyou lays it out on the floor, relinquishing his bed to Natsu.

With the lamp light on, Shouyou and Natsu talk for hours, catching up. It's probably already past midnight. Tobio's already sound asleep in the next room, exhausted from staying awake throughout the plane ride from Tokyo to Venice.

"It's not really how I expected it would be," Natsu confesses. "I always kept wondering, you know? If I would be good enough to break out of the scene."

"I'm sure you will," Shouyou assures her. "You wouldn't have gotten into that school if you weren't good."

"I guess," Natsu mutters. "And maybe I'm lucky that I have a rich older brother who's paying for everything."

Shouyou's neck heats. "I'm not rich. I'm not getting paid millions, you know. Just enough for a little extra." He really has no idea what to do with most of his salary. Plus, having been raised by a penny pincher mother, he's still in the habit of wearing moth-eaten cartoon shirts and borrowing Natsu's old stuff, even if Natsu kept on telling him how uncool it looks.

"Yeah, whatever you say, my gracious benefactor," Natsu says with a snort.

"I'll buy your first design once it comes out," Shouyou says. "As your proud sponsor."

"You'll have to wait a little longer, onii-chan. I'm still at the bottom of the totem pole." Natsu's tone then turns serious, "You did the impossible. I can, too. I'm not gonna lose."

Shouyou grins at the ceiling, settling his hands behind his head. "You sounded like Tobio for a second there," he says fondly.

Natsu makes a disgruntled noise. "Ew, onii-chan. Is that what Tobio-san says to you as a come-on?"

"What the—you brat—"

Natsu pokes her head out from the bed, giggling down at Shouyou. "I'm really jealous," she then says. "I want to have what you and Tobio-san have with someone."

What we have? "Really?" Shouyou says. "Well, what happened to that macho Italian guy with the great hair?"

Natsu juts out her lip in a pout. "He was cute, right? But ugh, apparently he was hiding such a ginormous head under all that nice, poofy hair. He's a business major, see, and he kept on saying that I should pursue something more certain and lucrative than fashion. Because he was oh so concerned I'd end up jobless. So I dumped his rude ass."

Shouyou laughs out loud and pumps his fist. "Way to go," he cheers.

"I want someone to have my back too," Natsu says. "Like the way Tobio-san's always supported you."

Shouyou frowns. He extends his hand, and Natsu entangles their fingers together. "I've got your back," he says. "Mom, Dad and Tobio, too."

"I know."

"You'll find your person. Or they'll find you. Who knows?" He squeezes her hand, before letting go. "I guess I'm just lucky I found mine early on."

Natsu turns quiet for a moment, looking pensive, before saying, "You know, onii-chan, you’re in a new place now. Nobody in this town knows you and Tobio-san."

Shouyou quirks an eyebrow at her. "Just wait 'til we start playing," he says. "We'll get stadiums filled up with people wanting to watch us—"

"Yeah, I know." Natsu shrugs. "And you should enjoy all that anonymity while you still can." She throws him a meaningful look. "But once you get to know the people, maybe you’d realize that your situation now is different. Especially for Tobio-san. Italy isn’t like Japan."

Shouyou frowns, still not comprehending. "Oh. Okay..." he says lamely.

Natsu laughs at his face. She says, smirking, "I guess it'd be more fun if I let you two dunderheads figure this out on your own, huh?"

"Mean, Natsu," Shouyou whines.

 

~O~

 

Shouyou's skittish before practice. He knows he's good enough to make it to a league as prestigious as the SuperLega, but there's just something about the new environment and the new kind of players that makes his gut twist with familiar anxiety. A different court and crowd waiting and watching to prove himself.

When practice starts, Shouyou scrambles a few balls, but he soon gets the hang of it and syncs properly with Trentino's reserve setter, a friendly 206 cm-tall guy named Leondino, who insisted on being called Leo for short when he introduced himself earlier. Once in a while when Shouyou scores against the other group, Coach Valerio nods, appearing a wee satisfied.

"Heck of a jump, Shou!" Leo says in English, holding out his hand.

Shouyou grins and returns the high-five. "Thanks, Leo!"

Coach then rearranges the groups, and Tobio and Shouyou end up being on the same squad. And that's when things get interesting.

