“Perhaps we don’t like what we see: our hips, our loss of hair, our shoe size, our dimples, our knuckles too big, our eating habits, our disposition. We have disclosed these things in secret, likes and dislikes, behind doors with locks, our lonely rooms, our messy desks, our empty hearts. Don't worry... There is someone right here who knows you more than you do, who is making room on the couch, who is fixing a meal, who is putting on your favorite record, who is listening intently to what you have to say, who is standing there with you, face to face, hand to hand, eye to eye, mouth to mouth. There is no space left uncovered. This is where you belong.”
SUFJAN STEVENS, MICHIGAN ESSAY
One rule that stands irrefutably true throughout the whole of Hinata’s volleyball career, if history is any indication, is that nothing good ever comes out of Hinata’s pre-match washroom trips. As if being cursed with excruciating bouts of anxiety-induced intestinal distress isn’t enough, there always seems to be an abundance of intimidating opponents for him to annoy/ get annoyed by, unfortunate confrontations for him to run into, and unsettling conversations for him to overhear.
Unlike volleyball, however, some things don’t necessarily get easier with practice.
‘This sucks. Training camp's way too tough!’ comes a loud voice from outside Hinata’s cubicle. There’s the sound of tap water gushing into the sink. ‘I can’t wait for the next practice match to be over.’
‘You always complain so much, Yamato. Hurry up, we’re going to be late for our practice match.’
A groan. ‘Who are we up against this time?’
‘Karasuno, I think.’
‘Karasuno? You mean the one that’s been losing every single match so far?’ Their laughter echoes in the cramped space of the bathroom. ‘Guess the next one will be an easy win, huh?’
‘Have you seen their starting lineup? It’s a joke. This is what you get when you end up replacing your third and second years with first years.’
‘...can understand why they’d pick Kageyama Tobio,’ the guy called Yamato says. The first part of his sentence gets muffled by the loud whirring of the hand dryer. ‘The orange haired dwarf, though...’
‘Yamato!’ The other person retorts in a mock-chiding manner, but he sounds like he’s also laughing. Hinata feels sick to his guts. ‘You know, I heard that the small guy wants to be the ace.’
There’s a loud snort. ‘God, you’d expect people to have more self awareness than that...’
Yamato’s voice trails off as the two of them exit the washroom; the door slams shut with a loud thumping noise, and for a few moments the washroom is unnervingly quiet. Hinata stands stock-still in the cubicle for a few more moments, before slowly washing his hands and making his way out of the washroom; he barely registers Kageyama approaching him from the end of the corridor.
‘Hinata,’ Kageyama says with a disapproving scowl, while also half-jogging on the spot. ‘We were looking for you, dumbass. The practice match is starting soon.’
‘Yeah,’ Hinata mutters, keeping his eyes carefully fixed on the gray tiles lining the floor. ‘Yeah, sorry, let’s head back now.’
Kageyama has already turned away and started to walk off, but he slowly tilts his head back. ‘Uh,’ he says. ‘Are you okay?’
‘Yeah!’ Hinata says, eyes still glued resolutely onto the floor, and prays that Kageyama’s inability to handle social cues would make up for his own constitutional inability to lie. It doesn’t. Kageyama frowns.
‘Oi, dumbass,’ Kageyama says, without any bite. ‘You can tell me if there’s something wrong.’
There’s a moment of silence, and Hinata contemplates brushing it off, but Kageyama’s glare is boring holes into his skill, and so he caves in. ‘I kind of...’ Hinata begins, and trails off. He tries again. ‘I kind of overheard some people talking about us in the toilet.’ More silence. ‘And they said… stuff about me. And how I shouldn’t…’—he swallows, because some things hit too close to home for him to say aloud - ‘how I shouldn’t be an ace because of my height.’
