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december boys

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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. 

"You do?" 

"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.

Okay, then.

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: kidding~
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
HAIJI: uncanny

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?" 

"Oh, right…"

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."

"I don't!"

"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 what?" 

"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."

"Sorry, dad."

"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."

"Sorry, dad."

"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: kageyama!!!!!
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: 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

"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. 

Chapter Text

Tobio starts to ask questions.  

He wants to know everything, it seems, about Kakeru's first year in college, his team, and most of all, his relationship with Haiji. 

"How did you know you liked him?" Tobio asks. "Haiji-san, I mean." 

They're at a McDonald's, which they decided to stop at on a day of sightseeing for Kakeru, as Tobio took him around the town. Kakeru sucks up his thick milkshake through the too-small straw with difficulty as he thinks. 

It's hard to pinpoint when, exactly, he fell for Haiji. It wasn't all at once, and it might have happened prior to him actually realizing it, so he can't really say for sure. He does know one thing, though.

"In high school, I started to hate people watching me run. It felt like everyone was expecting things from me… I just wanted to run without anyone looking," Kakeru says. "I knew I liked Haiji when I realized I wanted him to watch me run—nobody else, just me. I wanted to prove to him that I could be what he wanted."

"A strong runner?" Tobio guesses.

Kakeru shakes his head. "Just myself. He knew that I just had to run, and that would be good enough."

"Woah," Tobio says, impressed. "He sounds cool." 

"He's not," Kakeru says firmly. He cannot have Tobio getting the wrong idea about Haiji, who is incredibly uncool. 

"So why do you like him, then?" Tobio asks. 

Kakeru feels like he could ask Tobio the same question, with how often the younger boy insists that Hinata is a complete dumbass. He senses that won't yield the results he wants, however. 

"I think because…" He pops a few fries into his mouth to give himself time to think. There's so many reasons, in the end, all of them banging around inside his head. But the main reason, the first reason, the one that got him to start opening up to all of Haiji's oddities, that made him so lovable was… "He's the first person in a long time that I really get. And that's how I know he gets me."

He stays quiet for a moment while Tobio seems to be mulling this over. 

"He gets you…" his cousin mutters, lower lip jutted out as he thinks. 

It is true, that Kakeru fell for the way Haiji seemed to always see him, see through him, with his eyes soft and fond one moment, piercing and all-knowing the next. But, speaking of Haiji's eyes…

"He's also really hot," he adds. Tobio chokes on his milkshake. "What? You're allowed to be into people because of their looks, too." 

"I don't notice that much about people's looks," Tobio says in a surly voice, but from the way he avoids eye contact when he says this, Kakeru senses this may not be a whole truth. 

It's probably good not to make his relationship seem quite so lofty and profound. Absolutely, he has connected with Haiji on a deep and personal level he's never experienced with another person in his entire life. His unfolding relationship with Haiji was sublime, shook him to the core of his foundation when he saw his feelings for what they were, and made him realize things he never even knew about himself before they met. 

But Haiji's smile is also really fucking cute, and from what Kakeru has seen, Hinata's is, too. And that seems maybe a little easier to make Tobio understand.

Tobio asking him "Have you kissed Haiji yet?" takes Kakeru by surprise when they're alone in the kitchen, washing dishes after dinner that evening. 

He fumbles with the plate he's holding and ends up dropping it into the sink full of sudsy water, sending up a mini-geyser and splashing them both. Tobio hollers something unintelligible at him as Kakeru clutches the edge of the sink and shakes with laughter at his outrage. 

"Aren't you holding them properly?" Tobio barks, like there's some kind of universally agreed upon method to handling a dish while it's being rinsed. 

"That was your fault," Kakeru says, swishing his hand around below the water for the plate. 

"My fault?!" 

"What do you expect when you ask nosy questions out of nowhere?" 

Tobio flinches and stares angrily at the soapy dishes. "I wasn't trying to be nosy."

His face is bright red, and Kakeru softens. He doesn't want Tobio to regret thinking about this stuff. "I'm kidding. It just surprised me." 

"You don't have to answer," Tobio says. He runs the water at full blast, the spray thunderously loud as it batters the dishes.

Kakeru reaches over and shuts it off. Tobio still does not look at him.

"I have," Kakeru says. "I mean, we've been together a couple months now, so, yeah. We have."

Tobio fidgets. "Is it weird?" 

Kakeru laughs. "The first couple times, it was. Neither of us had a lot of experience." 

"Really? Even Haiji-san?" 

"You really tend to give him a lot more credit than you should." 

"He's older! And your captain!" 

"Yeah," Kakeru says, "but he's also a running idiot. Like me. It just wasn't something we cared that much about before. I think he had a girlfriend for a little while in high school, though. His dad made him break up with her, but he said he wasn't that upset about it." 

Secretly, Kakeru wonders how true that is. He knows the Haiji of today would never let anyone tell him what to do where Kakeru is concerned; but would Haiji still be with his former high school sweetheart if his father hadn't deemed it a distraction? Had Haiji really not been that interested in the relationship, or would Kakeru have lost him before he ever had him? 

He doesn't really like to think that he had Haiji's dad to thank for that, so he usually moves on from that train of thought fairly quickly. Thankfully, Tobio is there to help. 

"So it didn't matter that you both sucked at it?" he asks.

"No," Kakeru laughs. "It was…" Awkward? Terrifying? Incredible? "Fun." 

Tobio looks extremely dubious. "Stuff isn't fun if you suck at it." 

"Hmm," Kakeru hums, "I don't know if that's true. You usually seem to have fun playing video games." 

It takes Tobio a full ten seconds to figure out he's been insulted. Kakeru watches the range of facial expressions he undergoes with immense satisfaction, up until Tobio attacks him with a dirty, waterlogged sponge. 

It's at their usual park the next morning, following the first half of their run, when Tobio asks him, "Did you have to try out for the team? Or were you scouted?" 

"Uh, not exactly," Kakeru says, surprised. "I told you I quit after high school. Or I thought I did, anyway."

Tobio watches him stretching with a confused frown on his face, then starts trying to imitate Kakeru's stretches himself. "Then how'd you end up on the team?" 

"Haiji convinced me," he says. 

Tobio's eyes get very wide. "Really?" he asks, interest piqued. "How?"

"I was, um," he says, and then hesitates, not sure where to begin. 

Besides him, Haiji, and Nico-chan, nobody actually knows this part of the story. The three of them had unanimously agreed not to tell Yuki—not out of any anxiety that Yuki would have an issue with Kakeru's borderline delinquent status, but because none of them wanted to deal with the amount of overprotective fussing it would incur on Yuki's part. 

How does he convey what an absolute disaster he was before coming to Aotake? He decides on the bare bones truth. He senses he can trust Tobio with it. 

"I was living out of a sleeping bag when I first ran into Haiji. I had no money and we met because he chased me down on his bike after he caught me shoplifting. Not because he really cared about the shoplifting," Kakeru clarifies, because that feels like an important detail somehow. "Just because he saw me running and was… um, curious about me, I guess." That's putting it lightly.

Tobio gives him this look like he's visibly watching the pedestal cracking beneath Kakeru's feet. "Kakeru-san!" 

"It wasn't my best moment," Kakeru admits. 

"You're a criminal?" Tobio asks at the top of his lungs, which seems unnecessary given they are sitting right next to each other. 

"I'm—you don't have to yell, Tobio—I gave the bread back," Kakeru says. "I was only a criminal for, like, ten minutes." 

