Kakeru visits his family in Miyagi for a week and a half the spring after his first year at Kansei ends.
He's been talking to Yuki a lot as of late, after his senpai reconnected with the rest of his family. It made it easier for Kakeru to reconcile with his own parents, especially after his record-setting run in the Ekiden. When his mom suggests they go as a family to visit her sister, Kakeru puts on a brave face and agrees to tag along with the barest minimum of reluctance.
Miyagi reminds him of Lake Shirakaba, a bit. He stares out the windows of his uncle's car at the mountains in the distance, all the hills and winding dirt paths—at least it will be nice to run here. Not that he's dreading the trip that much; he just hasn't seen his extended family in years, and doesn't know what to expect. The last time they saw each other was when Tobio and his mom had come to Tokyo; Tobio was starting middle school, and Kakeru had just entered his first year of high school.
His aunt and cousin greet them when they enter; warmly, on his aunt's part, as she hugs his mother and gasps and coos over Kakeru and how much he's grown. Tobio is much more awkward, bowing a bit stiffly to them all. Kakeru can't help but think his own growth can't be that impressive—Tobio is only sixteen and already taller than him and both their fathers. Kakeru only remembers him as a little kid with a huge round head and big blue eyes. He's a year older than Kakeru was the last time they saw each other, about to enter his second year of high school. Historically speaking, Kakeru was not really at his best in high school—he has no idea how they'll get along.
"Hey," Tobio says to Kakeru.
"Hi," Kakeru replies. "You got tall."
Tobio goes a little pink-faced. "I'm still growing." When Kakeru scowls in mild jealousy, Tobio grins back.
"They look so alike!" his aunt is saying to his mother, who nods in maternal delight.
"I know, can you believe it? They could be brothers! Don't you think so?"
Both fathers nod dutifully, and Kakeru wonders if his father is disappointed he's not taller, before trying to discard that thought as quickly as it came. Yuki-san has been talking to him a lot about not forming negative thoughts about his parents' expectations before they've even expressed anything themselves.
"Do you want to come with me?" Tobio asks him abruptly.
"Sure?" Kakeru says, surprised, and then wishes he had tried to sound less alarmed.
"You're staying in my room," Tobio informs him. "Wanna put your stuff down…?"
"Oh," Kakeru says. "That'd be great, thanks."
Tobio turns and he follows, as instructed. The house is modern, mid-size, and very neat. Tobio shows Kakeru where the bathroom is, and then into his room, which is fairly spartan and very blue. Kakeru is about to ask him where he should put his stuff, when Tobio blurts out,
"I saw you running."
Kakeru blinks at him. "Oh. Really?"
Tobio nods. "Your mom called to tell us you were running in the Hakone Ekiden, so we all watched it."
"She did?" Kakeru asks. He'd had no idea.
"Yeah," Tobio says.
He glances away, his brows knitted, expression schooled into a frown. Kakeru wonders if he was supposed to say something else, as the momentary lapse in conversation starts to become awkwardly long. God, they're gonna be sharing a room for ten days, this is going to be—
"You were awesome," Tobio says, looking back at him, still frowning just as intensely. Why—why does he look so mad, Kakeru wonders, bewildered. "You broke the record!"
"I—yeah," Kakeru says. "I kind of had to."
"Because your team was so slow?" Tobio asks.
Kakeru bristles a bit at that. "They're not—" Well, yeah, some of them kind of are. "Sort of, but that's—it doesn't matter."
Tobio tilts his head. "Why, then?"
"Because… I…" Kakeru shrugs. He's not sure how to explain why he really had no other option. "I told someone to watch me. Someone who believes in me."
Tobio squints at him. "Is it a girl?"
"Wh—no," Kakeru says. "A teammate."
"Oh." A look of understanding crosses Tobio's face, like that makes perfect sense to him. "Okay."
"Okay…?" Kakeru repeats. That's it? "Our whole team worked really hard to make it as far as we did."
"I know," Tobio says, "I read the article about you guys. I mean, they were slow, but they couldn't help that, I guess."
"You're a, um… I think the word's 'prodigy,' right?" Tobio says. "So you have to help your team be at their strongest." He says it so matter-of-fact, like he just—gets it. Kakeru stares at him.
"I don't know about prodigy…" he starts to say.
"Tobio!" a voice rings out. "Can you help me set the table for lunch?"
"Coming, mom!" Tobio calls back. His shouting voice is loud, Kakeru notices. To Kakeru, he adds, "You totally are one of those guys. A prodigy, I mean. You can put your stuff anywhere you want, and I guess lunch is almost ready."
"Right," Kakeru says. "I'll be right there."
Tobio nods and slips out of the room, leaving him to his own devices. Kakeru tucks his bag away in the closet, and can't resist glancing around a bit more now that he's no longer being observed. The room isn't as sparse as it looks at first glance. There are training regimens posted on the walls, weights in the closet, and two volleyballs half rolled under the bed. There's also some photos haphazardly taped up of what looks like a high school volleyball team, with Tobio right in the middle. Several of his teammates appear to be trying to ruffle his hair or jump directly on him; he looks shocked by this, but not angry about it. It kind of reminds Kakeru of his own team.
