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The last time he felt this sick, it was the first match of the summer tournament, their second year.

He didn't see the spike coming until the ball was hurtling at him. In the back of his mind, Daichi's warm presence morphed into alarm — Suga! — and he heard Asahi, too: a fragile flutter of terror, the feeling of a hummingbird trapped inside glass.

Then the ball slammed into his face. Like a radio losing signal, all his teammates' voices faded away.

When Koushi opened his eyes, he was flat on the gymnasium floor, and he could barely hear Asahi's panicked shouting over the buzzing in his head. He must've fallen weird, though he didn't remember falling. His head hurt more than his hands or his knees. Daichi shoved two third-years out of the way to kneel beside him. His face was pinched with concern, but he didn't say a word — just snatched Koushi's hand, gripping hard enough to bruise.

Koushi breathed out, trying to smile, anticipating the warm flood of concern and reassurance from Daichi, thoughts that by now were as familiar as his own.

Except.

Even with the skin-on-skin contact, he couldn't hear a thing.

Daichi realized it a split second after he did. His expression froze, his grip on Koushi's hand going impossibly tight, and that was when the nausea hit.

Shimizu took him to the nurse's station, then the hospital.

They lost the match.

Koushi heard all about it, later — the captain calling out directions as if sheer volume could make up for empathy; Asahi stammering over a call for the toss; Tanaka roaring encouragements to cover up the fact that Karasuno, without their setter, could barely sense each others' positions on the court.

"So get better soon, yeah?" Daichi concluded, and Koushi could imagine his reassuring smile on the other end of the line. "Not just because I say so, either. We're really shit without you."

"Careful with the sentiments, Sawamura. You're starting to sound like Asahi."

Daichi laughed. "Yeah, right. You won't catch me sending flowers with a get well card anytime soon."

"Did he really?" The phone dug into his ear. Koushi rolled over — carefully, so as not to disorient himself — and smiled at his own ceiling. "I like flowers."

"You're allergic to pollen."

"You're allergic to romance."

"You're a dork," Daichi said fondly. "Get some sleep. I'll see you at school on Monday?"

"Of course. See you at morning practice."

He hung up before Daichi could suggest anything like taking it easy.

He threw up twice more during the night, the radio silence in his head a steady, sickening buzz that hurt worse than all his bruises combined.

On Monday, he arrived at the club room to find it still locked. A jingle of keys; he turned to see Daichi, who’d just rapidly tucked one of his hands behind his back.

Koushi reached for their link — Daichi hadn't been able to keep a secret from him since last May — before a wave of dizziness reminded him that the doctor had said two to three weeks, not two days followed by an early morning start. He put a hand on the wall for balance.

A furrow appeared between Daichi's brows.

Koushi plastered on a bright smile; if he couldn't hear Daichi, then Daichi couldn't hear him, either.

"Morning." He stepped forward; Daichi side-stepped, keeping whatever's behind his back out of sight. "What's got you so embarrassed?"

Daichi scowled. Slowly, he let his arm drop, until Koushi could see what was in his hand: a bunch of freshly picked — and slightly crumpled — wildflowers.

"Was gonna put them in your locker and pin it on Asahi," Daichi muttered. Koushi smothered an involuntary sound behind his hands, and Daichi's frown deepened. "Why are you here so early anyway? Shouldn't you be in bed?"

Even a blind man could see through that. Koushi swallowed the choked laugh in his throat and reached for the flowers.

When his hand brushed Daichi’s, the static buzzing in Koushi's head flickered and faded and he could hear

Then Daichi pulled away, and the buzzing returned, twice as bad.

"Suga? Are you—"

Koushi’s hand shot out, catching Daichi's wrist even as the other boy reached for him. He didn't bother filtering his thoughts — couldn't have, if he tried — as the link flared between them like surfacing for air and

Hold hold don't go Daichi don't let go I can't

The flower stems, crushed between their fingers. The keys, fallen to the ground, forgotten. Daichi held both his hands in his own and

I can hear you, oh god thank god, Suga, “I’m here,” You and me, never you and not me, "I'm right here."

It took him a full minute to realize he was crying. It didn’t seem so important, just then. Not compared to Daichi’s clammy, calloused palms and Daichi’s steady, familiar presence in his mind.

You/me.

 


 

If that concussion was like static interference, then this is the equivalent of standing next to the tracks while a freighter hurtles past screaming hot metal and smoke.

