He is nervous as he steps in front of the Kitagawa gym. It’s large, bigger than the one he played in during elementary school. He peers nervously around the door. Returning players are already warming up, and he can see a few familiar faces lined up against the far wall from the entrance ceremony.
His grip on his shoes tightens as two third years run past him, and he finds himself staring as they change their shoes. Tobio recognizes the one with floppy hair as the one to read the opening speech. He’s engaged by a boy with spiky hair who yells insults far too mature for a bunch of middle schoolers.
The boy with spiky hair glances back at the first year, but Tobio quickly looks somewhere else. The two third years walk inside, and Tobio changes his shoes before following them.
Practice doesn’t officially start for fifteen minutes, so all of the first years are lumped together until the assistant coach can run drills with them. Tobio stands behind the rest, looking at his volleyball shoes. He’s never been the most social, but his mother always says that he will be once he meets his soulmate.
Just wait, Tobio, she would whisper, kissing his forehead before switching off his bedroom light. Everything will be okay once you meet them.
He’s only twelve, and he knows the possibility of meeting his soulmate before he even finishes his first day of middle school are microscopic. But he still misses them, the person he’s yet to meet.
(He can’t imagine meeting them, though, and finally learning what color is and why his mother told him his eyes were the color of the sea, moments before a storm rolls in. He can’t imagine color.)
There’s ten minutes left until practice starts, but Floppy-boy and his violent friend are already yelling at each other and throwing volleyballs. The old club members are the only ones to not visibly flinch, even as Floppy does a jump serve that would leave the floor boards rattling, if Spiky Hair-boy hadn’t been there a moment before hand to receive it, sending it neatly over the net and into Floppy’s face.
Floppy screamed some, yelling words that faded into a single string of iwachansoulmatesmeansorude. Tobio wonders if it is like that between all soulmates, or if Floppy and Spiky-hair are special. He doesn’t ponder on it long, because soon the two third years are laughing quietly as the assistant coach arrives to greet the prospective club members.
The trickle of shy first years has come to a stop. There’s ten of them, but Tobio already knows that only half will remain by next week, whether it’s due to not making the team or being unable to handle Kitagawa’s training regimen.
The assistant coach clears his throat, capturing the attention of the first years. He’s older than Tobio’s elementary school coach, but not by much, and his features are harsher. He towers over them, and Tobio wonders if his scowl is a permanent addition to his face.
“First of all,” the coach begins, raking his eyes over the crowd of middle schoolers, “the volleyball team isn’t looking for any first time players, or anyone joining because they needed a club and it looked ‘fun’. Kitagawa could win this year, and we’re not looking for half-assed players. If you’re not going to play seriously, I hear the shogi club is always looking for new members.”
A few of them visibly flinch, but Tobio stays firm. This coach is harsher than his old one, but Tobio is older too, and he knows he’s good. He came to Kitagawa to play, and he can’t imagine anything else.
“Secondly, just because you were captain of your old team doesn’t mean you’ll even make it on the bench, setters especially. We have a lot of talent, and a couple of first years can’t even hope to surpass our starting lineup.”
That’s another thing Tobio doesn’t mind. He wants to become stronger, better at the sport he loves. If there’s no one he aspires to be like, how can he grow?
“Finally, I – “
Before he can finish, two boys tumble into the gym. They’re both breathing hard, and their eyes appear watery even from a distance. The shorter of the two tugs at the corner of his school sports kit as they both bow, whispering a quick apology.
Tobio feels something strange in his chest, similar to when to the hazy moments after winning a game. He doesn’t know why he’s feeling it now, and shoves it deep inside his chest and chalks it up as excitement.
“Can you explain why you’re late?” The assistant coach smirks, and Tobio can’t seem to conjure an explanation for his sudden panic from the expression. “Practice started ten minutes ago.”
The taller boy blushes, mumbling something, but the shorter boy just smiles faintly, before saying, “We’re soulmates.”
Suddenly, Tobio feels like someone has jammed ice down his throat. His already grayscale vision seems even more muted, and blood is rushing in his ears. His breath catches in his throat, and he can faintly hear the two boys telling the coach that they had just come from the nurse’s office, where they were given medication to offset their headaches.
“She said the rest of the colors should come in soon enough, but to just be careful until then.”