Shouyou doesn't know exactly why he jumped way before the ball even landed on Tobio's fingertips, but he's already in mid-air and his arm almost at the peak of his swing. Suddenly, the ball flies within reach of his spiking hand, and it comes into the point of contact. It lands on the opposite side of the court before anyone can blink.

"" one of the blockers exclaims, eyes wide as saucers. ""

Shouyou stares at the rolling ball, to his hand, then to Tobio. Tobio has his mouth parted, looking quite dumbfounded as well.

The two of them were obviously trying to evade the blockers at that moment, but they haven't yet discussed any plays. It was like their bodies acted on their own accord, and they just happened to move in sync. How did that happen?

"Shouyou. Tobio," Jeremy, the veteran opposite hitter from Canada, says to them. "Coach said to keep playing."

Shouyou blinks and hazards a glance at the bench.

Coach Valerio waves one hand, gesturing for him to continue. His gaze on Tobio and Shouyou is thoughtful.

"O-oh. Okay." Shouyou gets into position.

Their weird mindmeld on the court continues for the rest of practice, allowing them to score eight freakishly fast quicks throughout the 6v6. Their new teammates crowd around them after the whistle blows, chattering excitedly in a mix of Italian and English.

Fabio, one of the two starting middle blockers, clasps Tobio's and Shouyou's hands in his, crying out, " What the heck is up with you two? That move was like an insane combo in a video game!"

"That was fucking awesome!" Jeremy agrees, grinning wide.

Their libero Samuele says something in Italian, gesturing at Shouyou and Tobio as he does. The rest of the guys laugh.

Shouyou inadvertently blushes while Tobio glances at all of them uneasily.

Coach Valerio then claps. "I see you're all better acquainted already," he says warmly. "Tobio, Shouyou, good show. I'm really glad to have you onboard."

"Ahh, thank you!" Shouyou says, doing a nervous salute, while Tobio mumbles something similar.

Fabio laughs and lopes a heavy, sweaty arm around the two of them.

 

~O~

 

Shouyou keeps on tossing and turning over his bed. He can't sleep. It must be the high from the game they just had tonight, getting their first win, and perhaps a bit of something else. He flicks open the lamp and turns to look at the clock. It's already 1:27 am. He's been lying on his bed for four hours without getting a wink of sleep. When he sighs, it sounds desperate, longing.

He steps out of bed and pads to the next room, ears hot in embarrassment. He knocks. "Tobio?"

Soft footsteps, and then the door opens. Tobio's eyes are dim with fatigue. He can't sleep either.

Shouyou fumbles, "S-sorry, I..."

The door swings wider. Tobio leads him to bed, fingers clasped around Shouyou's wrist. It's a good thing his bed has enough room for both of them. However, Tobio insists on not having an inch of space between them, wrapping his arms around Shouyou's shoulders. Shouyou then has to settle his own arms around Tobio's waist.

"It's cold out here," Shouyou mumbles at the skin on Tobio's neck. "I miss the beach." He misses home.

Tobio holds him tighter and sighs like Shouyou had.

 

~O~

 

"I think I got it."

"That's what you said last time."

"I'm sure now." Shouyou mumbles a quick prayer to the god of good fortunes, before opening the tap. At first, nothing comes out. But slowly, the dribble turns into a trickle, until a steady stream of water flows out of the faucet.

Shouyou cheers and slumps at the counter. That only took three hours to complete.

"Would have been only thirty minutes if you had let me call the handyman," Tobio says.

Shouyou scoffs. "Ergh, shut up! I broke it, and now it's fixed. It's not like you can do any better."

"I can. I just don't want—"

"To mess up your hands, I know." Shouyou rolls his shoulders and throws the wrench in the tool bag. It lands with a loud clang, and Tobio cringes. "Okay, so that's done. You want me to make something for you, Tobio?"

Tobio eyes him critically. "Wash your hands first," he says, flicking the tap open again for him.

Shouyou places his hands under the stream, rubbing the grime out of his fingers. To his surprise, Tobio sighs behind his shoulder and wipes a black stain under the left wrist which Shouyou missed.

Once they're done, Tobio asks, "Are you bored?"

"Huh?" Shouyou wipes his hands with a towel. "What do you mean?"

"Do you want to go outside?"