He's seen the name on the club application form, but he still isn't prepared. The resonance hits him before they've even entered the gymnasium. It hits him with all the subtlety of a derailing train, and he barely hears Daichi calling his name over the roaring in his ears and the bile choking his throat.

"That's our new setter, then," Koushi manages, before doubling over to throw up the rest of his lunch.

 


 

Kageyama Tobio is perhaps the strongest empath Koushi has ever met. Strong enough to break through to Hinata, who — Koushi realizes, after ten minutes with the boy — is practically deaf to empathic resonance.

Which is also what makes Hinata one of the few people who can link with Kageyama without suffering a headache (like Yamaguchi) or vomiting on the spot (like Koushi).

"I don't particularly enjoy having my brain turned to pudding," Tsukishima demurs, when Daichi asks him to partner Kageyama at net. "Tanaka-san would be the better candidate."

Tanaka, who's never been more than a wordless idea in the periphery of Koushi's mind. Tanaka, who nearly faceplants into the net with surprise when Kageyama sends him a pin-point accurate toss. Kageyama simply nods at his teammate, and Koushi knows — from the look on Tanaka's face — that the second-year is properly hearing an empath's voice for the first time.

"This is — he's — it's incredible!" Takeda-sensei is sparkling. Almost visibly so. "Even I can sense him, and I'm just standing here watching. You've got a fine team on your hands, captain!"

He beams at Daichi, who glances at Koushi.

Koushi smiles back at him, and makes no move to touch Daichi's wavering hand.

 


 

Summer was nearly over before he managed to link the team again.

The whole team, not just Daichi — who was always there with a quick pat on the shoulder, a firm high five. The ghost of his touch lingered on Koushi's skin, the empathic resonance lingered in his mind, bolstering him, while Noya's presence flickered like crappy cell reception and Asahi miss-timed two quicks in a row because Koushi couldn't maintain the link's clarity.

"Don't sweat it, Suga-san." Noya's grin was infallible as ever. "I got your back, all of you. Anyway, you don't need telepathy to know Asahi-san's worrying about me breaking my nose everytime I make a super receive!”

"That's not— I don't doubt your ability, Noya-san! I just—"

Noya laughed and slapped Asahi on the back, hard enough to make Asahi choke on his own spit. "Kidding! But that, too. Can't have you overhearing all my genius jokes before I get a chance to tell the punch line.”

"Any idiot can guess your lame punch lines!" Tanaka hollered, pushing a broom across the gymnasium floor.

Noya shouted back, "So you're calling yourself an idiot?"

"I'm calling you an idiot, idiot!"

"Stop raising a ruckus!" Daichi roared, making Ennoshita jump and drop the armful of volleyballs he'd been carrying.

Koushi sent him the mental equivalent of a giggle — you sound like the shopkeeper ojii-san — and watched the tips of Daichi's ears turn pink.

"All right, all right," the captain interjected amicably. "Let's everybody help with clean up, and we can all go home sooner. Sawamura-kun, can you hand me that broom?"

Being responsible does not make me an old man, Daichi complained.

Koushi smiled and went to help Asahi with the net. As long as you're young at heart, ojii-chan.

Shut up, Sugawara.

I didn't say anything.

Very funny.

Aww, Dai-chan, do you really think I'm funny?

I'm blocking you.

Do you think I'm pretty, too?

"Do you guys always talk like that?" Asahi asked, and Koushi blinked. Asahi seemed embarrassed, ducking his head to avoid Koushi's inquiring look. "Just wondering, since — I'm not eavesdropping or anything! I can't actually tell what you’re saying. But, you know..."

Asahi made a vague gesture that, given the length of his oversized frame, resembled nothing so much as a flail.

Koushi picked up one end of the rolled up net; Asahi took the other. They'd reached the equipment room before Koushi said, "I still can't hear too well, unless I'm right next to someone."

"Ah. Right." Asahi tucked the net neatly between the shelf and the broom rack. He frowned at the wall, glanced at Koushi, then frowned at the floor. "You shouldn't push yourself too hard."

Koushi punched him in the arm. "Don't you worry about me, you oversized sap. I'll be ready for the spring tournament.”

"It's not worry, it's concern." Asahi rubbed his arm. "Friendly concern. Because we're friends." He looked down at his hand. "You and Daichi have gotten really close, huh?"

It caught him off guard. "What?"

"You just punched me," Asahi said, fiddling with the hem of his shirt. "But we're still talking out loud."