"Why did you steal it in the first place if you were just going to do that?" Tobio asks.

"I was hungry," Kakeru says. "Haiji made me give it back. He brought me to the dorm right after for dinner." 

"Oh," Tobio says. He shoots Kakeru another funny sideways glance.


"You went home with him that fast," Tobio says.

It takes Kakeru the span of a confused moment to realize what Tobio is implying—mostly because he would never have dreamed Tobio, who apparently assumes people need to be black belts at tongue-fu in order for kissing to be worthwhile, knew to imply anything like that in the first place. 

"Oh my god," he huffs. "Are you judging me?" 

"My senpai told me that when you go home with someone on a first date, that means things are getting steamy," Tobio says, insufferably smug. "Don't you know that?"

"It wasn't like that, you little—" Kakeru makes a grab at him but Tobio is already rolling out of the way, grinning evilly. "Do you even know what that means?" 

"Um, yes?" Tobio says, like Kakeru is the stupid one. "It means you guys are gonna…" Kakeru can visibly see the moment Tobio realizes what he's actually suggesting as his whole face goes bright red. "Do stuff!" 

"Do stuff," Kakeru mocks, and then it's his turn to dodge when Tobio tries to whack him. "Okay, well, things didn't get 'steamy'. I just met the rest of the team, which none of us knew was a team at the time. And then Haiji told us about running in the Ekiden." 

"Huh. Well," Tobio says contemplatively. "I didn't do anything nearly as bad as you. But I did get kicked out of the gym my first practice." 

"Oh?" Kakeru raises both eyebrows. "Troublemaker Tobio, huh? What did you do?" 

"I got in a fight with Hinata," Tobio says. "And then we knocked the vice principal's wig off." 

"Wait, wait—what?" Kakeru sputters. This sounds somehow wilder than the shoplifting. "Explain." 

By the time Tobio finishes recounting the story about challenging Hinata to a battle of receives, culminating in a rather violent de-wigging of their uptight vice principal, and the team captain unceremoniously banning them from the gym until they learned to work together, Kakeru is crying literal tears of laughter.

"Is it really that funny?" Tobio asks, even though he's grinning too. 

"Yes!" Kakeru says. "So what happened?! How did you end up getting back on the team?" 

"We just…" Tobio trails off, flopping onto his back in the grass next to Kakeru. "We actually played together. And it was—it was different." 

Kakeru laughs. "Different?" 

"Yeah," Tobio says. "It was fun."

Something about that rings so true for Kakeru, despite not knowing exactly what Tobio is talking about, that he has to fall over into the pink-petal dusted grass next to him. He sighs, shielding his eyes from the sun, newly risen and dappled through the leaves of the tree they're under. 

"It changes a lot," he says, "when it's actually fun." 

"Yeah," Tobio says again. 

"So, does that mean you guys started getting along after that?" Kakeru asks. 

"No," Tobio says. "I couldn't stand him, and he hated me." 

"You just made it work, huh?" 

"More or less," Tobio says. "We got better." 

"That's obvious." 

Tobio throws some grass at him. Then he goes quiet again, frowning down at the lawn, which Kakeru now realizes he often does when given something he wants to consider. He waits patiently while Tobio idly tears more green blades from the dirt and flicks them in Kakeru's direction. "Did you and Haiji-san get along right away?" 

Kakeru mulls this over. "Not really. I couldn't really stand him at first, either." Haiji, upon first meeting, was infuriating—and weird, and overbearing, and, Kakeru had thought at the time, ignorant. 

"Oh," Tobio says. He ceases his grass flicking. "But you still ended up liking each other." 

"We did," Kakeru says. "A lot." 

"Huh," Tobio says. "Okay. Cool."

Shortly after this, he's up and on his feet, full of energy and insisting they run back. If his frown seems to have evened out a little bit, Kakeru doesn't comment on it. 


It's Kakeru's mom who suggests they go hiking. The trails in Miyagi, she reminisces, are really nice—perfect for two boys who "don't know how to keep still," and who are always running off to be outside at every available opportunity.

Kakeru does like the idea of exploring the countryside, and the mountains call to him a bit more strongly than they might have before the camp at Lake Shirakaba. The two of them start looking up trails online, then campsites, and within a day have decided to make an excursion out of it.

"Water bottles," Kakeru says, standing by the front door in the early morning. His mom and her sister have gotten up early to see them off today, but they are both practically asleep on their feet. 

"Check," Tobio says dutifully, patting the backpack pocket where they have stored the bottles. 


"Got mine." 

"Those tiny sausages for breakfast?" 

"In here," Tobio says, thumping their cooler. 

They both look at each other in satisfaction, before both realizing at the same moment:


Tobio darts back to the room to get their map, while Kakeru's mother yawns. 

"You need all this to go on an overnight camping trip?" she asks. 

"Never know what you'll regret not bringing," he says with a shrug. 

"Alright," she says. "Well, as long as you're having fun, I guess…"

Kakeru smiles. "We are."

Tobio remains irked by the apparent judgment of their over preparedness for an amusingly long time. "Why would we be doing this if we weren't gonna have fun?" he scoffs later, on the bus ride to the campsite. 

"I think up until recently, she probably thought I didn't know how to have fun," Kakeru admits. "But it's just that my parents' idea of what I should enjoy was pretty different to mine."

"How?" Tobio asks. 

How to explain… Kakeru drums his fingers on his duffel bag as he thinks. 

"You know my dad's a runner, too, right?" he finally asks. 

Tobio scrunches his face in thought. "Maybe? Or… I know he did a sport…"

"It was running," Kakeru says dryly. "Why do you think I'm named for it?" 

"Ohhh…" Tobio nods. 

"I think to him, having his whole life be about running was the same thing as having fun," Kakeru says. "He thought… he probably thinks that's what it means to be serious about it. And I am serious about running, I guess… but, like I told you, high school wasn't fun. I don't think my parents understood. I guess I didn't really try to make them understand, either. I just thought everyone only wanted me to run." 

Tobio hums. "My parents always wanted me to play volleyball because I liked it. If I wanted to stop, they wouldn't have minded."

"Sometimes I wonder what would have happened if I just told my dad I wanted to stop," Kakeru sighs. "Instead things just got… they got bad." 

"What happened?" Tobio asks. When Kakeru doesn't answer right away, Tobio nudges him. "Come on, Kakeru-san… I already know you're a delinquent." 

"I'm not a delinquent!" Kakeru protests, shoving Tobio. His cousin grins, unrepentant. "Jeez, I'm gonna regret telling you that, huh?" 

"I'm kidding!" Tobio says. "Besides, even if you were a delinquent, I wouldn't care."

Kakeru squints at him. "Oh, really?" 

"Yeah," Tobio says. "You're my cousin."

This is not what Kakeru is expecting at all, and is also so painfully sincere that he has to take a moment to recover from an overwhelming wave of fondness. He then fixes Tobio with his best cryptic stare (the one he's picked up from Haiji) and says,

"What if I told you I killed someone." 

Tobio stares back at him. Eventually, he replies, with the demeanor of someone trying to work through a difficult math equation, "Why… would that make you hate running?" 

"Maybe I've been on the run since then," Kakeru says, "and that's why I don't like it."

"That's not the same kind of running, though." 

Kakeru shakes his head. "I can't tell if you're too literal to mess with, or if you really wouldn't care if I was a murderer." 

"Why would I care if you're a murderer?" Tobio says. "It's not like you're gonna murder me."