There's one photo of Tobio with a shorter, red-haired boy taken at such a close angle that he can see up Tobio's nose. Tobio appears to be shouting while his teammate laughs, and it's altogether so distracting that Kakeru nearly misses the newspaper clipping partially hidden under the picture—he nudges it aside to look at the article.
The black and white photo—again of Tobio's team—is accompanied by a headline that reads: Miyagi's Heroes! Team Karasuno Headed For Nationals!
Impressed, Kakeru scans a bit more of the article, before spying his cousin's name.
...Karasuno's first year setter Kageyama Tobio has stood out throughout their fearsome run, supporting his team at every turn with his prodigious talent and awareness of the court. He will certainly be one to watch in coming years, as all eyes fall on him with high expectations that he continue standing tall…
Carefully, Kakeru replaces the photo back over the article, thoughts going a mile a minute. He heads to lunch thinking that maybe he and Tobio have a lot in common, after all.
After lunch, Kakeru goes with his mother and aunt for a walk around the town, which serves both to help him determine good running paths, and see more of the place his mom grew up in. She moved to Tokyo after college and he hasn't been back to Miyagi since he was about seven or eight. He doesn't remember very much of it, only that it's pretty.
They buy ingredients from the grocery store and get back in time to start on dinner. Kakeru helps cook, which pleases both moms; he learned a lot from his teammates at Kansei, his mother confides in her sister.
He doesn't try to explain the nuances—that the cooking skills come mostly from Haiji. The improvement in math comes from Yuki, and restarting the internet router he picked up from Nico, and the twins taught him how to keep a soccer ball in the air with just his knees, and Musa and Hana showed him how to use a straightening iron to curl hair (Musa, in turn, learned from his older sisters). He did learn a lot from his teammates, that much is true.
Tobio seems as clueless around the kitchen as Kakeru himself once was; another thing they have in common is that he, too, cuts vegetables badly. It all tastes the same once it's in the pot, though. The curry turns out delicious, with all of them pitching in.
After dinner, they take their turns in the bathroom. Tobio is the last to shower, which leaves Kakeru a few precious moments alone for a phone call.
"So what you're telling me is that the visit so far hasn't been the hell you were expecting?"
Haiji's voice is comfortingly familiar, even when it's teasing him. Kakeru sits on the edge of Tobio's bed with a towel around his shoulders to keep his hair from dripping onto his shirt, phone pressed to his ear.
"I didn't know what to expect," Kakeru says. "I was pretty sure it wasn't going to be hell."
Haiji laughs. "You were so nervous about what they'd think of you. You needn't have been, you're a very good public speaker now."
"I'll hang up on you," Kakeru threatens.
"Are you pouting right now? Please say yes."
"I'm—" Kakeru schools his face into a more neutral expression so that he's not telling a lie. "I'm not! And it wasn't that I was nervous, it's just… I don't know, spring break is short enough as it is already, when I get back I'll barely get to see you before the school year starts…"
Haiji hums. "You're just missing me too much, hm?"
"Yeah," Kakeru says. The other end of the line goes quiet. "Haiji-san…?"
"You're too honest with me," Haiji says softly.
"Don't be." Haiji's next laugh sounds like a sigh. "We'll still see each other on weekends."
"Not the same."
"I know," Haiji says. "But even if you're not glad you went, yet, I think you will be."
Kakeru smiles. "Me, too, I think."
"Good," Haiji says, and Kakeru can practically hear him smiling back. "So, this cousin of yours—Tobio-kun? You two get along?"
"I'm not sure yet," Kakeru says. "Our moms keep saying we look alike, though."
"Really?" Haiji asks with great interest. "Send me a picture!"
"That's weird, Haiji-san."
"Not of—I meant the two of you, together."
"How am I supposed to do that? Just ask him to take a selfie with me?"
"Yes! Family memories," Haiji insists. "Kakeru, I won't see you for nearly two weeks, don't deprive me like this. You barely sent me any photos after I had my operation."
"You were in the hospital," Kakeru huffs. He still hates remembering it, even if Haiji, true to form, has already set his sights on the next challenge in his life—namely, his assistant coaching gig.
"I was seeking comfort," Haiji whines. "It's cruel. I need more pictures of my adorable successor on vacation. I want to show people how cute you are."
"Don't talk about me like I'm your grandchild," Kakeru scolds. "Creepy old man."
"All things considered, what does that say about your taste?"
"I really am hanging up, now," Kakeru tells him.
"Sleep well!" Haiji says instantly, bright as ever. "I love you!"
Kakeru ducks his head, the corners of his lips tugged upwards in unison with the near-painful pull in his chest. "Goodnight, Haiji-san."
He hangs up, just as someone clears their throat from the doorway. It makes him jerk around, startled. Tobio is standing there awkwardly, fidgeting.
"I didn't realize you were on the phone," he says apologetically. "I wasn't listening. I mean, I didn't hear that much. Um…"
"It's fine," Kakeru says, wondering how much he did hear. Probably enough to figure out it wasn't just a friend. Maybe enough to figure out it was another guy? "That was my… teammate."
"Oh," Tobio says, not moving from the doorway.
"You can come in," Kakeru tells him. "It's your room."