‘I mean, I don’t really care about these things,’ Hinata supplements quickly, and it’s not that far from a half-truth. Hinata’s not one to be rattled by a few unkind words or two. He’s built himself from ground up amidst derisive people who don’t know better, taught himself to use their preconceptions against them. On good days his height is as much a strength as it is a liability. It’s just—
They’ve been at this training camp for a few days now, and the schools in Tokyo seem to be entire leagues above what they’re used to back in Miyagi; their arms and legs are battered and bruised from their daily forfeits, and Hinata knows that there will only be more losses awaiting them. They are a tenacious bunch, they really are, but there are only so many matches they can lose before Tanaka and Nishinoya shout themselves hoarse and Daichi’s face start to darken with worry. ‘It’s just—it sucks, sometimes?’
(It sucks to be short, it sucks that I’ll never be enough is what Hinata wants to say, not because being short is an obstacle—he can handle obstacles, can force himself to leap over the tallest of walls—but because of the sheer immutability of his circumstance. You can train hard enough to catch up with skilled opponents, and experience will come with enough time and practice, but height is something that Hinata will always be lacking. It is not something you can overcome by expending time and effort. On days like these, Hinata thinks that it is not something he can overcome at all.)
‘I just wish I could be giants like everyone else,’ Hinata says, eventually. Hinata expects Kageyama to make a snappy remark and brush the issue away, but when he looks up Kageyama is staring at him, unblinking, his gaze oddly intent.
‘It’s okay—I mean—I’m fine,’ Hinata begins, suddenly flustered, but Kageyama cuts him off.
‘You can be a giant, too,’ Kageyama says, eyes darkening with a sort of intensity that makes Hinata’s breath hitch a little. ‘Okay? I’ll make you one.’
It’s a tall order, this promise. But Hinata understands Kageyama well enough to know when it comes to volleyball, Kageyama accords nothing but complete sincerity to every word. There will be no empty promises here.
‘Okay,’ Hinata says after a pause, and doesn’t realise that he’s broken into a grin until seconds later. ‘Let’s go back to the court.’
They don’t win against the opposing school in the end. But Hinata recognises the two boys from the washroom, and makes sure to look at their faces when he sends another of their devilish quicks whizzing straight pass the opposing team’s middle blocker who stands at 1.9 metres tall. He likes what he sees, but when he turns back to look at Kageyama, notices the quiet, possessive pride on the other boy’s face—he decides that he likes that even more.
Deep down, Hinata knows that what the other boys said in the washroom carried more than just a sliver of truth: with his piteous height and abysmal lack of experience, there is so little he can do. In a sport where a player’s worth is tied unforgivingly to his height, on a court dominated by enemies looming over him from seemingly unreachable distances, Hinata knows that he stands out, ironically, for all that he lacks; and there are many things that he lack.
And yet—Hinata understands that before he is a wannabe-ace, or Karasuno’s strongest decoy, he’s also Kageyama’s teammate. Understands that Kageyama enables him in a way that no one else can. And when you’ve spent years struggling to keep afloat amidst a jungle of titans, learning to be something—no, part of something tremendous is something that takes getting used to.
Hinata is getting there. Hinata might be an oddity, a curious anomaly, but he’s learning to stand out for different and better reasons, reasons other than ‘I’m a good head shorter everyone in the starting lineup’. A realisation: height doesn’t really matter, when you’ve finally learned to fly. Another realisation: with Kageyama by his side, Hinata might as well have wings.
‘Hey, Kageyama,’ Hinata says one day, when they’re sprawled on the floor in Hinata’s bedroom, surrounded by volumes of tattered textbooks and scattered notes. ‘What’s up with your hand?’
Kageyama looks up from the English book that he’s been glowering at, nose flared and eyebrows knitted in concentration; it makes him look like an angry kitten, makes Hinata want to laugh and do something unbearably silly to his face, like boop his nose or something. ‘What is it?’
‘Why do you keep doing this?’ Hinata asks, making a twirling action with his wrist. Kageyama’s been doing it ever since the day before, after practice, twisting his right wrist in funny positions whenever he’s not holding onto anything.
‘Oh,’ Kageyama says, and shrugs dismissively. He lowers his gaze back to his English book. ‘It’s not a big deal. It’s just kind of stiff from all the practice.’