"I mean, theoretically, on this camping trip would be the best time to do it," Kakeru points out.

Tobio rolls his eyes with a healthy level of disrespect. "Yeah, right. I'm pretty sure I can take you." 

"Oy, don't get cocky just because you're taller." 

They spiral into a heated debate over which one of them would be the more competent murderer. ("You could never do it, you're too blunt," Kakeru insists to Tobio. "The first thing you'd say to anybody would be 'I'm here to murder you'.") The detour derails the conversation entirely, and they still haven't gotten to Kakeru's explanation by the time they have to unload off the bus. 

The campsite is… well, sparse might be the best word to describe it. Even during their training camps, they'd had most of the basic amenities. 

"Did we bring toilet paper?" Tobio asks. 


"How are we going to shit?" Tobio demands. Kakeru wheezes with laughter, which he does not find amusing. "I'm being serious!" 

"People poop in the woods all the time," Kakeru tells him. "Besides, there's an outhouse a little way down the trail. We can check there."

They set about getting their tent put up with great difficulty. Kakeru gets trapped inside it after it collapses due to mismanagement (read: he blames Tobio), and then has to suffer the indignity of extracting himself while Tobio rolls around on the ground outside, killing himself with laughter and being no help whatsoever. 

"I hate you," Kakeru says as he crawls free.

"You made the funniest noise," Tobio says, and then tries to imitate it. It sounds like a cat being stepped on. 

"I did not sound like that," Kakeru says, although he suspects he really might've.

After they finally manage to set up the tent, they decide to do one of the longer hikes. They bring their lunch with them and set off to take advantage of the cooler morning temperatures during the long uphill walk. 

It's so nice, that spring morning in the mountains. It reminds Kakeru so much of that morning almost a year ago—running by Lake Shirakaba for the first time, the air threatening to get warm even before the day had really started. Instead of the brutal heat, however, this is just pleasant. 

It also reminds him of Haiji breaking away from the group to run with him, calm him down when his anger made his blood pound louder in his ears than the physical exertion. He listened to the reasons Kakeru drew up sullen and angry inside of himself, instead of just writing him off. That team, the others from Aotake, had done the same; had seen the real violence he was capable of when he snapped, and had heard him pour out all the ways he'd ruined things for others, and had told him they wanted to run with him anyway. 

Things had shifted perspective for him, then. That morning when they all sat in the grass and he came clean with everything, the sun shone through the trees like this; lighting Haiji up, letting Kakeru finally see how much Haiji believed in him. How much the team believed in him—not just in his running, but in him as a friend and teammate. He'd suddenly seen that it didn't matter a damn how good he was if he didn't want to run. Having a team that made him want to win was what really made him strong. 

He thinks back to that one star-filled night, and all Haiji's teasing, and how warm it made him feel to know Haiji was there, wanting Kakeru to stay. 

Wanting to run for Haiji hadn't just made him strong; it had made him feel invincible. 

But now… now it's all flown by, a haze of shimmering days he can't shake the feeling he didn't appreciate enough while he was living them. The team won't be the same members next year. Haiji won't be there next year. His hand won't be steady on Kakeru's shoulder any time he feels uneasy or frustrated or angry. All that certainty Kakeru has felt building since they met… 

Where does it go, when the one helping him channel it isn't there anymore?

"Is that a bunny?!" Tobio bursts out, startling him from his thoughts. He goes crashing into the brush, no doubt sending any rabbits fleeing from him. 

Kakeru breathes the mountain air in, out, deeply. "Any luck?" he asks when Tobio comes stomping back out, brushing leaves from his hair.

"No," Tobio says. He very optimistically had gotten his phone out to take a picture. "Hinata likes dumb little animals like that so I was gonna try and send a picture…"

Kakeru senses that Hinata may not be the only one who likes small cute creatures—not only because Tobio had seemed pretty excited about the rabbit sighting, but also because of how fond he is of Hinata himself. 

"I'm not good with animals," Tobio mumbles dejectedly—more to himself than Kakeru, who feels another surge of extreme affection hit. 

"I never finished telling you what happened with me," he says, somewhat to distract Tobio from his angsting over the rabbit. "In high school." 

"Oh," Tobio says, as they start walking again. "I figured maybe you still didn't want to."

Kakeru has been stalling… not entirely intentionally, but every time he reaches into himself to pull that explanation out, it gets all stuck in his throat. It's not as strong, but it's the same old feeling, the one that surfaced whenever he thought about telling Haiji and the others what a fucking mess he'd been, and risk scaring them all away. 

It jolts him in surprise, to realize that's what this is. He is worried, at least a little, of what Tobio will think. Not because he doesn't trust Tobio, but because he doesn't want something like that to mess up this unexpected bond that's sprung up between them. 

Then he thinks of Tobio saying he wouldn't care what Kakeru did, because they're cousins. And he remembers what Haiji said to him, back when they were looking at the stars.

No matter what happens, we're still us. 

"The truth is, I hated track in high school," he confesses. 

"Hated it?" Tobio asks.

"Yeah. You've never had that with volleyball?"

Tobio thinks about it, then shakes his head. "No. I always loved it. There was a little while in middle school where… some stuff happened, I guess. But it was my fault, anyway, and I never stopped wanting to play."

Kakeru nods. "I don't know if I ever really hated running. But I hated the sport, and my team, and the competition… and I, uh—I may have—" He stops and scratches the back of his head before barreling through it. "I punched my coach in the face and got our whole year suspended." 

"Y-y-you—" Tobio sputters. "You what?!" 

"Told you it wasn't a great time," Kakeru says. 

"What'd he do to you?"  

Kakeru can at least appreciate Tobio's confidence that something must have happened directly to him in order for him to violently assault another person. Given it didn't quite go down that way, he attempts to explain the situation as best he can. Tobio listens silently, his expression frozen in shock.

"…so that's what happened," he finishes lamely. "It wasn't self-defense or anything, I just… was fed up, I guess." Inwardly, he cringes. It still feels like the most pathetic explanation of his actions, given the fallout, how badly he messed things up for so many people. 

Tobio goes all puffed up and indignant, and Kakeru prepares himself for criticism—surely even Tobio, for whom volleyball is everything, would think before putting his and his team's chances in jeopardy like that. 

This train of thought is nipped in the bud when Tobio exclaims, "Kakeru-san, are you trying to make me admit that you are cool?!"

Kakeru does a double take. "Huh?" 

"That's like something a character from a manga would do!" Tobio says, punching the air in demonstration. "Defending your teammate! That coach sounds like he sucks! Coach Ukai is way better." 

"There were probably other ways for me to go about it," Kakeru says. "If I was better at talking to people… my whole team suffered because of me." 

"Your team should've backed you up," Tobio says. "That's what Karasuno would do. I'm pretty sure Suga-san would've punched someone too, if they were acting like that. Actually, Tanaka-san did punch me and Hinata once."

If Kakeru remembers correctly, Tanaka is Tobio's wild upperclassman. "He did?"

"Yeah," Tobio says, "because we got in a fight." 

"Things get pretty crazy over at Karasuno, huh?" Kakeru says, bemused. 

"I guess," Tobio says with a shrug. "I still can't believe you punched someone, though."

Kakeru sighs. "I had—trouble. Controlling my temper. It felt like I was just angry, all the time." 

"You were?" Tobio asks, eyes wide. He nearly trips over a branch across the path, he's staring so hard at Kakeru. "But now…" 

"Now what?"