His gaze remains on the floor even after the coach starts shouting warm up instructions, and Tobio feels numb as he follows them. He knows the two soulmates are in the row in front of him, and he sometimes catches himself staring at their backs, or their hands when they occasionally brush. Every time it happens, Kageyama finds himself fighting back a jealous blush. He doesn’t know what it, or the heat curling in his stomach, is, but it leaves him breathless.
Practice ends far too slowly, and he runs home without taking a shower first, or spending any unnecessary time around the two first years. He breathes easier once he’s out of the sweaty gym, but the heat never leaves his stomach.
Class is quiet, for the most part. A few students huddle in the corner, whispering secrets about color and soulmates, gossiping about how the two first year boys from the volleyball club met.
The weekend arrives before Tobio learns the names of anyone in the club, besides Floppy, who somehow convinced someone to let him serve as captain. They don’t have practice Mondays, so he walks home after school.
There’s sakura blossoms on the trees lining the sidewalk, and a few on the pavement underneath. Most of them wilted from the onslaught of heavy rain during lunch. The petals are almost see through now, and rip easily when he steps on them.
He’s half way home when he reaches the convenience store to see it’s flocked with students from Kitagawa. He’s never been inside, but he has pocket money his mother shoved into his hands his first day with a smile and ‘at least make sure it’s somewhat healthy, Tobio.’
He watches the shop from across the street for a moment, his fingers wrapped around the strap of his messenger bag. Coins jingle in the front pocket. He begins to turn to continue on his way home, when he sees the two soulmates from volleyball.
Oxygen catches in his throat at the sight. Seeing them together still leaves him feeling restless and sick. He doesn’t know their names or why the image of them leaves him feeling awful, and he can’t say he wishes to know the answer either.
They are walking on the other side of the street, and their shoulders brush every so often, leaving Tobio feeling as if he’s been shot with a rifle for every point of contact.
He changes his mind the moment they step inside the small store, and crosses the street as soon as there aren’t any cars.
They’re standing in front of one of the drink coolers, very close together. Tobio begins to question why he ever thought this was a good idea.
He heads to the opposite side of the shop and hides behind the Toppo display. He does not look at the soulmates from volleyball, or listen to their mumbled conversation on what color soda packaging was. He does not feel like he swallowed a lit match.
He finally settles on vanilla Toppo, once the other club members leave and the door swings shut behind them. He inhales deeply before leaving his refuge behind the cardboard display, and heads to the counter. He mumbles a response when the cashier, probably a high school student, asks him if he found everything alright.
The door swings shut behind him.
April clouds are moving low over the skyline, dark and heavy and blocking almost all of the sun. It will rain soon, and Tobio really should be getting home; it’s late, and even if the clouds weren’t there, the sun would soon set.
But, instead, he’s standing in front of the convenience store smack in the middle of his house and school. He’s just standing there, and he can’t move, cannot think. The Toppo crushes in his fist, but he can’t find the space in his brain to mind, not when he feels like he’s been dunked in oil and set aflame.
He only looked up once, but it was more than enough to the sight to remain with him. The two soulmates from the volleyball club were pressed up against each other on the lamppost outside the convenience store. They’re moving like one entity, which really shouldn’t surprise Tobio. They’re soulmates, after all.
He opens his mouth before shutting it, biting down hard on his lip. His hands shake. He worries that he might drop his Toppo, and worries that they might hear the clatter. He bites his lip again, hard enough to draw blood and gasps.
He frees himself from the stupor and leaves him sprinting down the street and into the oncoming rain. But the noise is loud enough – loud enough, strong enough – to also shock the two soulmates into motion.
Somehow, Tobio can feel their gaze on his back as he flees, feel it burning deep into his skeleton. One of them, the shorter of the two, calls out. Soon, they’re following after him. He can hear their footfalls on the cement. He keeps running, faster and faster, away from the searing pain in his gut.
Tobio’s bag bounces against his back as he flies downhill, clutching the Toppo package. He’s not fast enough, and it feels like he hasn’t covered a single meter of sidewalk. The sound of two soulmates from clubs keep growing louder until it feels like Tobio could turn around and they would be nose to nose.