"Oh," Tobio says again, but he does meander in, now, padding over to the futon he set up on the floor for himself.
"Speaking of which, I really can sleep on the futon," Kakeru tells him.
"No, it's okay," Tobio says.
"Did your mom tell you to give me the bed?"
"N—well, yeah," Tobio admits, "but I don't mind the futon." He settles down onto it like he's trying to reassure Kakeru.
"If you're sure…" Kakeru says.
"I am!" Tobio says insistently. "We sleep on futons at training camp, anyway."
"That's true," Kakeru says. "Us, too."
"I play volleyball, by the way."
"I know," Kakeru says.
"I saw these earlier," Kakeru says, pointing at the photos on the wall.
He thinks Tobio looks a little pleased that he noticed, but then his cousin turns off the light, and there's quiet for a bit. Then Kakeru hears him softly say, "This kind of reminds me of training camp, actually."
"It is sorta like it," Kakeru agrees. In fact, it reminds him of Aotake, too. There's always someone falling asleep in somebody else's room, there.
"Our training camps are the best," Tobio adds.
"What do you guys do?" Kakeru asks.
"We play volleyball," Tobio says, which makes Kakeru laugh. He can't see Tobio's face in the dark, but he is pretty sure Tobio is frowning when he asks, "Why are you laughing?"
"Not at you," Kakeru tells him. "That was kind of a stupid question, sorry."
"It wasn't stupid!" Tobio says, shifting around in the dark. The shuffling sounds somehow very excited, but maybe that's Kakeru's imagination. "You can ask me anything you want about volleyball. I won't think it's stupid."
"Okay," Kakeru says. "I don't know much about it… you can tell me in the morning."
"Cool," Tobio says. "What about your training camps? What do you guys do?"
Kakeru grins up at the ceiling. "We run."
"Nice. I like running," Tobio tells him.
It still feels good to say, "So do I."
Kakeru wakes up at dawn out of habit. Quietly, because Tobio is fast asleep in the futon and drooling slightly, he dresses in his tracksuit and tiptoes out of the room to put his shoes on by the front door, before slipping outside to do his morning stretches.
He's just about ready to run, when a sleepy voice behind him calls out, "Kakeru-san?"
He turns to see Tobio standing at the door, rubbing at his eyes. His hair has developed some intense cowlicks during the night, and he unleashes a massive yawn as Kakeru watches.
"Ah, did I wake you up?" Kakeru asks apologetically.
"S'okay," Tobio says, yawning again. "Where are you going?"
"Just on my morning run."
Tobio blinks, perking up considerably. "You are? Do you want—can I come?"
"You want to?" Kakeru asks, surprised. Not at the fact that Tobio would want to go running, since he seems like a fairly focused athlete himself. It's just that it's so early.
"Yeah," Tobio says. "Plus, you don't have a key, right?"
"Oh…" Kakeru says. That wasn't a problem at Aotake, obviously, but here he would have to either leave the door unlocked, or wait for someone else to wake up and let him back in. "Right. Well, if you don't mind…"
"I don't!" Tobio says, slightly too loudly in the very quiet outdoors. "Don't start without me!"
"I'll wait," Kakeru reassures him, watching him scamper back inside. He might be a giant, but his awkward scrambling reminds Kakeru that he's still quite a bit younger. Kakeru only waits a few minutes before he re-emerges in gym clothes, ready to go. "I usually go five kilometers one way, then back. Is that okay?"
Amused by Tobio's enthusiasm, Kakeru sets the timer on his watch. "And… go!"
They run in silence for a while, with nothing but the sound of feet pounding the pavement, breaths rushing in and out, mingling with the wind flying past their ears, the gentle drift of cherry blossoms sent flurrying in their wake. Every now and then, birdsong from the trees filters in. It's a new setting, but the feeling is familiar, and peaceful. Running in a new place always puts Kakeru at ease, oddly enough. It makes him feel like he knows it.
Tobio keeps pace with him so well it surprises him; Kakeru runs easier on his morning jogs, but his pace isn't for beginners. Eventually, though, the younger boy starts to lag a little bit. Kakeru slows down a fraction of an amount to match him a little bit better.
"D-don't," Tobio snaps suddenly, the first thing he's said since they started. "I'm fine!"
Kakeru glances over at him. "I don't mind."
Tobio shakes his head, scattering sweat. "I—I can keep up!"
"I'm nationally ranked," Kakeru points out, because, well. It's true.
Tobio's severe eyebrows get very frowny. "Don't—go—easy on me!"
He hunkers down against the wind and then powers ahead, briefly pulling even with Kakeru, and then in front of him. Kakeru stares after him with wide eyes.
Kakeru puts on his own burst of speed, climbing to a more rigorous pace. He passes Tobio, and sees Tobio's head whip around to face him out of the corner of his eye. He can't resist a small grin.
A literal yell from behind him catches him off guard. He glances back, and witnesses the frightening sight of his cousin sprinting flat out to catch up to him, arms pumping at his side manically, hands cutting through the air like knives. He looks possessed. Kakeru is so shocked as Tobio flies past him that he doesn't even think to tell him to stop shouting, it's only like, six in the morning—before Tobio is gone.