"Now you're like… all calm, and stuff," Tobio says. "You're always smiling, and you never get mad."

Now it's Kakeru's turn to be surprised. Always smiling? Him? "Really?" 


"Well…" Kakeru thinks about it. "I don't have any reason to be upset." It's not something he's thought about consciously. But it does feel true that he smiles a lot more now than he had all through high school. In fact, thinking back on all the times he's ended up laughing on this trip, it might be more than all of high school combined. 

"I—" Tobio says haltingly, "I'm also not good at it. At not getting mad. That's why—well, I think I'm better at it now, but everyone still says I get pissed off too easily, and I yell too much, and I never smile—"

"What?" Kakeru asks. "That's not true. You smile all the time, too." 

Tobio looks shocked. "I do?" 

Kakeru nods. In fact, it had surprised him a bit—the Tobio he remembered from middle school wasn't the scowling giant he's become familiar with on this trip, but neither was he so quick to tease or laugh or flash that terrifying grin. Middle school Tobio was, for lack of a better description, primarily tuned out if the conversation wasn't about volleyball or food. Present-day Tobio does frequently experience moments where it seems like absolutely no thoughts are passing through his head, but he's still far more expressive. 

"You smile the most when you're thinking about Hinata," Kakeru says.

"You're stupid!" Tobio immediately yells in mortification, and Kakeru bends over double laughing. "Well, you smile whenever you're thinking of Haiji-san!" 

Kakeru rubs the tears of laughter from his eyes. "Yeah, I can't argue with that." 

"Ughhhhh," is Tobio's only reply. 

"Does Hinata ever say any of that stuff?" Kakeru asks. He casually adjusts his backpack straps and doesn't glance at Tobio.

"What stuff?" Tobio mutters.

"That you get mad too much?" 

Tobio doesn't respond for a little while. Finally he says, "No. He doesn't." There's a little more silence, and then he adds, "He does sometimes try to get me to smile more, though." 

Kakeru hums knowingly, which earns him a light shove from Tobio. 

"I want to be different, too," Tobio tells him. 

Kakeru looks over at him now, but Tobio's eyes are trained on the ground. "What do you mean?" 

"I don't want to be the way I was in middle school," Tobio says. "I wasn't like you, I wasn't—brave, or anything—"

Kakeru snorts. "I wasn't brave." 

"You were!" Tobio insists. "I was just a jerk. I yelled at everybody because I thought they weren't trying, I thought they were wasting my time on purpose, I didn't realize—and my team just, they just gave up on me. And I deserved it. Somebody probably should've punched me."

Kakeru slows down, and Tobio follows suit, until they're stopped in the middle of the shady path. The air has warmed up considerably, and Kakeru can feel the sweat cooling the back of his neck. A bird call rings out from a nearby tree, filling the silence that spans between them. 

"Tobio," he says, when it becomes clear Tobio doesn't want to, or can't, continue. "You were a kid."

"So?" Tobio says sullenly. "So was everyone else."

"Yeah, and I bet none of them were perfect either," Kakeru says. "I was about to be in college and I still couldn't handle my own shit."

"Doesn't change the fact that everyone hated me because I was an asshole."

"I guess it doesn't," Kakeru says. "But you changed when you realized that. I can tell you feel sorry about it. I think that makes up for it, right?"

"I don't know," Tobio says helplessly. "I'm bad at controlling my temper, too. I don't… I really don't want to mess up at Karasuno." 

Kakeru gets it—he feels like he might get it better than anyone else. That must be why it hurts, right in his chest, a painful, sympathetic twinge. He can see that his cousin is awkward, but trying so hard, and he knows from experience how frustrating it is to always be worried about screwing up. 

But it's teams like Kansei, and surely Karasuno, that make the struggle worth the effort.

"Your teammates like you now, don't they?" he asks, more to remind Tobio of that fact than anything else. The stories Tobio tells, and all those pictures, those text messages from a certain teammate in particular…

Tobio nods slowly. "Yeah… actually… one time Hinata said…" He looks away, ears pink. "He said that this is just how I am. So I should just accept it." 

"Pretty good advice," Kakeru says. He can't resist slyly adding, "Sounds like he really likes you…"

"I knew you were gonna make it embarrassing!" Tobio grumbles heatedly, stomping up the trail away from Kakeru. 

Kakeru follows, and can't help grinning slightly. Isn't that exactly what he wanted to hear, though? 


Overnight camping means one thing for sure, and it's probably the thing both Kakeru and Tobio are most excited for: grilled meat. As evening falls, they get to work setting up the small charcoal grill they'd borrowed from Tobio's father. They had gone shopping the day previous, splurging on several packages of meat that had seemed exorbitant at the time, but now feels like the best decision they could have possibly made, this close to eating it. With the rice cooker going, and the first cuts of meat sizzling on the grill, Kakeru's mouth is already beginning to water. 

"Camping is the best," Tobio proclaims, watching Kakeru turn over the skirt steak with eyes sharp as a hawk's. His feet are bouncing restlessly; eventually, he pulls out his phone and snaps a couple photos of the richly marbled pink meat. "Hinata's gonna be so jealous."

Kakeru smirks, and then decides he doesn't mind inciting some envy himself. He sends Haiji a picture of the grill.

KAKERU: Miss you
KAKERU: But NOT eating carrot and potato stew for five days straight
KAKERU: And before you ask, no, I'm not putting any protein powder on this

Haiji replies quickly, likely due to indignation. 

HAIJI: That stew was character building!!!
HAIJI: The protein was for muscle building
HAIJI: Because I only want the best for you <3

KAKERU: because you're a dictator you mean

HAIJI: i thought you loved my cooking

KAKERU: I do, when you're in a sane mood

HAIJI: ?????? no idea what you could possibly mean by this

Kakeru snorts. In truth, he misses Haiji's cooking, good or bad, because either way it meant cooking with Haiji. It meant a cozy kitchen and standing shoulder to shoulder, that little flutter in his stomach that just kept getting harder and harder to ignore (until he realized he didn't have to ignore it at all). He's still afraid that he won't be able to stop missing it, that it will make the upcoming years less, in comparison.

"Careful not to burn it," Tobio squawks at him, and Kakeru is hurriedly snapped out of his thoughts.

The steak escapes unscathed, and is delicious. They eat an unwise amount, and it's glorious, having no one to split it with aside from each other. It sounds like Tobio is used to fighting off the hordes at his training camps; he's midway through recounting a story about the Tokyo summer barbecues when Hinata texts him back with a typical amount of capslock exclamations. Kakeru peeks over Tobio's shoulder, and his cousin graciously allows him to read the messages.

HINATA: UWAHHH that looks SOOOOO good save me some!!!!!!
HINATA: kidding i know youd eat it all bc ur rude
HINATA: i rly wish i could b there with u tho!!!!!!!
HINATA: !!!!!!!!!! 

"Woooow," Kakeru says. "He wants to go camping with you, huh?"

Tobio's mouth does that telltale little twitch. "He just gets dumb ideas…"

"Ideas that involve spending time with you," Kakeru points out. Tobio rolls his eyes. 

KAGEYAMA: I can't save you any of it, it'll go bad by the time you get back. Stupid
KAGEYAMA: I'm not rude. I'll prove it.

HINATA: HOW??????????????

KAGEYAMA: I'll show you when we go camping together, I guess. 


Tobio sets his phone down and then puts face in his hands. 

"Very smooth," Kakeru says approvingly. 