Koushi opened his mouth — and closed it again. It was true: even now, Asahi's conscious thoughts were no clearer to him than Ennoshita's wordless fretting, coming from somewhere near the gymnasium door. He could hear Noya laughing with Tanaka, but he couldn't even begin to tell what they were laughing about.

Asahi's fidgeting grew more awkward as the silence went on. "Sorry if I overstepped!" he blurted finally. "But, you know — I think it's really nice, that you can hear someone that clearly. I kind of wish I could, but usually I only pick up everybody's anxiety and that doesn't...really help..."

He trailed off, and a questioning lilt tickled the back of Koushi's mind. Be right there, he told Daichi. Out loud, he said,

"Don't get too used to it. I'll be in your head again before long." He elbowed Asahi for good measure, as they left the equipment room. "So try to keep a lid on those thoughts about Noya-san's ass, huh?"

Asahi spluttered. "I don't—!"

"Joking," Koushi said breezily. Asahi's anxiety was rolling off him in waves, strong enough to make Ennoshita turn his head as well. "But clearly, you weren't."

He placed his hand on Asahi's elbow, concentrating. Just between us.

Asahi gave him a startled look, and Koushi pulled his hand away. He wandered over to Daichi, casually bumping their shoulders together.

You overextended yourself, Daichi noted immediately. Not that Koushi was trying particularly hard to hide it. What happened? Do I need to go put the fear of god in Asahi?

Asahi's already terrified of you. I'll be fine. Long practice.

Daichi snorted — amused by the mental image of himself as a god in Asahi's eyes — and let Koushi lean on him, physically and mentally. The warm hum of his presence was a soft counterpoint to the captain's voice reminding them all of the weekend practice schedule.

Walk me home, after?

Of course.

 


 

"Kageyama's junior high team shut him out," Koushi says. "Probably with the help of their coach. His teammates obviously couldn't handle him, much less block him."

Beside him, Daichi walks in silence.

"What a cruel thing to do, to a child."

"He couldn't control it," Daichi replies. "Still can't, not completely. He nearly knocked Yamaguchi out cold, earlier."

"Tsukishima can handle it. So can the upperclassmen."

"With time."

"It always takes time."

The back of Daichi's hand ghosts across his knuckles. Some things don't need to be said, out loud or otherwise.

 


 

After the loss to Dateko, the last practice of the year was subdued. Daichi locked up the club room, long after the rest of the club had gone home. Koushi waited by the stairs.

It was still chilly enough in the evenings that Koushi wished he'd brought a sweater. Beside him, Daichi started to button up his jacket.

It's me who's cold, not you.

Daichi paused, the top two buttons still undone. I know. He stuck his hands in his pockets. "Hard to believe it's supposed to be spring already."

"It's a bit sad," Koushi murmured, "when things end like that."

"You sound like Asahi."

They passed the Sakanoshita Shop in silence. The lights were still on, but there was no one manning the counter.

What's wrong? Daichi asked.

The distant mountains were barely visible in the failing light. He knew they were still there, but it wasn't the same. "Are you going to keep playing next year?"

"At least until summer. You know. It's our duty as senpai to rough up the new recruits a little."

"Sounds like something Tanaka would say."

"Because it is. His reasoning didn't go over so well with Asahi."

Koushi smiled at the mental image of Tanaka lecturing Asahi on the importance of friendly intimidation. He hadn't been there to witness that particular conversation, but Daichi's warm amusement colored the scene in his mind.

Asahi would have scared the shit out of them, Koushi thought, then wished he hadn't.

Daichi's steps slowed to a halt. "He'll come back. Him and Noya both. We'll have a team, a good team."

"At least until summer, right?"

He didn't need to look over his shoulder to know Daichi had his determined face on. "One match at a time."

"I know." Only. I've gotten too used to talking like this.

Daichi frowned. What do you mean?

It goes away, you know, if you stop. The same way your body forgets how to hit a serve, if you don't practice everyday.

Daichi was quiet for long moments. Koushi smiled faintly. "You don't talk to Ikejiri anymore, do you?"

"That was different."

"It's how it goes. People spread rumors, otherwise."

I don't care.

Koushi glanced back, startled, and Daichi looked down at the ground. He was embarrassed by his knee-jerk reaction. But he wasn't trying to hide it.

"We'll get there when we get there," Daichi said, after a bit. "First, we need to knock some sense into Asahi."

The quiet faith in his heart was definitely not his own. But underlying it was something else that might have been.

He released the breath he'd been holding. Daichi was waiting, when Koushi's hand found his.