Kakeru slows, briefly, wondering what the hell just happened, before the ridiculousness of the moment makes him start smiling, even if he's somewhat bewildered. Then he gives chase.
By the time they make it to the five kilometer mark at a quiet little park, Kakeru has regained the lead. He stops the timer and lets his breathing regulate, as Tobio comes tearing onto the grass behind him, screeches to a halt next to him, and then promptly flops into the grass, sucking in great gasps of air. Kakeru hopes he doesn't puke.
"Okay down there?" he asks.
"You—" Tobio pants, with great effort, "—suck."
"You told me not to go easy on you," Kakeru reminds him.
"You weren't even sprinting," Tobio complains.
"Long distance running isn't about being fast," Kakeru says. "It's about pacing yourself."
"What's the point of being a runner if you're not going as fast as you can?" Tobio grumbles.
"You're a setter, right?" Kakeru deflects back at him. "What's the point of playing volleyball if you're not spiking?"
Tobio sits up so fast it makes Kakeru take a step backwards. His cousin glares at him, somewhat furiously.
"That's not the same thing!"
"No, I'm still—I'm still handling the ball!"
"And I'm still running."
Tobio actually growls at him. "What would you even know? You said you don't know anything about volleyball."
"How much do you know about long distance running?" Kakeru asks, easing down into a butterfly stretch in the grass next to him.
Defeated, Tobio throws himself onto his back again exhaustedly. "Kakeru-san, I thought you'd be cool. But you're just annoying."
"I'm annoying," Kakeru snorts. Even he can appreciate the irony of himself irritating a younger acquaintance of his with cryptic questions about sports. Haiji would have a field day. This makes him remember Haiji's request, and he pulls his phone out of his pocket so he can use the camera. "Hey, Tobio, look over here."
Tobio just glares at the phone while Kakeru indulges the viewfinder with a victory sign as the shutter sounds.
"Why are you taking pictures of us?" Tobio asks.
"Memories," Kakeru tells him. "I told a friend of mine everyone thinks we look alike, and he wanted to see."
"We don't look that alike," Tobio says.
"I know, right?" Kakeru agrees. He sends the picture to Haiji over LINE, anyway. Objectively, it's a hilarious picture, with Tobio a red-faced disaster staring blankly up at the camera from where he's sprawled in the grass, and Kakeru leaning awkwardly into frame as he tries to angle the camera to get a good selfie of both of them.
"Is that your teammate who you were talking to last night?" Tobio asks.
"Um," Kakeru says awkwardly. "Yeah… it is."
He hopes he hasn't made Tobio uncomfortable, watching the younger boy pick at some grass with his fingers.
Then Tobio asks, "Do you miss him, or something?"
Or something is a good way to describe it. He saw Haiji before leaving for Miyagi, and he'll see him in nine days when he gets back. But there's still this lingering sadness he can't shake at being away from him, especially coming up on the start of his second year at university. Just the fact that he won't be living with Haiji anymore, that it only lasted for that one fleeting year, makes him sad when he least expects it. Nostalgia, for a time that is so barely behind him he can still turn around and see it.
He must look as clueless as he feels, because Tobio doesn't wait for him to answer. Kakeru isn't sure if his cousin has taken pity on him or just doesn't have the patience to wait for him to untangle his knot of feelings, but Tobio's willingness to brute force through conversations is a relief.
"One of my teammates is away for spring break, too," he says, seemingly at random. "Like you. I thought maybe we were going to be able to… never mind." His frown twists, becoming somehow even frownier. Kakeru watches, mildly impressed by the severity of it. "I told him he better be back in time for us to practice before school starts, though."
"You're probably pretty excited for that, huh?" Kakeru asks.
"Yeah," Tobio says. "We're gonna be even better than last year."
Kakeru smiles. "Are you excited to see your friend?"
Tobio shrugs. "He's not really my friend. He's really annoying. Like you. He always likes to try and beat me in races, too."
Kakeru decides not to point out that Tobio was the one who kept trying to beat him, not the other way around. "Which one is he? In the pictures?"
Tobio rolls his eyes, looking much grumpier, suddenly. "The dumb-looking… orange dumbass."
Oh, right—Kakeru is sure he knows the one. The kid in the close up picture over the nationals article. Belatedly he realizes the significance of that—that making sure it was visible was more important to Tobio than the media coverage of the team's and Tobio's success.
"So, he's not your friend, but you wanted to hang out with him over break?" Kakeru asks.
"I want to practice with him! Because he sucks!" Tobio says. "He has to practice hardest out of all of us, or else I'm gonna kick his ass!"
"Uh-huh…" Kakeru says slowly. He seems to be missing something here, but—regardless, Tobio seems to have a lot of strong feelings about this teammate of his.
His phone buzzes, and he unlocks it to see he has new messages from Haiji.
HAIJI: what the HELL
HAIJI: wait which one are you
HAIJI: but seriously you guys look SCARILY similar
HAIJI: it's like looking at a little baby kakeru awwww
HAIJI: can we adopt him
KAKERU: no he's a little shit
HAIJI: so you resemble each other not just in appearance but also personality
Kakeru doesn't even dignify this last message with a response.
"You ready to head back?" he asks Tobio.
"Yeah," Tobio says. "This time I'm gonna beat you."