"What if he doesn't actually want to?" Tobio mumbles. "What if he's just saying that because—"

"Because he wants to hang out with you?" Kakeru fills in. "Seems about right."

Tobio rubs his eyes. "I just—I don't—"

"Don't what?" 

"Don't feel like it could be real, I don't know!"

Kakeru, who's been grinning knowingly, feels his smile fade a little. "Why not, though?"

Tobio shrugs. "Even if… even if he feels that way, what would I do? He knows me better than anyone, he knows I'm difficult, and mean, and angry, and—"

"And," Kakeru says, "he still likes you. Look, set aside crushes or whatever—he told you to be yourself. He doesn't want you to change. And come on, you're not mean, you're just—"

"An asshole," Tobio grumbles. 

Kakeru laughs. "You're honest."

"I just… don't want to scare him away," Tobio says softly. 

And if that isn't too damn relatable. They both fall silent, staring at the burned down embers of the grill. 

"I get that," Kakeru says. Tobio looks up at him, skepticism mixed with a little bit of hope, like he wants Kakeru to fix the problem but doesn't quite believe he can. "I was scared as hell of my teammates finding out how bad I screwed up in high school. I didn't know how to tell Haiji—I'm not sure I would have, actually, if he hadn't stopped me getting into another fight."

"Kakeru-san, I hope you get into less fights these days," Tobio deadpans. 

"Don't lecture me when I'm lecturing you," Kakeru tells him. 

"Too late." 

"Wait your turn!" Tobio only grins at him in response and Kakeru shakes his head. "The point is, I pretty much had to tell him what happened, and he had me tell the whole team."

"What happened?" 

"Nothing," Kakeru says. "Except, I guess, they understood me better. I didn't scare anyone away, it was just something I didn't have to worry about hiding anymore, because they knew me. And Hinata knows you. It doesn't sound like anything about you, specifically, is going to make him run away."

"It's still scary no matter how much he knows me. I just don't want to mess up because I really…" Tobio takes a deep breath, then looks Kakeru dead in the eye. "I think I like him." 

The statement is delivered with such gravity and honesty, like the unveiling of a great secret, that Kakeru can only stare at him for a long moment.

"No way," he says, "you think you like him?"

"Shut up," Tobio mumbles.

"Your partner?" Kakeru continues. "The one you mesh with perfectly on the court? The kid you never stop talking about? The one you text with that little smile on your face—"


Tobio lunges for him to cover his mouth and Kakeru leans so far back in his folding chair to avoid him that he nearly topples over. Tobio has to grab the arms of the chair to prevent him from eating shit, which just proves Kakeru's suspicion that his cousin actually is not mean, and is in fact too good for this world. 

"You suck," Tobio informs him. "I can't believe I was worried about you hating me before you got here when you're the most annoying person ever." 

"What?" Kakeru asks, skimming over the insult. "Why would I have hated you?" 

"People don't usually like me at first," Tobio says. "Plus you're like a famous athlete and stuff…"

"I'm not famous," Kakeru splutters. "And even if I was, it wouldn't change anything. I'd still like you."

"Because we're family?" Tobio guesses.

"No," Kakeru says. "Because you're pretty cool, and hanging out with you is fun." Tobio's mouth rounds in a shocked O. "I can't believe you were worried either!" He feels bad about it, even if he had nothing to do with it. Knowing Tobio now, and his insecurities, he doesn't like to think Tobio was preparing himself for the worst like that. He ruffles Tobio's hair in lieu of any other way to express his emotions, and Tobio bears it good-naturedly. 

Haiji gives him a call a little later as they're packing up the grill, so Tobio waves him off to take it, saying he'll handle the rest of the cleanup. Kakeru gratefully plops into one of their folding chairs nearby, not inclined anymore to hide his calls from Tobio now that there's no need. 

"Calling to convince me of the merits of curried protein powder?" 

Haiji's laugh on the other end of the line is as warm as their campfire. "No… believe it or not, I just wanted to hear your voice."

"Oh," Kakeru says, face heating up; if Haiji is the campfire, then he wants to bask in the glow forever. "Well, here I am."

"There you are," Haiji says, with a sigh. "Too far away, though." 

Kakeru blinks at the sky. He wasn't really expecting this onslaught of emotions, and isn't sure what to say without it coming out sounding like too much. Haiji seems to sense the turmoil.

"Sorry," he murmurs.

"No, it's fine," Kakeru says. "I know what you mean." 

"Only a couple days of your visit left, though, right?" 

"Yeah," Kakeru says. "I'm gonna miss it here." 

He glances over at Tobio to see his cousin look away jerkily, obviously eavesdropping, before he sticks his tongue out at Kakeru anyway. Kakeru grins.

"I'm glad you're enjoying yourself," Haiji says. "But I can't wait to see you again."

"Yeah," Kakeru says. "Me, too." 

He thinks he can sneak in a visit before the new semester starts up. Before he returns to Aotake, with the fourth years' rooms at Chikusei-so empty, waiting for new team members to fill them. Haiji's room across from Kakeru's will have someone else in it next year. People are already taking an interest in the team after his record-breaking run; but the team was so much more than just him, and more than that, it was so much Haiji. 

"I won't steal too much more of Kageyama-kun's time with you," Haiji says. "Goodnight, Kakeru. I love you."

"I lo—" Kakeru starts to say, but the words get all clogged in his throat. "I'll come see you as soon as I get back!"

He realizes he sounds a little childish, feelings bursting out of him unable to be contained, but Haiji, at least, is well aware of how hard it is for him to hold back his emotions at times. Hopefully he can also hear the actual meaning behind the words. 

"You better," Haiji tells him, but Kakeru can practically hear his smile. 

Tobio joins him as he's hanging up, two steaming cups of tea in his hands. He passes one to Kakeru, who is grateful for something to warm his hands. 

"Kakeru-san…" Tobio says, as they sit quietly side by side, sipping the hot tea. "Were you going to say… I mean, it sounded like you wanted to…"

"Hmm?" Kakeru murmurs, his mind still elsewhere, on Haiji.

"Were you gonna say you love him?" Tobio blurts out.  

"How close were you listening?" Kakeru accuses, though he knows it was probably hard not to. "I was—I mean, yeah, I…" He trails off, not sure how to explain all the shit going through his head. Things he doesn't really need to bother Tobio with. 

"Has Haiji ever said it?" 

"All the time," Kakeru admits. "I used to wonder how it didn't embarrass him… but he's Haiji, so I guess that answers that question."

"So…" Tobio's mouth twists into a confused little beak. "Why didn't you say it back?"

"I do say it back! I just…" He trails off.

Has he though, lately?

Kakeru thinks back on the past weeks. He knows what he feels; but it's so hard to say, when he can't stop thinking about how he only just managed to figure it out, right in time for everything to change. It makes him ache to dwell on it, when faced with all the things it's going to make him miss a hundred times more. Yes, he loves running—but that made the pressure of facing all the struggles that came with it all the more difficult. It was Haiji who made him sure of the way he felt again. 

"You should say it," Tobio insists. "If Hinata told me he loved me, I would tell him, too." Kakeru is impressed by his boldness, up until Tobio adds, "Because he'd probably think he was better at this stuff than me, otherwise."

Kakeru rubs at his eyes. These two. "Maybe Haiji is better at it than me."

"That's dumb," Tobio decides. "I've heard the way you talk about him." 

"What's that mean?"

"Obviously, you love him," Tobio says. "So don't lose to him."