Trento's a magnificent place, but Tobio doesn't like going outside so much. Not unless they're exercising or eating out. Shouyou quirks an eyebrow. "Do you want to?"

Tobio goes stone-faced. "I asked first."

Shouyou narrows his eyes. "We stay in because you prefer staying in," he says. "And I understand why. Perfectly! So... if you're really asking if I mind, then I don't."

"Oh."

They've mostly gone about things at Shouyou's pace, and he does feel a little guilty. He can give Tobio the reins for this, at least. "If you still think people will get the wrong impression if they see us outside together a lot, then it's alright if we stay in more. We did say we'd let people know once you're ready, right?"

Tobio's eyebrows pull together, forming a grim expression. "You're saying you're doing this for me?"

"I am," Shouyou confirms, quirking an eyebrow. "And it's not a problem. If it was, you'd never hear the end of it. So quit moping." His fingers are squeaky clean, so it's safe to hold Tobio's hand now.

Tobio's frown eases a little. "We spend a lot of time together," he mutters.

"Uh-huh."

"You're really not bored?"

This time, Shouyou grimaces. "I don't find you boring," he says. "Do you think I'm boring?"

"No." Tobio's answer sounds definite, almost insulted.

"We do spend a lot of time together..." Shouyou trails off, pondering. Maybe this is them trying to make up for the years they've spent being an ocean away. But Sergio, their teammate, had been joking last week about how it was a miracle the Japanese and Brazilian shut-ins haven't had enough of each other yet, when it seems like all they do is grouse at each other on the bench. Huh. Maybe Tobio's getting to something here. "I'm not sick of you, though."

Tobio shrugs and gazes at him, as if to say Me neither.

"But you want some alone time?"

It takes a while for Tobio to answer. "Only if you do," Tobio says.

Shouyou thinks about it, and decides that for now, Tobio's company is more than enough. So he tells Tobio that and adds sheepishly, "I know I'm gonna sound like a crazy teenager in saying this, but I feel really weird if you're not around, so I'm gonna stick by you as much as possible. If you've got a problem with that, then... maybe we can settle it with an arm wrestling match."

Something flickers in Tobio's eyes, but it's gone before Shouyou can make it out. "You're gonna lose."

"No, I won't—"

"Make me curry," Tobio says, red in the face. He squeezes Shouyou's hand.

"O-oh." Then, Shouyou laughs. Maybe they can settle this next time. "Okay, signore." He tugs Tobio along to the kitchen.

When Shouyou does get around to making the curry—the ingredients were at the highest shelf, and Tobio had only watched with a wolfish smirk as Shouyou got himself a chair and reached out for the box of roux—, Tobio is leaning against the counter, arms crossed and listening raptly at Shouyou's suggestions in playing against Parma. Tobio interjects once in a while, but only with a few choice phrases, like "Yeah, I noticed that" or "That's too reckless, dumbass".

They're still talking about volleyball as they eat dinner, and Shouyou now understands why Tobio had questioned him earlier. Maybe for some people, this would not be the most exciting thing couples can imagine themselves doing. But until it gets old, Shouyou won't complain. He's perfectly settled with how he just throws in more milk than tea in Tobio's cup without asking, and how Tobio entangles their legs together under the table without a thought.

If they are a little weird about each other, then they just are. Shouyou's not gonna go around fixing things that aren't broken after all.

 

~O~

 

Tobio is so heavy. Shouyou grits his teeth as he shuffles slowly towards their room, his arms trembling. He was so close to dropping Tobio at the stairs, but thankfully Tobio hadn't noticed.

When they've made it past the doorway, Shouyou grieves, just to take the edge off, "Why are you so dang heavy, jeez."

Tobio looks at him. "You're the one who wanted to try out carrying me," he deadpans. "I said no many times."

"I know!" Shouyou says. "Maybe you should've resisted more." He stops and pulls Tobio closer, his arm muscles letting out a shot of pain at the movement. Tobio, in turn, clamps his enormous thighs tighter around Shouyou's waist—it does some... interesting things to Shouyou's lower body.

"So it's my fault you're suffering?"

"I'm not suffering! I'm just... having a hard time!"

"How is that any different?"

"I'm not coughing up blood, am I?"

"Just a few feet more," Tobio drawls. He's obviously having a grand time seeing Shouyou chewing on his lips in frustration and sweating all over. His beefy arms are a heavy weight on Shouyou's shoulders.