Hinata reaches out suddenly, and Kageyama quickly yanks his right hand away in reflex. ‘What the hell are you trying to do?’
‘I wanted to give your wrist a massage,’ Hinata says, defensively.
‘A massage?’ Kageyama splutters. ‘Why the hell would I need a massage?’
‘It’s supposed to be great for your wrist,’ Hinata says enthusiastically, completely unperturbed by Kageyama’s response. He’s used to it by now; Kageyama’s always been excessively prickly and jumpy about human contact in a way that would suggest his ancestral lineage is contaminated with the traces of porcupines, or cacti, or something. ‘My mum has really bad wrist problems, so I always help her with it.’
There’s a brief pause, during which Hinata looks at Kageyama earnestly, only to be met with an incredulous stare.
‘Come on, it’s not going to hurt,’ Hinata wheedles.
Kageyama sighs resignedly, lowers his arms, and places his upturned and open palm in front of Hinata like an offering of sorts. Hinata beams and gingerly takes Kageyama’s hands, running his fingers gently over the other boy’s wrists, before pressing down on it.
‘You gotta take care of your wrist,’ Hinata says absently, working at Kageyama’s wrist with rapt concentration. ‘You can’t play volleyball with creaky hands.’
The next few minutes pass in tranquil silence, undisturbed by the sounds of flipping textbooks or furious pencil scribblings or retorts of ‘idiot’ and ‘dumbass’. The midday sun is streaming in through the blinds, casting strips of warm yellow light across the wooden floor and the whitewashed walls. There is the smell of pastry wafting from the kitchen, where Natsu and his mum are baking bread. When Hinata finally lets go of Kageyama’s hand, the other boy hunches his shoulder a little, as if embarrassed.
‘Thanks,’ Kageyama says, with a gruff voice soft around the edges, the tips of his ears a little pink. Hinata beams in response.
(Hinata doesn’t know it yet, but he will learn to remember moments like these in little pieces, collect them like fragments of an amulet to be worn on rainy days. Looking back, he will remember that the air around them was warm, even though Miyagi was on the precipice of winter. He will remember the softness of Kageyama’s skin underneath his fingertips, and that the skies were very blue.)
On weekends they meet up to go for morning runs at a park trail near their homes. It takes them a few days, but eventually they realise that trying to outrun each other during the first ten minutes and then spending the remaining time sprawled on the ground with their lungs ablaze, trying to catch their breaths, does not make for productive practice, and so they come to a reasonable compromise: they’ll run at the same speed, and no one is to go faster than the other person. It becomes their thing: waking up at ungodly hours in the morning to the eternal bafflement of their family members, sprinting side by side in near-darkness, the soles of their shoes crunching synchronously over granite.
The uneven ground would make for good footwork training and muscle toning, they figured. And the fact that there was barely any illumination save for the occasional lamppost and the dim moonlight would help to sharpen their senses. This sounded terrific in theory until one day Hinata trips on a rock in the dark and is promptly sent flying down on all fours.
It’s just Hinata’s luck that he ends up landing squarely amongst a pile of jagged rocks. Kageyama’s squatting down next to him before he knows it, wrapping his arm around Hinata and helping him into a sitting position.
‘Oi,’ Kageyama says, voice taut with worry. ‘Are you okay?’
‘Uh,’ Hinata replies shakily, looking down at his legs. It doesn’t feel like he’s sprained or fractured anything, but both his knees have been skinned pretty badly; they’re bruised and bloody, and there’s a huge cut on his left knee where he’s slid against a jagged rock. ‘I suppose—yeah?’
‘You need get your wound cleaned up properly,’ Kageyama says. ‘We should turn back but there’s still at least a mile to the exit—’
‘I can walk,’ Hinata offers as he tries to scramble up, but his breath hitches at the last syllable as an awful pain shoots through his knee from straining the open wound. ‘Okay, maybe I’ll have to limp a little, but I should be fine—’
‘What, don’t be a dumbass,’ Kageyama replies promptly. ‘You can’t walk like that.’
‘I don’t think we can get help here,’ Hinata begins, but suddenly Kageyama shuffles over and squats down with his back to Hinata.