Kakeru doesn't bother pointing out that not everything is a competition for most couples. He turns Tobio's words over, again and again. 

"You're right," he says. "It's just been… hard to say when I'm kind of freaking out. I don't know what I'll do for the next three years without him. How I'll do without him. People keep saying they're expecting me to lead the team…" 

God help him, what if he punches someone again? He can't be trusted. The thought that Haiji is some kind of magical fisticuffs deterrent is so absurdly amusing that it makes him giggle to himself. Tobio is less amused by his lack of conviction.

"Why would you be worried about that?" he scoffs. "You helped me a ton the past couple weeks, and it was just us. Haiji wasn't here."

Tobio has a way of stating things as though they are fact and not personal opinion, and although this should be generally infuriating, it's one thing about him that Kakeru has grown unbearably fond of. It makes it hard not to see the sense in what he's saying. 

"Wow," he says, "so you can be nice to me, after all."

"Ugh," Tobio says, but he's grinning. He blows on his tea for a bit, then says, "I'm really glad you came with your parents this time."

"I am too," Kakeru says. 

"Even though you had to be away from Haiji?"

"Yeah," Kakeru says. That was a hard decision to make, no doubt, but he still wouldn't change it after the time he's had here. He could see how much it meant to his parents, and he got to know Tobio so much better. "I barely ever get to see you. I have the rest of my life with Haiji."

It's only after he says it that he realizes how huge a statement that is. 

But… it doesn't feel wrong. They'll have that last day of spring break together, and he'll have weekends during the upcoming semester, and probably phone calls every night. It's still a daunting prospect because he doesn't know what the new school year and season will bring. But what he knows for sure is he'll have Haiji to help him when he needs it. In that sense, things haven't changed. 

And no matter what does change, Kakeru has never worried about the two of them, what they have. He's pretty sure that's forever. And if he can just remember that, it makes the things in the short term seem a lot less scary. 

"I can't believe you're already leaving soon," Tobio says.

"I know," Kakeru says, "it went by so fast—"

"Do you think you could visit more often from now on?" Tobio asks, loudly, and all in one breath. "Or, maybe when Karasuno has training camps in Tokyo…" He looks nervous, like he's still somehow unsure that Kakeru would want to hang out with him more than this. 

"Definitely," Kakeru says. "We've gotta see each other more. You better e-mail me, too." 

Tobio's mouth wobbles happily, and Kakeru slings an arm over his too-tall shoulders so Tobio can lean into his side. 

"You know, my, um, my parents…" Tobio starts, hesitant, "they don't really get the volleyball thing. And you're the only one, obviously, who I've told about Hinata—so this is the first time I've ever had someone else in my family who—I mean, you just get it, and I just…" He flounders, and Kakeru tries to help him out.

"It feels strange," he says.

"What does…?"

"That we have these… lives, that are so different, but so alike? That we're so alike, I guess?" He breathes in, sighs. "Even though we hadn't really talked before this trip, it just feels like we know each other."

Tobio nods. "Exactly." He yawns, then, slouching in his chair and ducking his head low to settle it on Kakeru's shoulder. "I'm glad you came to visit."

His yawn triggers one from Kakeru. They should just crash in the tent for the night, but it's too nice outside, with the stars all blazing up above. It reminds him of Shirakaba, and setting off fireworks with the team, and feeling understood. Now it'll remind him of Tobio, too, which seems only fitting. 

"I'm glad you talked to me about everything," he tells Tobio.

"Yeah," Tobio says. His voice goes as quiet as Kakeru has yet to hear it when he asks, "Can I call you Kakeru-nii?"

A surge of emotion so soft and bright it nearly overwhelms him wells up inside Kakeru. "Of course you can." 

And he realizes that that's love. He loves his giant little cousin, who in the span of two short weeks has put his fears and his hopes right into Kakeru's hands for safekeeping. 

He loves his parents, and he's glad he could reach out to them again, after the gulf between him and his father had gotten so wide. 

And he loves Haiji—he loves Haiji, to the ends of the earth, to the very top of the steepest mountains. 

It takes a long time to reach those places, so he'll spend the rest of his life, he thinks, loving that man. The few years while he's still in college are a drop in the bucket compared to a lifetime. 

He glances over where Tobio's head rests heavy on his shoulder to see the other boy is asleep, breathing evenly. Kakeru will give it a little while until he wakes him, will sit out here watching the stars a little longer.

"Goodnight, Tobio."


The evening before Kakeru's last day in Miyagi, Tobio's phone starts blowing up. It nearly vibrates off the bed next to him, and he glances down in surprise and does a double take. 

"It's Suga-san," he says. 

"Oh?" Kakeru has his tongue between his teeth, focused mainly on navigating his cart on the TV screen in front of them. For all that he's relatively good at Smash, he's rubbish at racing games. "What'd he say?" 

"He—oy," Tobio grunts, "you just want to make me lose, don't you?"

"No, no," Kakeru says. It's entirely his goal. Tobio immediately shunts him off the track with his own car to his doom, and he groans. "Can't you just let me win once? I'm going to be gone for good the day after tomorrow."

"You're so childish," Tobio says, with an air of great superiority. He does, however, grab his phone to read his texts. "Oh." He blinks. "It's our team chat." 

Intrigued, Kakeru leans over to read. 

SUGAWARA: We will be gathering tomorrow at 11 am sharp for a rendezvous and lunch!
SUGAWARA: (yes i am talking to you directly tsukishima)
SUGAWARA: I will send along the coordinates posthaste. 

SAWAMURA: Attendance is not mandatory
SAWAMURA: Suga, what?? We said this would be like a chill thing

SUGAWARA: as a family (ಥ﹏ಥ)

TSUKISHIMA: I'm busy tomorrow.

SUGAWARA: I know where you live

TSUKISHIMA: ???? how


TSUKISHIMA: Yamaguchi………

YAMAGUCHI: he's not busy tomorrow
YAMAGUCHI: We'll be there! ^^

AZUMANE: Um, will we be having lunch…?
AZUMANE: I can bring potato salad


AZUMANE: Noya, I keep telling you, it's not as good as all that… you're going to get people's hopes up

SAWAMURA: only you would get performance anxiety over potato salad.

TANAKA: why dont we all bring something??? i'll ask my sis to help me tonight!

YACHI: oh!! I'll bring onigiri, if that's okay with everyone???
YACHI: this is such a great idea Suga-senpai!

SUGAWARA: I know right?
SUGAWARA: It actually was Daichi's idea tho
SUGAWARA: he's trying to play it cool but he's been moping to me for days
SUGAWARA: I think he's getting reverse empty nest syndrome

SAWAMURA: I am so tempted to block you.

SUGAWARA: you always say that but you never do~

SAWAMURA: Onigiri sounds great, Yachi. Thanks! 

SHIMIZU: I'll pick up something on the way as well.



SHIMIZU: Wouldn't miss it.

YACHI: Shimizu-senpaiiii (。T ω T。)

HINATA: are we gonna play VOLLEYBALL

Feeling pleasantly overwhelmed at how much Karasuno reminds him of Aotake, Kakeru looks at Tobio.

"Wanna go?"

Tobio bites at his lip. "It's your last day, though…"

Kakeru grins. He's being completely truthful when he says, "This seems like the best way to spend it."

Tobio breaks into a matching smile.

KAGEYAMA: I'll be there.
KAGEYAMA: Can I bring someone with me?