This jerk—he's really not doing anything to make this easier.

Shouyou's knees finally bump against the edge of the bed, and he roughly dumps Tobio on the mattress. He howls shortly, before doing a run-up and belly flopping all over Tobio with a victorious yelp. The wooden posts creak dangerously at the sudden added weight.

Tobio grabs a fistful of Shouyou's hair and yanks. "That fucking hurt!"

Shouyou doesn't care. "I did it!" he caws, before chortling over Tobio's heated neck. His arms and shoulders are still quaking; he's going to feel so sore later, without a doubt. As recompense, he slathers sloppy kisses all over Tobio's jaw.

Tobio shifts slightly so Shouyou's completely and properly on top of him, before tilting his chin and angling his lips to meet Shouyou's greedy mouth.

 

~O~

Perugia, Umbria

...

 

They lose 3-1 and win 3-0 at a homestand against Modena, then win again 3-2 here in Perugia. Tobio's too tired to go out after the game they just had—there was this one annoying middle blocker who was so persistent in stuffing Sergio, that Tobio had tossed repeatedly to him out of spite until he broke through.

But Fabio, who became the new captain once Luigi Casellati left the team, invites him and Shouyou out for dinner. Tobio doesn't have a choice but to come as summoned. Jeremy tags along, and is the one who decides for them to eat at a pizzeria at Piazza Piccinino.

"They make twenty-eight varieties of pizza," Jeremy says with barely contained glee as they enter a brick-vaulted room. "They even have a Nutella one. Do you guys know that?"

"The chocolate spread?" Shouyou garbles out. "I love that!"

Jeremy beams at him. "My buddy's got great taste!" he says, pulling Shouyou in a noogie.

The pizzeria looks like an easy-going place, with wooden tables and chairs, and a small wood-fired oven. The strong scent of dough and tomato sauce fills the room.

"Way to spread your bad influence, Jer," Fabio says. "You take the rookies out for Nutella pizza every dang year. What an abomination."

"You can't diss perfection, Fabio," Jeremy says. "Besides, my kids had a good game, yeah?" He pulls Tobio in for a noogie this time. "Especially this dude. Let them indulge a bit, eh? The season's long."

Fabio shakes his head in amusement as they take their seats. "The forbidden fruit is indeed the sweetest." He pushes the menu to Tobio and Shouyou. "Go order. My treat."

They get two prosciutto crudo, a margherita and a cosacca, and they're served to their table quickly. For most of their dinner, it's just Fabio and Jeremy talking and sharing funny anecdotes about the guys in the league. Shouyou provides the right reactions to the crucial moments, laughing at the punchlines and making disbelieving noises at the weirder stories.

Jeremy's already at his third beer when the Nutella pizza comes. It truly looks as unhealthy as Fabio implied. Still, it doesn't deter Jeremy and Shouyou from taking two huge slices apiece. Tobio brings a smaller one to his plate.

Abruptly, Fabio says, "Hey, Shouyou. Tobio. I mean no offense in asking this, so. Are you two dating?"

Tobio's heart lurches up to his throat. Beside him, Shouyou coughs, chocolate dribbling from his chin.

Oh hell, Tobio thinks. What do we do—

"'Cause that's totally fine!" Fabio adds, waving his hands frantically. "My best friend David back home's dating a guy, so it's all cool."

Jeremy laughs and slaps Fabio's shoulder. "Maybe you should've started with that, bud."

Before Shouyou can say anything, Tobio has to ask, "What made you think Shouyou and I are dating?" He hopes he said that in proper English.

Fabio shrugs and scratches his curly brown hair. "It's not like I could perfectly tell, really. But you two seem exceptionally close, even more than as friends and roommates. And the way you guys play? God."

"" Jeremy says laughingly.

"Indeed," Fabio says. "Look, I trust my pal Jeremy here with my life, but I'm not going to jump from anywhere on the court without looking and trust that the ball will come to me at full swing. That's just mind-reading kind of crazy." His lips curl into a goofy smile. "It's like when I come home and my wife already knows I'm in a piss poor mood, and she's got tiramisu already for me on a plate."

Jeremy tacks on, "You two as partners are kinda freaky on the court. No offense."