The following day, Kakeru and Tobio waste no time after lunch getting ready to go out again. Kakeru's mom pokes her head into the hallway as Kakeru laces up his shoes and Tobio impatiently bounces a volleyball off of his back to get him to hurry up.
"That's not gonna make me tie my shoes any faster," Kakeru says.
"It took you forever to cook," Tobio complains.
"That's a weird way of saying 'Thank you for making me lunch'."
"Thanks for LUNCH, Kakeru- SAN!" Tobio parrots insincerely, bonking Kakeru's head with the volleyball. Kakeru responds by lacing his shoes up as slowly as humanly possible.
Kakeru's mom pokes her head out into the hallway. "You two are going out running again?"
"Nope," Kakeru says.
Tobio holds out his volleyball one-handed, brimming with excitement. "He said he'd play."
After suffering more defeats at Kakeru's hands the day before, both during Kakeru's evening run, and in Super Smash Bros after dinner (for which Tobio can't be blamed; after all, Kakeru has been playing against Prince, who has never lost a game in the entire year since Kakeru moved in), Tobio emphatically decided that the next day they would be playing his preferred sport so he could show Kakeru a thing or two.
"So why do you like playing setter so much?" Kakeru asks him, on their way to the park near the house. Tobio talks about volleyball and all aspects of volleyball a lot, Kakeru had learned that much over the past two days. Even when they were younger, Tobio had been excited about starting at a middle school with a well known volleyball team.
But he clearly has a special passion for his chosen position, one that outshines everything else. And rightfully so; from what Kakeru has heard from his parents, or read in those newspaper clippings scattered about Tobio's room, his skill is practically incomparable at his level of play.
"I like it because it's hard," Tobio says. "It's the position that requires the most thinking."
"And you like that?" Kakeru asks.
"Oy," Tobio says, shoving his arm. "The setter controls the pace of the game. It's my job to help my spiker get past any wall. My spikers, I mean."
"Sounds like a lot of work," Kakeru says. "Having everyone counting on you like that."
"It is," Tobio agrees. "But my team last year trusted me to do it. That's what made us so good."
The sunny green park is lively at that time in the afternoon, but Tobio beelines for a wide open space in the middle without too many trees around. Kakeru follows him.
"So are your other teammates just as good as you?"
"No," Tobio says without hesitation, which makes Kakeru bite the inside of his cheek to keep from laughing. Tobio, he has learned, is not shy about reaffirming he is much better than everyone else. It doesn't seem to be out of undue pride, though, or any kind of pride at all. He's just honest to a fault, sometimes brutally so. "Well, Noya-san is—our libero."
"The defensive one," Kakeru says. Tobio has been explaining the other positions to him.
"Yeah," Tobio says. "And the rest of them are pretty good—they're getting a lot better. And our new ace is really good, one of our wing spikers."
"That's Hinata-kun?" Kakeru asks.
"No, he's a middle blocker, remember?"
Tobio brings up his teammate Hinata fairly often. Usually, it's not without some derision, but there's an odd undercurrent of pride, too. For all that Tobio seems endlessly annoyed by this particular teammate of his, Hinata is also the one he is clearly closest to. It might be because they're both in the same year, but Tobio doesn't talk about his other classmates that way, either.
"Is Hinata any good?" Kakeru prods, and the floodgates open.
"He could be, if he wasn't such a dumbass!" Tobio says. "He's always just gwaaah and uwaaaah and he only focuses on the stupidest things, and he never listens to me no matter what I say, even though he says I'm amazing and I just want—"
Gwah and uwah? Kakeru wonders. "You just…?"
"Never mind," Tobio huffs. "Let's play."
"Okay…" Just like the day before, Kakeru decides not to push that further just yet. "What do you want to do?"
"Do you know how to bump?" Tobio asks.
Kakeru doesn't know what that means, so his cousin shows him. It's actually really fun scrambling around underneath the ball to try and keep it in the air, even though it kind of hurts his arms. Tobio tells him that's normal; somehow, he seems to be able to bump the ball right to Kakeru every single time. Kakeru's attempts, in contrast, veer wildly off course nearly every time, flying far past Tobio, or sometimes not even in the right direction. Tobio shouts at him every time.
"Kakeru-san! Bend your knees more!"
"Keep your arms level!"
"You don't have to hit it that hard, why do you keep doing that?!"
"I'm not doing it on purpose!" Kakeru finally yells back, as Tobio races after the ball yet again.
"Are you sure?" Tobio asks skeptically, like he can't fathom someone failing as hard as Kakeru currently is on accident.
"Yes!" Kakeru says, trudging over to Tobio. Tobio puts the ball under his arm. "I'm going to have bruises. Do you get them all the time?"
"Not as much after a while," Tobio says. "Hinata used to suck at this, too."
"Used to?" Kakeru asks, unsurprised that Hinata has already come up in the conversation again. "I thought you said he still sucks."
"He does," Tobio insists, "I mean, he's gotten better at some things, but he still sucks at serving 'cuz of his weak baby arms, blocking 'cuz he's so short, setting obviously—"
"Spiking?" Kakeru guesses.
But Tobio hesitates before answering that one. "Not as much, anymore."