When they show up at the "coordinates" provided the following day (a community park near Karasuno high school), the rest of the team practically mobs Tobio with affection. He bears his senpai's hair ruffles and back pats with a sort of dignified confusion, as though he's still not clear on why they have to do it but has learned it can't be avoided.

"Nice to meet you," says one of the sturdily built seniors—Sawamura, Kakeru recognizes, from the videos. "I'm Sawamura Daichi." He's a year younger than Kakeru, but looks like he could easily bench press him. Are all volleyball players so intimidating, or is it just a Karasuno thing?

Kakeru returns his polite bow. "Kurahara Kakeru." 

"We thought Kageyama was gonna turn up with a cute girl!" exclaims an exuberant boy with a buzzed haircut—definitely Tanaka, Kakeru thinks. 

Tobio looks deeply confused. "Why would I do that?"

"I told you!" someone yells in the distance, shrilly. "I said there was no way Kageyama has a girlfriend!" 

Kakeru turns just in time to see a blur of orange tearing furiously across the grass toward them. Tobio straightens up unconsciously. 

"A what?!" he bellows. "Hinata boke!" 

Kakeru has to work hard not to burst out laughing. Ah, there it is. 

Hinata—the orange blur, of course—practically skids to a stop in front of them. He glares up at Tobio. "Well?!" 

"Haah? Why would I—" Tobio sputters. He's rapidly turning red. "Why would you even be talking about that?!"

"Because Noya-senpai and Tanaka-senpai said you were, but I told them there's no way any girl would ever date you— even Tsukishima agreed with me—"

"I hate to agree with Hinata, ever," says the gigantic bespectacled boy Kakeru figures must be Tsukishima, "but, yeah." 

"And you don't have one," Hinata says insistently, staring up at Tobio and vibrating in anticipation of an answer. "Right?!" 

"No," Tobio says. 

Hinata exhales what seems very much like a sigh of relief. Tsukishima rolls his eyes all too knowingly, but Kakeru isn't sure if Tobio will catch on to the obvious connotations. Either way, his cousin is looking down at his tiny friend with a look of fierce intensity. Kakeru looks around at the rest of the team.

"I'm Tobio's cousin," he offers, by way of explanation, as Tobio has forgotten to properly introduce him.

There is a collective ohhh of interest.

"Cousin!" Sugawara says. "Wow, you two look like twins!" 

"Yeah, we've been getting that a lot," Kakeru says.

"You're Kakeru?" Hinata asks, turning his lamplike focus away from Tobio.

"Yep," Kakeru confirms, "and you're Hinata?" 

Hinata's mouth falls open. "How'd you know?!" 

"I told him you're short and annoying, so it's pretty easy to guess—" Tobio says. 

"Oy, Kageyama!" Hinata shouts, and then the two of them exchange a blindingly quick series of blows so fast it's actually a bit alarming, Hinata punching, Tobio blocking him. Only Kakeru appears worried, however; the rest of their teammates don't even blink.

It only comes to a halt when Sugawara breaks out the volleyball he brought and asks if they should play before lunch, to which Hinata and Tobio reply with a resounding yes. As the rest of the group is galvanized from there, splitting up into two teams, Kakeru joins the two Karasuno managers in helping set everything out for lunch.

The girls are friendly; Yachi, in particular, reminds him of Hana. Shimizu, meanwhile, actually has a history of track and field, and apparently watches the Ekiden every year—she only hadn't said anything because she didn't want to single him out right when he first met everyone. 

"I'm not surprised the two of you are related at all," she says about him and Tobio. 

"I think he's probably more talented than me," Kakeru says truthfully. Tobio, after all, is younger and has even more time to grow. 

But Shimizu just nods thoughtfully. "You can't compare the two. But he isn't like anyone else, I think we all see that." 

Kakeru laughs. That's an understatement. "Definitely not. And, uh… thank you both for looking after him all this while."

He's not quite sure what he's said wrong when Yachi's eyes grow wide and teary, before she starts apologizing profusely. 

"It'll just be me next year because Shimizu-senpai is leaving but I promise to do my best even if they start fighting again I know I can never measure up to everything Shimizu-senpai has done for us but I—"

"Hitoka-chan," Shimizu says, "you'll be great."

Yachi squeaks, hiccups, and then nods shakily. Kakeru empathizes with her immensely. 

"You guys have spent a lot more time with him than me, so I'm sure you know him really well," Kakeru says, "but I have a feeling Tobio doesn't really tell people what he's thinking all that often… You know, he showed me every single poster you made for the club?"

Yachi puts her hands over her mouth. "He did?" 

Kakeru nods. "I get being nervous. But I think that just means you care that much more…" He's not sure how to impress upon this girl he's never met that he thinks she's going to do just fine—clearly, she has people to tell her that already, if Shimizu's fond expression is any indicator. But he knows exactly where she's coming from, and even though he might be freaking out about the same thing, he still feels like he needs to try to make her feel better.

And Yachi is beaming at him now, wide and grateful. "I wasn't even sure he realized I was the one drawing those!" 

Kakeru laughs out loud. "He has a tendency to not notice things, yeah." 

"Unless you're a volleyball or Hinata, you've got no chance," Yachi says knowledgeably. 

"Or Hinata, huh…" Kakeru says, looking over at the game currently underway. 

Tobio and Hinata have managed to wind up on the same team, and have spent most of the game arguing over something or other. But while Kakeru watches, as soon as the ball is in the air, they fall into a perfect rhythm, twin movements, focused stares—even their breathing aligns. It's an understanding of each other that goes deeper than the court and the net, deeper than just a sport. 

Kakeru knows it when he sees it, because it was never just about the race with Haiji. It was never just running. 

When Tobio puts up the ball for one of those startling quick sets (even more impressive in person than when viewed on a TV screen), Hinata spikes it clean over to snatch a point from the other team, and their smiles are just as much in sync as their play. They're not perfect all the time, but when they are, it's beautiful to watch. They are pure unfiltered joy. It's like staring at the sun.

Then the bubble bursts, and they're back to poking fun at each other over another insult or critique, but Kakeru sees the way Tobio can't stop from looking at Hinata, at the same time he keeps trying to look away—like he's blinded by Hinata’s presence, but it's too bright to ignore.

And Kakeru knows without a doubt that it's just one more thing they have in common, the way his and Tobio's orbits spin. Hinata is Tobio's sun, just like Haiji is Kakeru's. 

When everyone piles back to the picnic benches after lunch, it's Tobio who hangs back, roughly grabbing Hinata's arm. Kakeru watches as furtively as possible, not wanting to tip anybody off to his interest in what he thinks is happening. 

Hinata… honestly looks ready to fight Tobio at first, but relaxes as he listens to whatever Tobio has to say. Tobio looks exceedingly grumpy the entire time he's talking, in direct contrast to the way Hinata's expression gets brighter and brighter—before he suddenly leaps straight up into the air, fists raised in excitement. Tobio smacks a hand into his hair and Hinata struggles, though noticeably not as hard as he might have. He's laughing the whole while. 

"Good games, you two," Kakeru tells them as they approach the tables. At Tobio's rather expectant expression, he adds, "You were really something out there, Hinata-kun."

"Y-you really thought so?!" Hinata stammers, going bright red. 

"Yeah." Kakeru smiles. Hinata squeaks, and stares at him with humongous eyes. "Is something… um, wrong?" 

"N-no!" Hinata says, waving his hands in front of his flushed face. "You just—you really—y-you two really look alike!" He darts off to where Yachi is handing out onigiri. Kakeru watches him go, bemused. 