Shouyou squeezes Tobio's hand from under the table. Tobio turns to him, alarmed, as Shouyou quirks an eyebrow.

I trust them, Shouyou seems to say. Do you?

Tobio doesn't know. But it's not like he's got a choice in this, too. If Fabio and Jeremy noticed something about them, then they might not have been keeping their relationship under wraps as well as he thought.

Shouyou squeezes his hand again. Warm. Encouraging. Let's tell them.

Tobio sighs and nods helplessly.

"We're together, yeah," Shouyou says. When Fabio and Jeremy begin to smile, he continues, "You can't tease us too much about this in public, okay? It's a secret!"

Fabio does a cross gesture over his chest. "That shit's not mine to tell, definitely. It's not my business, even as captain of the team. But I have to say... you two are creating lots of buzz on the court, and it's eventually going to spill over to your personal lives. So just watch out."

"But you don't need to be careful of us!" Jeremy says quickly. "We've got good guys in the locker room. So don't worry too much. Plus—" He playfully shoves Fabio by the arm again. "As long as this stud's captain, you guys are pretty much safe."

Shouyou nods resolutely. He looks like he's about to burst into tears, tremendously moved, so Tobio steps in.

"We really appreciate it," Tobio says. Even if his own voice sounds wobbly to his ears, Tobio decides it's not important.

"Nah. We appreciate you guys trusting us to tell. So thanks. Anyway, you guys play awesome volleyball, so who'd give a shit what you do outside the court, honestly?" Jeremy flicks the plate. "Hey, Shouyou, you gonna get the last slice or what? I'm waiting for your pass, bud."

 

~O~

 

They've finished doing groceries. Tobio and Shouyou are carrying a bag each as they walk home, and he listens as Shouyou talks about the discreet gelato place downtown. He's been passing by the storefront and staring longingly after the sugary treats at the window for two weeks now.

"Why don't you just buy one?" Tobio says after a huge yawn, jaw cricking.

"It's supposed to be a prize!" Shouyou exclaims. "If we win five more games and nab a playoff spot, then I'll treat myself with one."

"We'll get into the playoffs, so just buy one tomorrow already. It's just ice cream."

"I don't think they're the same."

"They look the same. They probably taste the same."

"It probably tastes better," Shouyou ripostes. "You know, for such a dairy guy, you're so meh about frozen desserts. They're super good! Why don't you like them?"

"I get brain freeze all the time. Not that you'd understand the feeling," Tobio drawls.

"Are you implying something, Kageyama Tobio?"

For a few more minutes, they continue debating about the merits of chowing down seven ice popsicles in two minutes to prove that Shouyou has, indeed, a brain that could get a headache if he eats cold food too quickly. They then reach a familiar, sleepy neighborhood, where smooth asphalt roads and cream plaster-walled villas are a more common sighting than the cobblestone paths and colorful townhouses that mark the city center.

At this time, Shouyou's already curled his pinkie with Tobio's, and when they reach the gate of their apartment, Tobio gets impatient and properly links their hands together.

He recognizes that it's stupid to attempt storing the groceries with only one hand, but Shouyou doesn't seem to mind. He even suggests doing everything one-handed—the first one who lets go loses and will wash the dishes after lunch. So Tobio opens the fridge and the cabinet doors while Shouyou hands him the deli and the milk cartons. It's a system that works, surprisingly.

It's a lot more difficult when they're cooking. The test of wills comes when they have to chop the onions and the carrots. Tobio has to be careful not to slice Shouyou's fingers off as Shouyou holds down the onion for him. They survive that ordeal without any dismembering happening.

They eat lunch while still holding hands. They watch volleyball tapes on the couch, still holding hands. Shouyou falls asleep with his head on Tobio's chest, drooling on Tobio's sweater. He's still holding Tobio's hand.

After shutting off the TV, Tobio lays back slowly, careful not to rouse Shouyou. He stares at the swirling patterns on the ceiling, and wonders why he ever entertained the idea of subjecting himself to a lifetime of never experiencing this. But that was years ago, when he didn't know better. When he thought that volleyball is the only thing he could want and have, and that boys are only supposed to like girls. It's a good thing that Shouyou kept pushing, always challenging things, or else Tobio would have stayed where he was.

Tobio falls into a deep sleep soon after, marveling about how his life turned out and how remarkable it is to be held.

