Being a libero was all about gut instincts, and the thing about gut instincts was that they could only be developed after hours and hours of practice and observation. That was to say, Yaku had supreme confidence in his gut instincts, and his gut instincts were telling him that something was going on with Miya Atsumu and Hinata Shouyou.
It happened during the training camp where all the new members of the national team gathered for the first time to start oiling the cogs in this new formation. Every day there were drills and several rounds of scrimmages, and at the very end, individual training. Yaku found himself practicing serves and receives with Miya Atsumu on the third day. He turned out not to be as frivolous as Yaku had expected. In fact, he was rather serious, and the way he fussed about the condition of his fingertips and how tightly his shoes were laced reminded Yaku of Kuroo nagging everyone to drink enough water and wipe their sweat off properly.
Then during a break Yaku learned that Atsumu always silenced the crowds during his serves.
“Wait, really?” Yaku exclaimed. “What is that, like an intimidation tactic?”
Atsumu looked embarrassed. “Nah. I mean, maybe a little, ‘cause it freaks opponents out. But mostly it’s for my concentration. I can’t focus if there’s lots of noise goin’ on.”
“There’s always a lot of noise during a game,” Yaku pointed out.
“Well, yeah, but servin’s different! The game isn’t flowin’ and it’s just you, all alone. When it’s like that the bands and the crowd sound a whole lot louder.”
“Okay,” Yaku said, still skeptical but not wanting to push it further and fluster Atsumu. He had never learned how to be gentle, exactly, but growing up had taught him how to soften the sharp edges of his brand of tough love. “I’m sure that works during V.League games just fine, but what’re you gonna do in international matches? I doubt people at the World Cup or the Olympics are gonna shut up for you.”
Atsumu’s mouth turned down, and he spun the volleyball between his hands. “That’s kinda the problem I’m havin’ right now.”
That was when Yaku had his brilliant idea: he would recruit some of their teammates to stomp and yell while Atsumu practiced his serving, so he could learn how to concentrate no matter how loud it got. Bokuto volunteered; Komori tried to act like he was hesitant but got so into it that he rolled up a Volleyball Monthly into a makeshift megaphone; and to everyone’s surprise, Ushijima agreed because “it was wise to be prepared for any and all situations” (Sakusa, who was slinking past ready to call it a day, looked like he might pass out from admiration).
At first he suggested that they boo Atsumu, but Ushijima said in his matter-of-fact way that volleyball crowds rarely got that unmannered, so they settled on just making as much noise as possible.
Atsumu was supremely self conscious about it at first, but he soon got into the spirit too, especially when Kourai and several others joined. The exercise somehow became a competition of Atsumu versus the many, where they did their best to distract him and he did his best to score a serve off Yaku anyway. Bokuto even started keeping track of the points: if Yaku bumped the ball then it was a point for them; if Atsumu scored a service ace then it was a point for him. Atsumu had just scored a point when Yaku felt a tap on his shoulder and turned to see Hinata Shouyou standing next to him.
“Yaku-san,” he said, smiling brightly. “Mind if I join in? It’s not fair if you’re doing all the receives.”
Yaku was bemused. “I don’t mind the practice, especially since he’s got that nasty hybrid serve of his. But you can take over for a bit if you want.”
“Okay! Don’t worry about it, I won’t let him score more points.”
So Yaku joined Bokuto and Komori on the sidelines and watched as Hinata and Atsumu settled into position. Kourai, who seemed the most tickled with this whole thing, shouted, “Ninja Shouyou, do your best! Miya said that if we win, he’ll treat us all to yakiniku!”
Hinata laughed and Atsumu made a rude gesture at both of them: “Anyone can bring it on, I’ll blow all yer hands off your wrists!”
He went for his hybrid serve right off the bat, and that was when Yaku noticed. It wasn’t anything obvious: they were all competitive monsters here, Hinata most of all, so it was normal to see him getting into a contest with Kageyama even over stupid things like who could roll up the nets more quickly. Here, too, he was clearly in a contest with Atsumu, each of them trying to one up the other. They were egging each other on, pulling the onlookers along with them, but the thing was, Yaku got the feeling that neither of them noticed. Atsumu even stopped responding to Kourai’s teasing, his serves getting faster and more accurate than they’d been in the beginning. If Yaku’s side scored any points at all, it was because Hinata was equally focused, eyes wide and bird-like as he watched Atsumu’s every move, measuring them to intuit the ball’s speed and trajectory.
Yaku raised an eyebrow. All right, then. He didn’t ask to switch back with Hinata, and the exercise went on until the coaches and trainers came to break them up, scolding them for causing such a ruckus.
“But it did seem productive,” Hibarida said when Atsumu and Hinata protested, “so I don’t mind if you do it again. Just try to be a little more circumspect, okay?”
They transitioned into stretches and cooling down, during which Bokuto loudly announced that Atsumu had lost and Atsumu said that he would treat them to dinner as long as it wasn’t yakiniku. Hinata crouched next to Yaku, face flushed and eyes shining, and said, “Yaku-san, I realized I hogged the rest of the practice to myself. I’m sorry.”
He was no longer the kid who was so greedy for more that he’d crashed into Karasuno’s ace at the Nekoma summer training camp and inadvertently catalyzed the evolution of his entire team. Even if they hadn’t been particularly close in high school, Yaku felt mistily proud of how much he’d grown up, just like Kenma had.
“Don’t worry about it,” he said. “I can always go again tomorrow. Besides, you were pretty impressive. That beach volleyball sure gave you some balance.”
“You bet! It drives Kageyama up the wall. Atsumu-san too, even though he’ll never admit it.”
“He got extra competitive there at the end.”
“Oh, he always does when there’s something he actually struggles with. He wouldn’t want it any other way though, otherwise he’ll get bored.”
Yaku raised an eyebrow. Were they still talking about volleyball? Maybe, but judging from the way Hinata was watching Atsumu arguing with Bokuto about his scorekeeping system, that wasn’t the only thing.
“You two seem close,” he said casually.
Hinata blushed, yanking his gaze away from Atsumu. “I guess! We did play on MSBY together when I first came back to Japan.”
“Shouyou-kun! Yaku-san!” Atsumu was pointing at them. Well, at Hinata, anyway. He knew better than to point at Yaku. “Let’s do this again tomorrow. Next time I’m gonna win!”
Hinata whooped. “Bring it on!”
“I think we should add booing next time,” Yaku said. “Just in case. You never know what could happen during an actual game.”
As they walked back to the dorms to wash up and get ready for dinner, Yaku watched Atsumu and Hinata out of the corner of his eye. They were in a heated discussion about something, as wrapped up in each other as they had been during practice. Oh, there was definitely something there. He wondered if this was what Kai had felt like watching him and Kuroo back in high school. Well, for the first year at least, until Kenma had come. But that was an old bruise, and there were only fond memories left where it had faded. Yaku left Atsumu and Hinata to it and turned to talk to Komori—but not before making a mental note to text Kenma and grill him for everything he knew.