The admission surprises Kakeru. Tobio seems to want to talk about Hinata a lot, mostly to express his frustrations. But all his grievances seem to stem from feeling that Hinata is not living up to his full potential (apparently due to his stubbornness). Kakeru has spent the last day or so making noncommittal noises of agreement, but privately he thinks that Tobio seems very stubborn himself.
Still, Kakeru is all too familiar with stubborn teammates—and with being one himself. It makes him a pretty good listener.
And he can tell Tobio wants to talk about Hinata, so.
"What makes him better at spiking?" he asks.
Tobio's mouth twitches. "I can show you."
Apparently, it's harder to explain what's different about Hinata's spiking, so Kakeru obediently stands where Tobio tells him to. He's not convinced this isn't just a ploy for Tobio to show off his setting skills, but Kakeru decides to go along with it for now anyway.
"You just want me to hit it when you toss it?" he asks.
Tobio nods. "On three. One… two… three!"
Kakeru knows it's coming. He jumps at the right time. But there's a gust of wind, blowing right past his nose, lifting his hair from his forehead—and the volleyball is just gone, like it teleported from Tobio's hands clean across the park, where it is still rolling some ways away across the grass.
Slowly, he turns to look at Tobio, wondering if he's being made fun of. Tobio blinks back.
"Hinata can hit that," he says. "He hits it every time."
Kakeru stares at him. "Bullshit."
"It's not." Tobio says. He lifts his chin, eyes gleaming a bit. Stubborn. "He's faster than you."
"How does he—hang on a second—running across a volleyball court is a lot different than running twenty kilometers—" Kakeru shakes his head. "Never mind that for now. What did you just do?"
Tobio shrugs one shoulder. "That's my toss."
As it turns out, Tobio has most of Karasuno's matches recorded—presumably for practice purposes, but Kakeru suspects it's because Tobio also loves reliving them. They end up heading back to the house so they can hole themselves up in Tobio's room to watch some of the games from Nationals. This way Tobio can show Kakeru what he and Hinata had begun building all of their first year: the freak quick attack, and their minus tempo partnership.
The match Tobio picks to watch has Karasuno playing against Shiratorizawa Academy, one of the favorites to win the entire tournament last year Tobio has explained. But Karasuno has something, something that's hard to prepare for, that gives them the edge. Kakeru can see it even without knowing much about volleyball, and it gets clearer as Tobio explains more of the game to him.
It was the same with the Kansei team, with Aotake. There's a certain kind of power that comes from having nothing to lose and everything to gain, a strength that comes from laying it all on the line for the team at your back.
The whole team has a spark to it, but brightest among them is Hinata and the freak quick.
"Holy crap," Kakeru says, the first time he sees it. Tobio wasn't kidding, this boy is fast.
"Told you," Tobio says. He's barely taken his eyes off the screen, but he does glance at Kakeru very quickly, every time Hinata makes a new play.
And he stays fast the whole match, pushing past his limits, face drawn with tension, legs trembling. He jumps—over, and over, until the final play, that Tobio sets to him like there's no other option in his mind, that Hinata sends to the other side of the court to secure them victory against all odds.
"He's not just fast…" Kakeru says. "He's strong."
Tobio seems to contemplate that. He nods. "Yeah. Annoyingly strong."
It fascinates Kakeru; not just the athletic prowess, but the relationship behind it. Hinata does seem to get under Tobio's skin, genuinely—but Tobio seems to just accept this in turn. Like Hinata is a constant to him.
"Do you ever text him?" Kakeru asks.
Tobio's head whips around to face him. "Huh?"
"Have you talked to him while he's away?"
His cousin looks flabbergasted. "Wha—no! Why—why would I want to—that'd be—"
"You don't miss him?" Kakeru asks.
"No!" Tobio bellows. "Why would I?!"
Kakeru grins. "I can tell you do."
"So you text your other teammates, but not him?" Kakeru teases.
Tobio frowns. "No… I don't really text anyone."
"Wait, what?" Kakeru says. "Really?"
"Do you text yours?" Tobio asks.
"Yeah?" Kakeru says. "All the time."
They have a group chat that is absolute chaos, and Prince is constantly messaging him about whatever manga they're reading, and the twins send him stories about hanging out with Hana, and Shindo is always popping up just to ask how he's doing whenever he thinks about Kakeru, and Yuki always has advice for him whenever he's feeling just a bit confused about "romantic stuff" (like birthday gifts and date ideas).
And Haiji… well. Kakeru doesn't think he'd be able to get by without talking to Haiji throughout the day, so it's a good thing they message so frequently.
He's never not talking to his team, and given what he knows about Tobio's, it surprises him that they're not the same. He can tell from the pictures—Tobio is special to them.
"You should," Kakeru says. "Text them."
"We have a group chat for our team." Tobio looks down at his hands. "But I don't really have anything important to say."
"It doesn't have to be important," Kakeru says. "It can be about anything." Tobio continues to look concerned; Kakeru pokes him in the shoulder. "You should message Hinata and tell him we watched the game because you wanted to show me the quick attack."
"I—I can't," Tobio says, voice strangled.
"Let me see your phone," Kakeru says.
"Why do you think?"