 

~O~

 

Shouyou is kissing him fervently on his bed while they're both lying shirtless. He's making these muted little noises that are stirring things in Tobio's belly. Tobio tries not to pay any attention to it, but it's proving to be difficult with how Shouyou is pressed against him all over.

There's a draft coming in from the crevices in the window, the cool air causing goosebumps to appear on the skin of Shouyou's back. Tobio petters them with his hand, and Shouyou shivers. The sensation in his gut grows heavier.

Tobio pulls away slightly. "If you keep on doing that—" He motions at Shouyou's hand skittering low over his abdomen. "We're not going to stop."

Shouyou grins mischievously. "I know."

"We have a game tomorrow."

"Yeah."

Tobio pulls back Shouyou's bangs until he can clearly see Shouyou's eyes. They look almost black in the dark. The longer he stares at them, the more he feels his resolve chipping away. "What do you want?" he breathes out.

Shouyou thinks about it. "Me under you," he says. "I had my fill last week. And it's cold."

"Okay." Tobio gets up and takes out a condom and lube from the drawers. He has to be careful. They can't be too sore for tomorrow.

It doesn't take too long to prepare Shouyou, which is a sign that he must be really feeling it tonight. Tobio prefers Shouyou entering him, and Shouyou likes it better that way, too. Especially after a game, when all they want is to mimic that same fierce pace they had on the court, fast and maddening. But it seems like Shouyou wants to go slow tonight, an open toss rather than a quick.

When Tobio slides himself in, Shouyou sighs in content, clutching his shoulders and pulling him deeper. Tobio's eyes roll back at how hot it is to be surrounded by Shouyou, his slick walls enclosing him and squeezing. It takes his entire self-control not to rut. He rolls his hips down, searching for a better angle. He thinks he's gotten better at this in that Shouyou doesn't hurt as much when he stretches him.

Shouyou breaths start to go faster, uneven, and Tobio peppers kisses over Shouyou's clavicles and at the junction of his neck and shoulders. Tobio then slides his lips to Shouyou's throat and mouths at the tantalizing bob there.

He's about to bring his hand down when Shouyou murmurs, "Let me come untouched."

Tobio whips his head up, his neck cricking. He must be wearing a really stupid expression on his face; Shouyou's biting back a laugh.

"Is that a challenge?" Tobio asks, squinting.

Shouyou hooks his legs around Tobio's back. "Up for it?" he says.

Tobio exhales raggedly. Sometimes, Shouyou asks for too much. He can feel the veins on his neck popping as he starts fucking Shouyou in earnest, going deeper, making him feel every inch, just the way he likes it.

Shouyou laughs fully now when Tobio's buried to the hilt. "Are you close? You're getting bigger," he says. "You feel amazing inside me."

Involuntarily, Tobio thrusts into Shouyou, so deep, until he's got nowhere to go. He groans and curses loudly. "I'm not gonna finish before you do," he grits. "Stop goading me."

Shouyou chortles again, but keeps quiet afterwards. He gives the underside of Tobio's jaw a smooth peck.

Tobio slides in, painfully slow again, struggling not to come at the way Shouyou is sucking him in, tightening at every inch he pushes inside. He's close to unraveling already.

Come on, Tobio thinks, sliding in, then out. Come on. Say it.

Finally, Shouyou tells him after thirty seconds, "Go faster."

Tobio lets out a low whine. He brings Shouyou's hips closer and pumps into him at a quicker but still measured pace. He finds that spot in Shouyou and hits it forcefully, all the while making sure that Shouyou's dick meets its own need of friction by compressing it in between their writhing torsos. It's cheating, sort of, but at this rate, Tobio's going to need all the help he can get.

Shouyou tilts his head, angling like he needs more air in his lungs. He's letting out small grunts of pleasure, the skin on his face and chest turning into that enticing shade of deep crimson.

Shouyou suddenly sits up, arching his spine to look at the place where Tobio's cock disappears in him. The sight of it and the change of the angle must do him in, because Shouyou tilts his head back again and moans, a deep rumbling thing escaping from his chest. He then comes in spurts.

Tobio kisses him as he groans, eating it all up. Shouyou's orgasm is making his walls bear down and flutter against Tobio's dick, and it doesn't take long for Tobio to come, too.