 


 

With both Noya and Asahi back at morning practice, things are almost normal again.

As normal as Karasuno's ever going to get, anyway, what with Hinata's bright hair and equally irrepressible personality, Tsukishima's affected disinterest, Tanaka's loud voice and Yamaguchi's general existence.

But watching Noya throw the ball over the net to Kageyama, who sets Asahi up for an effortless spike, Koushi thinks that maybe — just maybe — Tokyo isn't so far away after all.

Then again...

"Rolling THUNDER!" Noya yells. Somehow, he makes the receive, leaping up and out of his diving roll with cat-like grace. He flashes a V; Kageyama stares, nonplussed. "Gotta stay on your toes, Kageyama!"

"You know Asahi-san's timing," Kageyama observes. "It gives you an advantage."

Behind them, Asahi flaps his giant useless arms. "N-No, it's fine! I mean, it's good for everyone to—"

Kageyama isn't listening, staring intently at Noya instead. "Noya-san," he says, "do you want to play three-on-three instead?"

Noya laughs. "Bring it! But fair warning, I'm about as deaf as Dai-san."

"That won't be a problem."

Kageyama is good — beyond good — and Koushi senses the link the same moment Noya's face goes from sparkling to stone-still. His eyes are huge and golden, unblinking, as they turn slowly toward Asahi. Who looks confused, for a split second.

Then the panic kicks in, when he realizes who's now in his head.

It's loud enough that Tsukishima turns his head. And Ennoshita, and even Daichi, and probably anybody within a half-kilometer radius. And Koushi is already sprinting toward the three people they should never, ever have put together for spike practice unsupervised, but he knows he won't make it before—

"Do you really like watching me play?" Noya blurts.

All the color drains from Asahi's face. "I—"

Koushi grabs him by the arm, and throws everything he has into the mental equivalent of a roundhouse kick to forcibly evict the other presence from Asahi's head.

Kageyama jerks back, nearly tripping over his own feet. "What the—"

"Switch. You take my place with Hinata and Tanaka." Koushi turns his back before Kageyama can open his mouth to ask why.

"Kageyama-kun!" Hinata's voice floats across the gymnasium. "Are you causing trouble again?"

"You're the trouble, dumbass!" Kageyama stomps off. Koushi spares a moment to be grateful for that dysfunctional rivalry. But speaking of dysfunctional.

Pull yourself together! He all-but slams the thought into Asahi's head. Noya is still staring at him, and Asahi stares back like a fish in a trance.

Koushi gives him a mental slap.

Asahi blinks. Looks down. Blinks again, as if just noticing that Koushi's nails are digging into his bicep. And says, "Um, Suga, that — that hurts."

Koushi releases him. His hands are shaking, but at least his voice is steady. “You couldn't be any less badass if you tried, could you?"

"I don't care if you're not badass, Asahi-san," Noya says.

Asahi face goes from deathly pale to damnably pink.

Thankfully, Daichi's voice interrupts just then:

"All right, let's pack it up! You've all got class to get to." A collective groan, punctuated by Hinata whining that he didn't even get to try that new gwaaah move with Kageyama-kun. "Third-years, we have the club room. Ennoshita, you're in charge of clean up."

Daichi tosses Ennoshita the keys, and Koushi turns and follows him outside. Still, not quick enough.

Asahi bolts up to the club room, is changed and gone again before Koushi has even finished climbing the stairs. Daichi examines the locker door still swinging open; he shuts it.

"I'll talk to Kageyama," Koushi says. He retrieves his bag from his locker, hides the way his hands are still trembling by rummaging around for his school clothes.

Daichi sits on the bench beside him. "I can do that."

"You should check on Asahi." This close, their elbows bump together. Kageyama needs to hear it from me. "He wants to go to nationals as much as we do."

Daichi's arm loops around his waist, and then his face is buried against Koushi's sweaty, sticky neck. The physical sensation isn't appealing; but when Daichi sighs, Koushi feels it like a breeze in his mind.

I like seeing you play, too, Daichi says.

Koushi leans into him. I know.

 


 

Kageyama jabs the dispense button as if the vending machine has personally offended him. He plunges the straw into the carton as if he's settling a feud. Drinks as if he's gulping down the blood of his enemies.

"Found him!"

Kageyama chokes on his juice.

He spins around to Koushi's indulgent smile. "S-Sugawara-san!" Wiping his mouth on his sleeve, his eyes narrow when he sees the tuft of orange hair poking out past Koushi's shoulder. "Hinata. Why are you hiding behind other people?"