‘Get on me,’ Kageyama says, turning back to address Hinata.
Hinata blinks. ‘What?’
‘You can’t walk for a mile in that state.’
‘Neither can you, if you’re carrying me,’ Hinata says, face suddenly and inexplicably prickling with heat. ‘You’re going to end up dropping me and I’ll fall to my death—’
‘I’m not dropping you!’ Kageyama snaps, and there’s the sound of a squirrel scuttling away, alarmed by the sudden outburst. Then he exhales, and when he addresses Hinata again his tone is a lot less wrathful. ‘I won’t drop you, okay? Just climb on.’
Hinata almost opens his mouth in protest again, but there is something achingly sincere in Kageyama’s expression that is obvious even amidst the darkness. And so Hinata clamps his mouth shut and gingerly clambers onto Kageyama’s back, taking care not to crack open the wound any further in the process. Kageyama makes a soft grunting noise as he stands up; Hinata wobbles a little, but the arms wrapped around his legs are strong, and firm.
‘Wow,’ Hinata says after a while. ‘So this is what it feels like.’
‘To be this tall!’ Hinata says, enthusiastically. ‘I feel like a giant.’
‘Well, that’s because you’re sitting on me—’ Kageyama begins, but Hinata cuts him off.
‘Imagine if I were this tall all the time,’ Hinata says, releasing his grasp on Kageyama’s shoulder and swinging his limbs around, the pain from his wounds temporarily numbed by his newfound excitement. ‘I’d be awesome at volleyball, it’ll be like gwaah and phwoom and—’
‘Stop moving, do you want to drop and concuss your head,’ Kageyama says in exasperation, as Hinata swerves dangerously and almost slams face-first into a precarious low-lying tree branch.
‘Sorry,’ Hinata says, lowering his arms dutifully and wrapping them around Kageyama’s shoulder.
They trudge on in silence. Hinata’s knees are still stinging, and it’s all he can do to bite his lips to prevent himself from whimpering in pain each time he has to shift into a more comfortable position, or when Kageyama navigates a particularly bumpy road. Kageyama’s not faring much better either—his breath is getting a little ragged, and Hinata can see the beads of sweat trickling down his face, feel the dampness seeping through the back of Kageyama’s shirt.
‘Hey, Kageyama?’ Hinata says softly, to Kageyama’s ears. ‘You can let me down, you know.’
Kageyama makes a dismissive grunting sound, and continues to plough forward resolutely. Hinata sighs, but it’s more to make a point than anything else, really, because there’s this tiny part of him that wants to press himself against Kageyama’s back, soak in the warmth for a long time.
‘I’ll buy you ice-cream when we get back,’ Hinata promises Kageyama, when they’re almost reaching the exit.
Kageyama half-snorts, half-laughs in response. ‘Yeah, okay, I’ll hold you to it.’
Overhead, the inky darkness of the night has already began to fade into shades of rich magenta and warm amber; soon it will be dawn.
‘Kageyama, stop wearing that scary expression on your face! You’re scaring all the first years away.’
‘I was born with this face, dumbass!’
‘You could always smile more.’
At this, Kageyama’s facial expressions rearrange themselves into an expression that Hinata finds vaguely reminiscent of a homicidal clown. ‘Never mind,’ Hinata says, hurriedly, and Kageyama shoots him a dirty look. ‘Let’s just go back to the volleyball booth and see if there are new signups.’
They’re walking back to their booth when Kageyama suddenly stops in his tracks, his movement so abrupt that Hinata ends up walking straight into him. ‘What the - Kageyama?’
‘Those are my juniors from Kitagawa Daiichi,’ Kageyama says, looking at a group of three boys huddled together in heated discussion. They’re standing a distance away from the volleyball booth with registration slips in their hands.
‘You should go say hi,’ Hinata says brightly, ignoring the apprehensive expression on Kageyama’s face.
‘I don’t think—’ Kageyama begins, but Hinata has already begun to pull him towards the group of boys. They make their way over in time to hear one of them tell the rest, ‘You know, I thought Kageyama’s also playing in this school.’