They clean up rather quickly, wanting to get back to bed and into each other's arms as soon as possible. Tobio's bedroom gets really cold late at night, and the heaters are barely doing anything at this point. It's probably because the apartment the team rented out for them is old already.

When Shouyou flings a fresh duvet over them, Tobio says weakly, "Don't make me fuck you again this week."

Shouyou looks at him, bleary-eyed. "Too much?"

Sex with Shouyou is always too intense for Tobio. It never fails to make his throat all clogged up after the act; it makes him want to say too many things.

Tobio scrunches his eyebrows. "If you're feeling adventurous again, you do the work." There's a fire in his belly again, lighting up at the mental image of Shouyou pressing into him. Fortunately, it's not as strong as earlier. He's too spent.

Shouyou gives him a big goofy smile. He looks radiant. After a beat, he moves to kiss Tobio's nose, smoothing Tobio's ruffled feathers. "But it's good to switch it up once in a while," he says. "Fabio says so."

Tobio stares at him. "You talk to Fabio about us?"

"And Jeremy. That's the point of having friends and teammates who know, isn't it?"

"… I don't think you're supposed to be talking about our sex life to our teammates."

"If it makes you feel any better, I tell them how awesomely wild and virile you are in bed." When Tobio's about to smack him, Shouyou says, "I'm kidding. I really don't talk to them about that. Just other stuff. But Fabio keeps on offering advice. I can't un-hear it, you know."

Tobio flicks Shouyou's sweaty hair with his fingers, playing with it at first, until he gives up and completely pushes back Shouyou's fringe with the palm of his hand.

"I know what you're going to say," Shouyou says, sighing. "I should really cut my hair, huh."

"Maybe a bit," Tobio concedes.

"How long is 'a bit'?"

Tobio skates his thumb at the space just above Shouyou's eyebrows. Just so he can see. "I like your eyes," he admits.

Shouyou leans back, astonished. Tobio clicks his tongue and grasps Shouyou's neck, bringing their faces closer again.

"But my eyes are brown," Shouyou says, thoroughly bewildered.

Tobio frowns. "Yeah." He knows that. He's not blind.

Shouyou parts Tobio's fringe as well. "Yours are blue. And that's a pretty color."

And brown isn't?

"My eyes are dull," Shouyou adds when Tobio doesn't say anything. "They look like poop. And blue is more like... gwaaahh, you know? Like the sea back in Rio."

The sea sounds perfectly boring to Tobio, though. "I like your eyes, so you should cut your hair here." He pads his thumb over the area, over and over.

Shouyou laughs, nose wrinkling. He looks like he's fifteen again, jumping everywhere at the park and demanding Tobio to give him proper tosses. "Whatever makes you happy, your highness," he says.

Tobio threads his fingers through Shouyou's hair again. He leans forward to press his lips over Shouyou's eyelids repeatedly.

"Tickles," Shouyou mutters, before bringing Tobio's mouth on his.

They kiss each other languidly, lips gliding in a slow, smooth rhythm. Their tongues don't breach the entrance, but they linger and sweep over it. Tobio likes the feel of Shouyou's plump bottom lip, soft and very inviting.

When Shouyou breaks away, Tobio takes this opportunity to skim his lips all over Shouyou's face, doing open-mouthed kisses on his temples, the slope of his nose, his cheekbones, the angles of his jaw. Shouyou squirms in delight under his touch, murmuring, "You're important to me, too."

At that, Tobio's throat goes dry, but it looks like his message has gotten across. It's always been difficult for him to articulate his thoughts when he's feeling too much, and he sounds infinitely better in writing than when he talks.

So it's a good thing Shouyou has always had clear sight. He sees into Tobio as easily as he can spot the weaknesses in a block. Sometimes, Tobio doesn't have to speak. He just has to act, and Shouyou will see.

Tobio likes being seen by him.

"I want to tell our other teammates," Tobio says, mouth ghosting close to the shell of Shouyou's ear.

"About?"

"About us." If he gets the chance, maybe he can tell some of his former teammates. Ushijima-san and Hoshiumi-san are nothing like Fabio and Jeremy, but they probably wouldn't mind as well. It's about time the people in Tobio's world should see how much Shouyou means to him.

Shouyou nods when Tobio leans back to face him. "Okay."