"No—" Tobio says, scrambling to his feet at the same time Kakeru jumps to his. Tobio plants himself squarely between Kakeru and his dresser, on top of which his phone sits. "Kakeru! Oy!"
"Let me see—"
Kakeru tries to dodge around him. Tobio grabs him around the waist and tries to drag him backwards, but it took Shindo, Nico-chan, and Haiji all working together to do that the last time he needed to be restrained. He takes a slow step forward, then another.
"I think—he'd be happy to hear from you—" he grunts, arm outstretched but not quite able to reach.
"He'll think it's weird!" Tobio says, straining to pull him back. Their feet slip on the carpet.
"Would you think it's weird?" Kakeru asks.
"No," Tobio says, "but he texts me all the time."
"Wait, wha—" Kakeru starts to say, right as the angle they're leaning at becomes too precarious, and his socked feet slide out from under them. They drop to the floor in a painful heap, Tobio landing on top of him and squashing him soundly.
"You deserved that," Tobio says, as Kakeru groans and tries in vain to push him off.
"Tobio, he texts you all the time?" he demands wheezily. "But you still think it'd be weird to try and message him?"
"Not… weird, I guess," Tobio admits. He sits up, allowing Kakeru to breathe again when the weight is lifted from his back. "It's just that… I don't know. I'm…"
He gets progressively redder with each word, determinedly not looking Kakeru in the eyes.
He doesn't have to say it out loud for Kakeru to know, because he's been there himself. Tobio is nervous.
Kakeru grabs his phone from the desk, and puts it in his hands. "Just try. Say what I told you, and see what happens."
Tobio takes a deep breath. "Kakeru-san—"
Slowly, Tobio nods. He focuses very hard on his phone as he sends the message, practically sweating bullets, until finally he looks up and says, "I sent it."
Kakeru nods. "Nice."
"Now you see what he says."
"What if he doesn't respond?" Tobio asks.
"He will," Kakeru says.
"How do you know he will?"
"Because," Kakeru says, shaking his head fondly, "I bet he misses you, too."
"I told you, I don't miss him," Tobio grumbles.
"You talk about him constantly," Kakeru says.
"That's—it's 'cuz it's weird, not having his dumb self around all the time, yelling at me—"
Kakeru ruffles his hair. "I miss my teammates, too, you know."
Tobio bats his hand away, but takes this into consideration. "Like the one you were talking to on the phone the other night?"
Kakeru glances at him quicker than he means to, but Tobio's expression stays neutral—if anything, he just looks curious.
Kakeru nods. "I miss him most, probably."
"Is he your best friend?" Tobio asks.
"He's…" Kakeru leans back on his hands, and then says, "my boyfriend, actually."
It just feels like something he wants to tell Tobio. His cousin stares silently at him for an awkwardly long time, but Kakeru doesn't feel uncomfortable. If anything, this is normal for Tobio, he's realizing. He does wonder what Tobio will think.
"Huh," Tobio says, eventually, nodding like this makes sense. "That's why you were being so mushy."
Kakeru swats at his shoulder. "I was not."
"Yeah, you were," Tobio says.
"Is that why you're too nervous to text Hinata?" Kakeru counters. "You're afraid of being mushy?"
Tobio's mouth falls open. "What?!"
"Nothing," Kakeru says breezily. He gets to his feet. "Come on, I'm gonna go on a run before dinner."
"Hmm?" Kakeru hums.
Tobio's face is working overtime, going through a much wider array of emotions than it normally does—Kakeru thinks he can identify bewilderment, irritation, and potentially panic.
Kakeru smiles at him. "You can tell me later, if you want."
Dinners have been getting progressively livelier each night—it's not just Tobio and Kakeru, although the two of them have become much more talkative the more time they spend around each other. Their parents have, too, particularly Kakeru's father; Kakeru takes after him in terms of reticence, but the more he opens up, the more his dad does, too.
It's probably transferable, Yuki had theorized, when Kakeru told him about it. My mom seems less quiet now that she knows I'm not uncomfortable around the rest of the family.
"It's rare to hear Tobio talk this much, even to us," Kakeru's aunt gushes to his mom.
"...This isn't how he normally is?" Kakeru asks, chopsticks halfway to his mouth.
"They get bored talking about volleyball all the time," Tobio says. He tries to steal a piece of Kakeru's pork, but Kakeru snatches his bowl out of reach.
"Not bored, Tobio," his mom says. "But it's true we don't understand it like you want us to."
"Two athletic geniuses in one family," Kakeru's dad remarks. He sounds proud. "If people knew you were related, they'd think we grew you in a lab."
"Don't talk about them like that," Kakeru's mom says, laughing all the same.
Kakeru can't help smiling, too. It's been a long time since they'd been able to talk about his running with any kind of pride, since the incident in high school. Especially his dad.
"Sometimes my friends call me a volleyball robot," Tobio says, his cheeks bulging with rice.
"Tobio, chew and swallow first."
"Does Hinata call you that?" Kakeru asks, innocently picking at his curry.
Tobio glares daggers at him. "No, he's a volleyball robot, too."
"Oh, Shouyou-kun," Tobio's mom sighs. "The two of them are such a pair."
"Seems like it," Kakeru says.
"Shut up," Tobio hisses.