‘I haven’t seen him around yet,’ another boy says. ‘I think he isn’t playing for Karasuno...’ The palpable relief in his voice makes way for a croak of horror upon seeing Hinata and Kageyama approaching them. He starts to gesture wildly at the rest of his friends, but it’s too late.
‘I wouldn’t want to play on a team with him as a setter,’ the last boy says, oblivious to the frantic hand movements of the other boy.
‘Excuse me,’ Hinata blurts out, unable to contain himself any longer. The three boys swivel around to look at him in synchrony, their faces turning pale with mortification. Hinata’s about to continue, but Kageyama surprises him by tugging him away.
‘It’s okay,’ Kageyama says, his face entirely devoid of expression, and pulls Hinata away from the boys.
‘Wait!’ Hinata says heatedly, shaking his fist furiously towards the general direction of Kageyama’s juniors. ‘I haven’t finished—’
‘They still remember me from Kitagawa,’ Kageyama cuts in impassively, and for a moment Hinata stops breathing because he sees him again—the same Kageyama from two summers ago, the one with the thin, forbidding mouth and the brooding expression and eyes that were a little too sharp around the edges. And it’s awful because one moment Hinata’s red in the face, dying to give the boys a piece of his mind, and then all of a sudden his throat clamps up and he can’t think of a single word to say.
‘Anyway, I don’t think they’ll join us now,’ Kageyama continues, because they saw me here unspoken but also heavily implied. The words come out matter-of-factly, without a single shred of anger, but Hinata finds them all the more unbearable for that. What the boys said shouldn’t—Kageyama should’ve have treated that as a given.
When Kageyama turns away and mutters something about getting himself a drink, Hinata doesn’t follow. Instead, he sprints and makes his way back to the booth. Predictably, he finds Kageyama’s junior crowding around the area, hurriedly trying to cancel away their names in the sign-up form. Ennoshita is standing at the side, looking at them with great bafflement.
‘There’s a practice match,’ Hinata exclaims loudly, face red and still panting from sprinting all the way back; the boys shrink back in mild alarm. ‘There’s a practice match, this Friday, after school. Come see it.’
‘We—we don’t think that we’re joining the club,’ one of the boy begins, hesitantly, but Hinata cuts him off.
‘Just come at five-thirty, okay?’ Hinata insists, waving his arms frantically in the air to get his point across. It must seem absurd to the onlookers, a second year practically grovelling at the feet of a bunch of first years. ‘The match starts at five-fifteen, you can just drop by halfway. It’ll be worth your time, I promise.’
‘We don’t—’ another boy says, only to have Hinata reach out and grab his forearm.
‘Just for ten minutes,’ Hinata says, earnestly.
Eventually the three of them relent, more out of desperation to shake Hinata off than anything else. Ennoshita stares at Hinata as the boys practically trip over each other trying to hurry away from the ‘bunch of weird seniors’.
‘We’re not that desperate for first years, you know,’ Ennoshita says after a slight pause, during which he inspected Hinata with a puzzled expression that said, you’re acting weird even for you. He waves the signup sheet in front of Hinata. ‘I mean, it’s good that you’re so enthusiastic about it, but we already have quite a few signups and you don’t have to go to that extent.’
‘Alright,’ Hinata says meekly, but there’s a slight tremor in his voice, and his fingers gripping onto the discarded club forms are curled bone-white. His exchange with Kageyama is reverberating hollowly at the back of his mind, the unnervingly calm expression still carved razor-sharp into his memory.
It’s not about getting new members, Hinata knows. It’s not about that at all.
It’s thirty minutes into the practice match and the boys still haven’t come. Hinata keeps throwing furtive glances at the door to the gym, and almost gets his head decimated by an incoming volleyball, had Kageyama not yanked him out of the way.
‘I’m sorry,’ he squeaks apologetically when Kageyama turns to regard him with the fury of a thousand pissed-off armadillos.