"Sorry he's weird," Tobio says. 

"I'm pretty used to weird." Kakeru glances at him sideways. "Sooo… what was all that about back there?"

Tobio does not meet his eyes. "What was all what about?"

"The two of you talking… alone…"

"It was nothing," Tobio huffs. "I was just talking to him about the camping thing."

"Oh?" Kakeru raises his eyebrows.

"It's nothing," Tobio insists, and now he's going red, too. "I didn't call it a d—a da—it's just a friend thing!" He scratches the back of his neck. "But… he does really want to go."

"Friend things are good," Kakeru says.

"Yeah," Tobio says. His mouth is wobbling suspiciously, until he can't hold it anymore. He smiles. 

"Wanna get food?" Kakeru asks. He's thinking maybe he'll see if Yachi and Shimizu would want to exchange contact info with him to pass along to Hana.



The following morning, Kakeru and his parents load up the last of their things into the family's car for the return trip to Tokyo. Tobio helps, but he and Kakeru are fairly slow going about it, after having stayed up far too late the night before talking. Even despite the early wake-up time, it feels worth it, getting to make the most of those last few hours. Especially with Tobio's newfound excitement and nerves over his next move with Hinata.

"Good luck," Kakeru tells him, "with everything." 

Tobio grins at him. "You too. Try not to get into any more fights—"

"Shhh, shhhh!" Kakeru hisses frantically, glancing back at his parents, but they're talking to his aunt and uncle and didn't hear. 

"Kidding," Tobio says, although he probably wasn't. "But, um, Kakeru-nii?" 


"Don't worry so much about things," Tobio says. His eyebrows are especially serious now. "You really are cool. You'll be a good captain." 

Kakeru's mouth falls open a little bit, before he recovers. "Well, if Kageyama Tobio is telling me that, I guess I can't be worried!" 

"What's that supposed to mean?" Tobio asks, but he's laughing. 

"Nothing," Kakeru says. He smiles. "It's just you'd know… you never worried when Karasuno needed a control tower. You just did what you had to do."

Tobio goes pink, and looks extraordinarily pleased. 

"Kakeru!" his mother calls. "We need to leave soon or else we'll hit traffic!" 

"Coming!" He turns back to Tobio and takes a deep breath. "Well…"

"Yeah…" Tobio says. 

"Let's both try our best," Kakeru tells him. 

It's all they can do. 

Tobio nods, then raises a solemn fist. "Kansei, fight!" 

Kakeru laughs in surprise. "Karasuno, fight!" They bump fists, and he hefts his bag onto his shoulder. "Oh, and…" he adds, walking backwards so he can face Tobio, "next time, make sure Hinata knows it's actually a date." 

It's totally worth it for one last red-faced bellow of "SHUT! UP!"  


It's nearly a month later that Tobio texts Kakeru the weekend before a big track meet. 

Weekends mean Haiji, and Kakeru comes to join him on his balcony where he's staring out over the city, with two mugs of heated milk and honey in hand. Haiji accepts gratefully, and they stand there together in silence for a while, shoulders brushing. 

The start of second year had, shockingly, not made anything magically better… or worse. University is still a sorta scary blur in Kakeru's future, like trying to watch out of focus camera footage. There are expectations he doesn't know yet how to meet; he's navigating them as he goes. The new team members half idolize him, and half don't know how to respond to authority when it's their age (or younger). 

But he wants to do what he can for his team, because he knows how important running with others is. It turned his whole world around, and it started with Haiji, but it ended with all ten of them, together. And yes, these next three years will be different. Haiji isn't running with him, and neither are Yuki or Nico or King. And soon, it'll be Shindo, Prince, and Musa. But the twins will still be there, and Hana, and new teammates will come—and Kakeru doesn't know how he'll do it yet, but he'll need to be the one to show them that running isn't a lonely sport. Because Haiji won't be there to do it, so Kakeru has to at least make sure he doesn't let the things Haiji taught him go to waste. 

"I was thinking," Haiji says suddenly, "about the training schedules you sent me… one of the first years, Takahashi-kun, was it? You said he—"

"You don't have to think about that right now," Kakeru says, lightly hip-checking him.

"I thought you wanted to go over them," Haiji says. "You needed my genius expertise!"

"Someone is letting the new job go to his head slightly, I see," Kakeru observes, sagely sipping his drink. 

Haiji laughs with delight at being mocked, eyes crinkling at the corners. Laughter always makes him somehow even more beautiful, and Kakeru is never sure how he manages it. 

"It's fun for me," Haiji says. 

"And me," Kakeru agrees. "But we can do that during the week over text. I only get to see you today and tomorrow, I'd rather do other things." 

Haiji's grin turns decidedly wolfish. "Is that so, Kakeru-kun? What kind of things could you be referring to?" 

Kakeru lowers his mug and licks his lips—mostly to ensure he doesn't have a milk moustache, as he leans forward, closer to Haiji. For all his usual teasing and coyness, Haiji doesn't pull away; his lips curl into a knowing smile, but his gaze drops to Kakeru's mouth, eyes lidded and warm— 

Kakeru's phone buzzes loudly in his pocket. 

Irritated, he fishes it out to put it on silent, ignoring Haiji's quiet laugh—but they both see at the same time that it's a text from Tobio.

"Tobio-kun!" Haiji says. "What'd he say?" 

"Haiji-san, I can check it later," Kakeru says. "It's probably about volleyball." 

But Haiji just smiles. "You're important enough to him that he wants to tell you about it." 

Kakeru is moderately sure that Haiji just wants to snoop on his texts with Tobio because he is thrilled the two of them bonded or whatever, and Tobio's interactions tend to be fairly brief and to the point, so he relents, setting his milk on the railing so he can check his messages.

TOBIO: me and Hinata wanted to say good luck before your track meet next week.
TOBIO: oh and Hinata says to tell you thanks

Thank you for what? Kakeru is about to ask, but then a picture comes through.

It's a shot of the two of them, Tobio and Hinata together. Tobio looks grumpy and flustered, and Hinata is beaming, his cheeks smashed up against Tobio's—and towards the bottom edge of the frame, Kakeru spies their hands, clasped together, fingers intertwined. 

Haiji, honest to god, squeals with glee. "Look! Kakeru!" 

"I see it," Kakeru says, in what he hopes is a more measured tone, but the fact is he's just as overjoyed for his cousin. 

Haiji throws his arms around Kakeru's neck and plants a very wet kiss on his cheek. "That's all thanks to you! After you were so worried you weren't good with the youths!" 

"I was worried I wouldn't be a good team captain, not that I have issues with relationship counseling," Kakeru says, leaning into Haiji's arms. 

"Still," Haiji says.

Kakeru smiles. "Still." 

Still definitely not something he thought he'd ever be able to help somebody else with. It feels nice, to know he has. It makes him feel like there are other things he can help people with, too.

"I'll call him later," he says. "I think we were in the middle of something?" 

Haiji taps his chin thoughtfully. "Training plans?" 

His shout of laughter when Kakeru drags him back into the room is cut off when Kakeru kisses him. Much later, they'll realize they left their drinks outside, and they've tragically gone cold by the time they remember to run out and grab the mugs. But Kakeru feels like he barely needs it—not when Haiji is so close, and so warm. 

He's so bright that it makes being apart from him that much harder; but Kakeru knows this is the entire reason he loves Haiji. Why he keeps running, why he loves it.  

Like he's reaching out to catch a shooting star.