"I'm not hiding!" Hinata declares. He peers around Koushi's elbow. "Your expression is all scary, Kageyama-kun. Does that juice have the Great King's face on it?"

"Why would— Don't say stupid things!" Kageyama chucks the juice carton in the trash. His eyes flicker back to Koushi. "Sugawara-san." He visibly steels himself. "I...apologize. For what happened this morning."

Koushi gives him a faint smile. "I should apologize. All of us, your senpai — we're supposed to guide you, but instead we've been relying on you. What happened today was a result of that. Well, that and a spectacular lack of awareness from Noya, but I've been told that's part of his charm."

Kageyama's face reddens. "I really didn't mean to—"

"I know you didn't," Koushi interrupts gently. "That's the problem."

"I'll work harder to control it." The determination radiating from Kageyama feels like hammer blows. Koushi hastily reinforces his mental block, hiding a wince. "I'll find a way!"

"Kageyama, that doesn't—"

"Kageyama-kun." They both start at Hinata's voice. Hinata looks from Kageyama to Koushi, then back again. "You're hurting Suga-san."

Koushi stares. Kageyama blinks, then blanches. The resonant pressure recedes so quickly, Koushi almost gets whiplash.

"Sorry," Kageyama mutters. "I didn't realize."

"Don't worry about it." Koushi rubs his head. He eyes the shorter half of their first-year wonder duo. "Hinata, though — you could tell?"

"Huh? Oh. Yeah! Well, sort of." Hinata grins. "I can hear stuff through Kageyama, sometimes. It's been happening more lately."

Kageyama's lip is pursed in the way that means he's too embarrassed to admit he's pleased about something. An echo twinges in Koushi's chest, and — well. Hinata's face when he looks at Kageyama says it all, really.

"That's good," Koushi murmurs. "We can start from there."

Hinata and Kageyama give him the same blank look. With a smile and wave, Koushi turns to head back to class.

"Meet me before afternoon practice. Both of you."

 


 

Walk me home, after? he always asked, and Daichi always answered, Of course.

Usually, they parted ways at the bridge where Daichi crossed and Koushi turned left. Often, they carried on talking until they were out of range.

But even then, Koushi could always sense Daichi's presence, like a nagging thought that was just out of reach, or a part of himself that he studiously avoided examining too closely.

Sometimes, he dreamed Daichi's dreams.

It shouldn't have been possible. And yet it was. It wouldn't always be like this. And yet he couldn't imagine how it might be otherwise.

That Friday, Daichi paused at the bridge. "Suga," he said aloud. "Next year — let's go to nationals."

Koushi gazed at the straight line of Daichi's back. The words didn't sound like a suggestion. More like a promise, only not.

He reached out without noticing, but Daichi noticed for him. Their fingers, laced together. Their sneakers, toe to toe. The rushing of water beneath the bridge and the white noise of their minds resolving into coherent thought the moment Daichi's hand found his.

It's not over, it's never over, it's never ever over

and

After the summer, after the matches, after everything,

and

This doesn't go away

He was gripping Daichi's hands, he realized. Hard enough to hurt. Daichi didn't even flinch.

Koushi opened his mouth to speak. It seemed redundant, when they were both thinking the same thing.

Kiss me.

Daichi's mouth was dry, or maybe it was him. For a split second, Koushi couldn't tell what was happening to whom. His knee bumped against their shin. Nails dug into skin that didn't belong to him. The faint scrape of stubble on his cheek, the sensation echoed two-fold, and Koushi whimpered just to know which voice was still his own.

Let's go to nationals, Koushi said later, his arms looped around Daichi's neck and Daichi's hands fitted around his hips.

Next year, Daichi agreed, face pressed into the curve of his shoulder. Together.

Walk me home?

He felt Daichi's smile in every corner of his mind.

Of course.

 


 

Empathy is just another human instinct, the sixth sense that knits one person to another in friendship, teamwork, society. The stronger your empathy, the easier it is to connect with others. But it still only takes you so far.

To form a true link, to know another person's mind as your own, to the point where you and I become a single thought — that begins with trust.

"Trust?" Kageyama's face is skeptical. "Why?"

“If someone doesn't trust you, then they can and will block you out. Like Tsukishima." Koushi taps his own head. "It's your level of sensitivity. Noya and Tanaka barely feel it, and Hinata is an obvious anomaly." Hinata brightens at the dubious compliment; Kageyama rolls his eyes. "But for other people — your empathy is overwhelming. If you throw it at everyone the way you do with Hinata, it will hurt them."