It’s almost six when the three boys finally troop tentatively into the gym, poking their heads through the door and looking suspiciously like a bunch of petty thieves. Luckily, Kageyama’s too absorbed into the match to notice their presence; Hinata heaves a sigh of relief and, for the first time since practice started, redirects all his attention to the match at hand.
There are many things Hinata would like to tell the three boys, things like you’re don’t know Kageyama at all and he’s not your king anymore, but he knows better than to say these things aloud. Instead, he lets the way Kageyama says ‘don’t mind’ instead of ‘why can’t you move quickly’ speak for itself, lets the arc of the volleyball tell its own story.
When the practice match finally draws to an end at eight o’clock, the boys are still standing at the entrance of the gym. Hinata looks at them, looks at the awe-struck wonder on their faces, and smiles.
The three boys show up for training one week later. Kageyama expresses surprise at that, but if he’s upset at what happened during the club fair a week ago, it does not affect their team dynamics at all. By the end of the week, Kageyama has already acquainted himself with the playing style of each new player, and it shows in the way he tosses to them, helps them assimilate seamlessly into the team.
‘Of course I’d pick up on their styles easily,’ Kageyama says, when Hinata mentions this to him. Kageyama’s red in the face and hunching his shoulders the way he always does whenever he’s pleased but doesn’t to show it. ‘I played with them for two years in high school.’
‘Oh,’ Hinata replies, uncharacteristically thoughtful for once, and that’s that.
(Hinata supposes a part of Kageyama will always belong to Kitagawa Daiichi; this is something he has slowly learned to accept. Hinata knows that it’s okay to have bad memories, however unpleasant they might be, however indelible. Kitagawa Daiichi broke Kageyama in ways that might never completely heal, but it was only for that that Karasuno could build Kageyama back up from scratch.
Plus, Hinata knows that no one can ever exist as a perfect whole; after all, this is what teammates are for.)
As it happens, Hinata doesn’t even realise it the first time they go on a date.
The peculiar sequence of events leading up to the date can be summarised thusly: Kageyama has been acting a little weird lately, sneaking glances when he thinks that Hinata isn’t looking, refusing to engage in their usual banters despite Hinata’s continuous and concerted effort at picking fights, barely speaking to Hinata all day. This goes on for a whole week, to the increasing bafflement of Hinata—he starts to wonder if he’d done something wrong and made Kageyama mad. The thought sits like an uneasy lump in his stomach—it’s not like they don’t fight, they do, all the time. They can jostle around and fire no less than fifteen insults at each other over a span of ten seconds (Noya counted), but they have never held grudges against each other, is the thing.
And so when Kageyama asks him, on their way home together post-training on Friday night, ‘do you want to watch a movie tomorrow, with me, I mean, watch a movie together with me, tomorrow’, Hinata makes a grab at the supposed olive branch even though he’s never been a fan of movie theatres where it’s too cold and too dark and you aren’t allowed to talk.
(It’s dark and the streetlights aren’t working, so Hinata doesn’t manage to catch Kageyama’s face, but he does hear a loud whoop that sounds suspiciously like Kageyama’s ten seconds after he bids the other boy goodbye and closes his door.)
‘Watching a movie’ turns out to be a film screening in the park, not that Hinata is complaining because it beats going to the theatre any day. They spend the evening sprawled on the grassy field, eating obscene quantities of takoyaki and cackling their heads off to Zombieland. Hinata reaches home at eleven with a jaw that hurt from laughing too much, smelling faintly of damp grass and takoyaki sauce.
Everything is fine until Yachi sends him a bewildering text the next day. Congrats on your first date!!!!!, it says, followed by a dizzying string of enthusiastic smiley faces and star emoticons. Kageyama was so worried that you were going to say no!!!!
Date? Hinata thinks, and frowns.