"Tobio, don't be rude to your cousin."
"Yeah, Tobio," Kakeru says, which is worth having to fend off Tobio trying to kick his shins underneath the table where his father can't see.
"We like Shouyou-kun a lot," Tobio's mom eagerly informs them. "Especially after Tobio had such a hard time in middle school—"
"Mom!" Tobio immediately protests.
Kakeru looks between Tobio and his mother. Tobio's voice has gone sharp with warning, the good-natured grumpiness evaporating from his demeanor. The smile his mom sends him looks like a peace offering.
"Shouyou is just a very good friend," is all she says after that.
After dinner comes the usual routine of washing up the dishes, then showering, then video games for Kakeru and Tobio. Tobio is not as explosively competitive that night, obviously distracted by something.
"I'm not gonna make you talk about what happened," Kakeru says. Tobio says nothing. He stares at his character on the screen, still pressing buttons. Kakeru sets his own controller down. "I didn't have a great time in high school."
"I thought you said you weren't gonna make me talk about it," Tobio says.
"Who was talking just now?" Kakeru says. "Me. Not you."
Tobio rolls his eyes, but his mouth twitches in what might be a smile. Kakeru takes it as a sign to continue.
"I thought I would never run again after high school went… bad," he says. "But then I found this new team and—and it made one hell of a difference. They, uh… I guess it kinda feels like they saved me."
Tobio is watching him now, eyes wide. "Yeah?"
"Yeah," Kakeru says. "Do you know how that feels?"
Tobio nods. "Yeah."
"Thought so," Kakeru says. "Then that's why I'm saying… just, take advantage of that while you can. Are you gonna miss your senpai?"
"Yeah," Tobio says. "They… helped me. A lot."
"Then talk to them," Kakeru says. "They won't mind. I know it."
"Okay," Tobio says. "I mean, I know that, too. They told me I could, I just… I'm not good. At it."
"I noticed," Kakeru says.
"Shut up," Tobio tells him, but it's fond.
"See? Very rude to your seniors."
"You don't count."
"You're the worst!" Kakeru laughs. "I'm trying to help."
"I know," Tobio says, ducking his head to hide his grin. "It does. I don't really know anybody else who… uh, yeah."
"I'm not like, an expert on relationships or anything," Kakeru says, because he probably shouldn't let Tobio think he's some amazing people person, when in fact, he's generally hopeless.
"You have a boyfriend and stuff," Tobio sighs—and… is that an air of slight wistfulness Kakeru detects?
"It's not because of that," he says, though the thought is amusing. Like dating Haiji somehow makes him all-knowing, even though it's entirely the opposite. On the list of things he's most clueless about in life, romance is still very near to the top.
"Then how do you know all this stuff?" Tobio asks suspiciously.
Kakeru shrugs. "Because that's how I feel. Haiji—um, my boyfriend, he graduated last year."
"Oh," Tobio says. "You didn't say he was older."
"Yeah," Kakeru says. He thinks about saying that Haiji can't run with him anymore, either—but that hurts a bit too much to talk about, still, and hopefully Tobio will never have to experience something like that. "You're lucky that Hinata is in your year."
Tobio's cheeks go bright red, but he doesn't say anything; which, given the amount of protesting he'd done earlier, is maybe a step forward.
When they finally go to turn in for the night, Kakeru is just getting ready to turn out the light when he hears Tobio suck in a breath. He turns to see Tobio staring at his phone.
"What?" Kakeru asks.
Tobio shakes his head, lips pursed tightly together. Wordlessly, he hands Kakeru his phone.
It's open on a LINE conversation, and Kakeru sits up in excitement as he reads over it.
KAGEYAMA: watched the shiratorizawa match today
KAGEYAMA: my cousin is staying over and he said he wanted to see our quick
This makes Kakeru snort, because that's not exactly how it played out, but the replies from Hinata that just came through make him forget about commenting on it.
HINATA: sorry it took me so long to respond we were swimming today and i didnt hvae my phone!!!!!
HINATA: but wait
HINATA: how come YOU waited so long to respond to MY last message?????
HINATA: r u still mad cuz we couldn't play together over break
HINATA: i told u thats not my fault BUT!!!!!!!!
HINATA: WHATD UR COUSIN SAY ABOUT THE GAME?!?!?!?!
HINATA: did he think we were awesome
HINATA: was it fun watching it again
HINATA: that game was soooo fun…… thinking about it makes me miss u tho lol ewww
HINATA: cant wait to play with u soon!!!!!!
HINATA: and kick ur butt
HINATA: :D :D :DDD
"Wow," Kakeru says, stunned. He's used to the twins' unique style of texting, but this is on a whole new level.
"See?" Tobio says. He's staring straight up at his ceiling. "He's an annoying dumbass."
"An annoying dumbass who misses you," Kakeru says, tossing the phone back to him. Tobio catches it.
He drapes his arm over his face, blocking it from view—but Kakeru can still see his mouth and how it wobbles into the tiniest, uncontrollable smile.
"Are you gonna message him back?" Kakeru asks.
"Tomorrow," Tobio says, arm still planted firmly over his face.
Kakeru smiles. "Okay."
He turns off the light, so Tobio can have a little peace. That's a pretty good start for one day.