"Like earlier," Kageyama mutters.

"Like earlier," Koushi agrees.

Kageyama stares at the ground for a long, long moment. Hinata stares at Kageyama, as if Kageyama is a book and the words are written on his face. Maybe, to Hinata, they are.

Finally, Kageyama looks up. "I don't trust Tsukishima either," he declares, and Koushi nearly facepalms. "But if that's what it takes, then I'll earn his trust. Him and everyone else."

Koushi smiles. "Good." In the back of his mind, he can sense Daichi leaving class, heading for the gymnasium, worrying about today’s homework and tomorrow’s weather but mostly Nationals, and We're going, together.

Of course we are.

Koushi holds out his hand to Kageyama.

"Let's start with me.”

 


 

"Give it a try if you want.” The third-year captain shrugged. "I'd offer advice, but honestly, we haven't had a real empath for at least three years, so you're pretty much on your own."

Koushi looked at the boy facing him. Sawamura stared right back. There was nothing particularly remarkable about his appearance; certainly, his empathy was nothing to write home about, seeing as he'd given no sign of picking up on Koushi's skepticism about this whole endeavor.

But there was something, just beneath the surface. A something that sounded like the squeak of shoes across polished courts, the clean thump of a volleyball connecting with your arm and bright lights shining down from a far, far dome.

That's right, he thought, closing his eyes and reaching out. We're going to be teammates.

He waited for something — a spark, perhaps, or the mental equivalent of fanfare.

Instead he heard, Oh. And then, Nice to meet you, Sugawara-kun.

No fireworks, no fanfare. Just a presence that wasn't there a moment ago, now residing quietly in his head alongside his thoughts. For some reason, he'd been worried it would make his head feel crowded.

Really? You don't seem to have a lot going on up here.

Koushi's eyes snapped open to find Sawamura grinning at him. It took Koushi a moment to realize that he was doing the same.

"Well?" the captain asked. "Was that it?"

"Yes." Koushi couldn't seem to stop smiling. He barely registered the captain's nonplussed face in the corner of his vision. "Nice to meet you, too, Sawamura-kun."

Sawamura never once looked away. Call me Daichi.

 


 

Summer comes with rain. He hears thunder in the early hours of morning, and wakes up with the sheets stuck to his bare legs.

Ukai announces a casual five-kilometer run for the afternoon conditioning course. The collective groan that goes up from the team startles a flock of crows from the telephone line overhead. Tsukishima dawdles, picking apart his shoelaces just so he can retie them again. Hinata races off without waiting to see if Kageyama is behind him (he is), and Noya flashes Asahi a smile before taking off as well.

“Last two back get to wash the dishes!" Ukai hollers. Yamaguchi tugs Tsukishima to his feet, and the pair of them fall in behind a red-faced Asahi. Ennoshita doesn't even bother rolling his eyes anymore.

Despite the oppressive heat, Daichi sets a brisk pace.

Koushi follows. He doesn't mind — not really — so long as he can keep up and keep going, one step and then another and another, until they're far enough from the rest of the pack that even Kageyama’s prickly presence fades into quiet nothingness.

It's almost peaceful, here, this stretch of road. The faint rustling of barley fields. An occasional car. His legs, moving: left, right, left, right, left. A drop of sweat beading on his nose.

The familiar white noise of Daichi, like summer seeping into his bones.

They decide, as one, to take an alternate route when they reach the edge of town. This way is farther, hilly and winding, passes over a bridge thrumming with the voices of frogs. A bit farther and they'll be almost to Daichi's house.

At this rate, even Tsukishima will make it back before they do.

He doesn’t mind that, either. It ought to be someone responsible helping Shimizu with the washing up. Training penalties shouldn't penalize their manager. And a great volleyball player does not a good housewife make.

Probably.

Daichi snorts at this particular idea; Koushi just laughs.

The sun sinks low on the horizon, and they continue on.

Later, collapsed together on a westward-facing hillside, the kilometers stretching behind and the mountains up ahead, dust on their shoes and Tokyo on their minds, like a promise, only not — because that's what it is, and this is what it's always meant.

I love you, you know.

Maybe he thinks it first. Or maybe Daichi does.

It doesn't really matter. All he needs to know is that somewhere and everywhere, in the nonspace between them, today and tomorrow and next year and whatever comes after that, even then, there's still this.

You/me.

He smiles, and Daichi smiles right back.

Us.