What r u talking about, he begins typing on his phone; sure, Kageyama had been a little nicer than usual, but that could’ve just been to make up for his strange behaviour the past week. Sure, Kageyama had also been seized by a sudden, bizarre urge to pay for both their dinners (which he did, in the end, but Hinata made sure to repay in kind by buying them dessert), and Kageyama did looked more nicely dressed than usual, and then there was also all the times he’d looked at Hinata funny, like he wanted to tell Hinata something, and he’d also grabbed Hinata’s hand when they were about to cross the road, ‘for the sake of safety’, and Hinata hadn’t thought much of it other than the fact that it felt real nice, but all that couldn’t—everything couldn’t possibly—
‘Oh, my god,’ Hinata says.
‘I see it! That’s it! Kageyama, look! That’s a star, to the left—’
‘That’s a plane.’
‘Wait, how about that one? To the right—’
‘Hinata. That’s just someone flying a kite.’
Hinata lets out a small, defeated sigh. Next to him, Kageyama looks about as spirited and cheerful as a weed wilting under the heat of a thousand unforgiving suns. This entire stargazing affair was actually Kageyama’s idea—he’d been all secretive and excited about it, pulling Hinata to the patch of empty space right next to their school after night practice one day and insisting that they stargaze together. ‘I searched it up online. It’s number three in the list of fun things for couples to do,’ Kageyama had told him with endearing seriousness.
Unfortunately, he’d failed to take into account a number of factors, namely the state of Miyagi’s light pollution, and also the cloudy weather. Hinata throws a tentative glance at Kageyama, who has by now assumed an expression appropriate for the wake of a close relative. Hinata tilts his head up to the sky in search of a star or, failing that, divine guidance—
‘Meat bun,’ Hinata blurts out.
Kageyama turns to stare at him.
‘Look at that cloud,’ Hinata says, pointing his finger at the sky.
‘That’s not a meat bun,’ Kageyama says, squinting. ‘It looks like a butt.’
Hinata throws Kageyama a dirty look, but it’s a wasted gesture because Kageyama has already fixed his gaze onto something else. ‘That one—it looks like a slug? But with a shell on it.’
‘Kageyama, that’s a snail. You’re talking about a snail,’ Hinata says, and barely dodges the half-hearted punch Kageyama sends his way. ‘Anyway, it looks more like a meat bun to me.’
‘Another meat bun?’
‘Anything can look like a meat bun if you try hard enough!’
Kageyama lets out a disbelieving snort; Hinata, bristling in indignance, jabs him in the stomach. The ensuing half-hearted tussle for dominance lasts for all of twenty seconds before Hinata flops down next to Kageyama in a winded huff.
‘When I was a kid, I used to think that rain was caused by clouds sweating,’ Hinata says, turning over to face Kageyama. ‘Since they were so close to the sun.’
Hinata expects Kageyama to make a dismissive comment (with a dumbass or two thrown in for good measure) but the other boy just laughs. ‘When I was a kid, I used to think that clouds were chasing after me all the time.’
‘Oh yeah?’ Hinata says, since apparently they’re into competing for the title of Dumbest Childhood Misconception now. ‘Try running away from your shadow. I climbed up the tree and fell down and broke a leg. At least I missed two weeks of school.’
‘I tried to draw rashes on my entire body using permanent red marker,’ Kageyama says, shuddering a little at the thought. ‘I thought it would keep me away from school, but my mum made me go anyway.’
‘I don’t think I ever fell sick as a kid.’ Hinata plucks a blade of grass from the ground, examines it idly. ‘My mum used to tell me to not drink from people’s cups when they were sick, so I thought the opposite was true, and whenever someone fell sick at home I’d lick their cup so I could pass them the powers of my awesome healing saliva.’
‘I was five.’ Hinata looks up, another retort at the tip of his tongue, but the words quickly fizz away when he realises that Kageyama’s staring at him oddly, the expression on his face serious but also kind of funny. The tips of their noses are inches apart now, and Hinata’s faintly aware of his heartbeat beating staccato, of blood thundering loudly in his ears.
When Kageyama lifts his arm to cradle the back of Hinata’s neck, Hinata closes the gap between them without thinking.