"I'll follow your lead," Tobio says.

Shouyou cracks a smile and huddles closer, cheek smooshed against Tobio's sternum.

 

~O~

 

January 29, 2011

 

Hinata-kun,

Good day to you! I hope this letter finds you well. Unfortunately, I'm not able to go outside my room and send this to the post myself, so I had my nurse do it for me. I hope I had penned down your address right. Still, if it does end up getting lost, I do hope you'd get to read this someday. And please excuse my handwriting. My hands aren't how they used to be.

I'm so glad that Lucio had found a great student in you. It's not every day a teacher comes across a student as talented and as determined as yourself. Lucio says it's been a privilege to teach you. He and I both can't wait to see how far you'll fly in years’ time. But every time you soar, always remember to land carefully on your feet. I’m sure that the magnificent beaches in Rio taught you the importance of stability in a jump.

I’m writing to you because of my grandson, Tobio. I'd like to thank you for keeping him company all these years. He tends to keep to himself a lot, and I worry. There are days that I figure this might have all been my fault. I brought him to the world of volleyball at so early an age, that he's hardly known a community and a language outside of it. I used to be afraid that when I'm gone, he'd find it difficult to find someone close by whom he could talk to. The way he presents himself to his own world might be easily misunderstood by people who don't speak his language.

You and Tobio have been sending each other letters without fail, and I hope that I'm right in assuming that you two understand each other very well. You might be inhabiting different worlds and speaking in different tongues, but I'm sure you would always find a common ground for your relationship to flourish. This is a great cause of excitement for me, and is why I am no longer in distress whenever I think about my grandson. If Tobio begins to discover things outside the space he orbits, I'm positive that he'll want to take part in them. He's always been curious, but he needs a little nudge like the rest of us. Perhaps later on, he'll let you in his world too.

Thank you for writing to my grandson and for being his friend. I'm sure that he feels exquisitely happy, now that he's got you to talk to. No matter the distance, my dying wish is for you two to never part.

Please take care of him for me.

 

Sincerely,
Kageyama Kazuyo

 

~O~

Stade Roland Garros, Paris

...

 

Coach Hibarida said earlier that the Court Philippe Chatrier is at maximum capacity. Around fifteen thousand people came to see the game, hoping it'd be a good match.

"I'm fully expecting to be entertained, considering our opponent," Coach had said. "But more than that, I'm expecting you to win."

When Tobio comes out of the tunnel, the stadium is indeed filled to the brim with spectators from around the world. He looks and stares at the bright lights winking from above. The ceiling is higher than he expects. It's higher than the one in Halle Georges Carpentier where they played against USA and beat them 3-1. He shook hands with legendary setter Michael Hall, who told him he had a good game. Tobio's Olympic dream is almost complete.

Now, he just has to win against Brazil.

The toss coin decides Japan gets to serve first. They amble towards the center line and shake hands with the Brazilians.

"Nice to meet you, Tobio!" a tall curly-haired man with a crooked grin says in English. Aurelio, Tobio recognizes. "Shouyou's told me everything about you."

"Oh." Tobio blinks twice. "Nice to meet you too."

Aurelio winks, then shakes hands with a frowning Sakusa.

After three more players, Shouyou stands in front of him, face inches away from the net. His hand is hot and sweltering when Tobio clasps his fingers around them.

"Dibs on gold," Shouyou chirps, trying to sound taunting but failing entirely. His tongue peeks out at the corner of his mouth.

Without meaning to, Tobio barks out a happy laugh. Almost everyone around peers at him in surprise.

"Not if I have anything to say about it," Tobio shoots back. He grips on Shouyou’s arm tightly before letting go.

They shuffle to their rotations. Hoshiumi slaps Tobio's butt, then bumps a fist on his chest. "Go get him, Kageyama!" he says. Hirugami laughs along and ruffles Tobio's hair.

Tobio saunters to the serving area. He rolls the ball in his palms. This is it, he marvels. He looks forward.

Shouyou's grinning at him from the other side of the net, facing him completely. His molten brown eyes are sharp on him as he braces to take whatever Tobio's going to give. Tobio smiles back, just as fierce.

The whistle blows.

Tobio tosses the ball high and jumps. This is it.

The match of their lives.

 

 

 

 

~Fin~