It’s really clumsy and Hinata’s sure that their noses aren’t supposed to bump like that and Kageyama might have accidentally scraped his teeth against his lips and they’re kind of just—just smashing their faces together. Really painfully. They pull apart after a few seconds, suddenly awkward and shy, until Hinata suddenly lets out a small snort and Kageyama joins in a beat later with an embarrassed guffaw, and before long their laughter is rippling through the stifling stillness of the summer’s night.
It’s silly, and for their legendary teamwork on the courts they’re really ridiculously bad at kissing, but Hinata doesn’t mind. He knows: this is only the first of many times. He knows: what they have now is just a small slice of forever, and they are just beginning.
‘I don’t understand.’
‘What? It’s obvious, dumbass.’
‘No, really,’ Hinata says, and it’s true because the last time he’d been so baffled was when he’d sat in the Advanced Mathematics Final Exam by accident, thinking that it was his literature paper. Consequently, he'd spent fifteen minutes trying to figure out if the mathematical equations were, in fact, really really unconventional and esoteric literature texts in disguise.
In front of him, Kageyama looks like someone’s shoved an entire cactus up his ass. His face is an unhealthy shade of crimson, which further adds on to the puzzle because he’s currently not wearing anything save a flimsy undershirt in sub zero temperature.
‘It’s the stupid graduation tradition!’ Kageyama snaps, and waves his school shirt in front of Hinata’s face. ‘The second button, or whatever—’
None of this serves as adequate explanation as to why Kageyama had removed his entire shirt, squeezed through a throng of startled students, and chased after Hinata, all the while yelling his name. Hinata continues to stare in bewilderment.
‘The button refused to come out and I couldn’t find a pair of scissors, you dumbass!’ Kageyama snaps. ‘And you looked like you were going to leave already and I freaked out, okay?’
‘I’m not leaving!’ Hinata says, torn between feeling ridiculously touched and laughing till the end of time. ‘I was going to find Tsukki and Tadashi to take a photo together—’
‘Whatever,’ Kageyama says resolutely while also looking endearingly like a sulking baby. ‘I made up my mind. You’re having this, I’m not taking this shirt back.’
He shoves the shirt into Hinata’s arms; it’s still warm, and smells faintly of the vanilla-scented softener that Kageyama always uses. There’s a pause. Hinata removes his scarf and slowly winds it around Kageyama’s neck.
‘Thanks for the shirt,’ Hinata says, grinning widely. The yellow of his scarf stands out starkly against the white of Kageyama’s shirt, and his dark hair, but Kageyama’s face has turned a lovely shade of pink, and he looks so pleased that Hinata might as well have draped him with eighty centimetres of sunshine. ‘Happy graduation, Tobio.’
on and on
So maybe they don’t say ‘I love you’. But sometimes Hinata catches glimpses of these words in small things, inconsequential things: he sees it in the way Kageyama says ‘good morning’, in Kageyama’s numerous failed experiments at making tamago kake gohan, in the tenderness of Kageyama’s goodnight kisses. This is something Hinata learns to reciprocate in kind. He knows: when to jostle around with Kageyama and call him names, when to lie next to Kageyama, to twine their fingers and say things like, ‘you’re enough for me.’ There’s a photo of their wedding day that on the bedside table, right next to another photo of their high school graduation, the one with Kageyama wearing a plain white undershirt and a bright yellow scarf. (Their graduation day is a story Hinata will always recount to anyone who ever looks at the photo and inevitably asks about Kageyama’s peculiar taste in clothes; it is a story Hinata will never tire of telling.) Their balcony is filled with sunflowers. The fridge in their home is always stocked with milk.
Every night, Hinata falls asleep warm with the knowledge that he will wake up the next day, curled up like a kitten in Kageyama’s arms. Or, he will wake up to Kageyama fixing them breakfast, a three-egg omelette for Kageyama and tamago kake gohan (now perfected after eleven failed tries) for Hinata, and the radio might be turned on, tuned to their favourite channel. Or, he will wake up to a note that says, out for an errand, breakfast is in the microwave, see you later.
Every moment spent together is both a testament to their past and an ode to the future. Every milestone says: hey, look how far we have come, just as every step forward is a promise: I want you here by my side forever; here’s to more.