They reach a turn, finally, and Tobio can see his street. Except, it’s not that easy. There’s an intersection between him and his turn. Cars rush past as he comes crashing to a halt. The two boys stop as well, and in an instant their hands are on him, turning him around to face them.
Tobio keeps his head down, looking at his shoes. He wonders briefly what he looks like to them, with color and shadows and shades of light, whatever that means. He knows the name of some of the colors, like blue, the supposed color of his eyes, and the color Oikawa is proud to announce as the color of the volleyball team’s uniforms.
He doesn’t look up, cannot look up. There’s still a hand gripping his elbow, and the skin below his touch burns with the heat of a million suns.
“She was right, Kindaichi.” Tobio gasps at the voice, at the touch, because it punches through him until he can no longer breath. He still doesn’t look up.
“He really does feel just like you.” There’s soon another hand on his other elbow, and its weight feels just as fiery. “Hey, can you talk to us?”
No, Tobio wants to say, because the touch is too much, and the feeling in his stomach is surging over and over until it seems as if he might choke on it. He doesn’t want to talk to the soulmates from volleyball, and he doesn’t want to look; he just wants to go home.
“Kageyama-kun, correct? Can you look at me?” One of the hands trails up his arm, coming to a stop on his cheek. Tobio knows the light has long ago gone green, red, and green again, that he could run home now and throw this all behind him. Something, however, keeps him rooted in place.
“Please? I just need to see,” the other voice asks, and his hand finds Tobio’s jaw as well.
Tobio knows his resolve is weakening. It’s only a matter of time until he looks up, but he still fights it, grinding his teeth and squeezing his fists until the Toppo is dust.
“Please.” It’s then that he finally looks up, when they ask in sync.
If Tobio had been breathing at all beforehand, he wasn’t now. There’s a single word racing around his mind: mine, mine, mine. His eyes feel like they’re burning and there’s too much to take in as he stares at the two first years.
Is this color?
He has no idea how he never saw it before, but it’s too much to take in. The crushed Toppo falls from his hand and he stumbles back like he’s been punched, but the two soulmates, his soulmates, catch him before this can happen. Their touch feels more like a warm blanket now, a salve to his sudden pounding head ache.
“The pain will go away soon.” The two of them ease him onto the ground with careful hands. Tobio’s eyes are shut again, but for a different reason this time. People always talked about soulmates and color like they were some wonderful gift from the universe, but it left Tobio feeling as if the cosmos had dripped lemon juice and salt in his eyes.
“Do you want us to take you home? It’s going to rain soon, and it would be better if we could do this somewhere more...private.”
He nods once, and the two boys he still doesn’t know the names of help him up. He realizes quickly enough that they aren’t heading in the direction of his house, but it doesn’t really matter; they’re his soulmates. They wouldn’t be able to hurt him.
They tell him their names as they guide Tobio down the street, Kunimi and Kindaichi. He’s glad they don’t share personal names, not when they’ve only just met and his head is pounding with all the new stimuli to take in.
Kunimi’s right arm is around his waist, supporting him, while Kindaichi grips his shoulder. It’s difficult for him to keep his eyes open for long, and he oftentimes finds himself tripping over cracked pavement. But the burning feeling in his gut isn’t as painful now, and the touch of his soulmates is more comforting than painful. It still stings slightly, like when Kindaichi’s lips brush over Tobio’s cheek and he can taste lightning, or when Kunimi’s hand drifts lower.
He wants to flinch away from the touches and their comforting heat. He doesn’t know anything about his soulmates besides two names and that they all share a volleyball team. He’s clueless, really, and he feels like he’s suffocating, almost. He can sense their joint hands behind his back, and they leave him feeling like he has intruded on something special, like he’s the spare Lego, the extra piece in case the original goes missing.
Tobio knows he shouldn’t think this way; the universe paired the three of them together for a reason out of their individual control. They were made for each other, forged from stardust and color coded light particles. They were custom made, but Tobio still feels like the fit is too tight.
When it begins to rain and Tobio trips, falls to his knees in one of the quickly forming puddles, Kindaichi scoops him up. He feels safe, and loved when Kunimi rests his small hands on Tobio’s muddy knee. It’s a foreign feeling, but the rain helps to cool the blood pooling in his cheeks.
Kindaichi is the rougher of the two, Tobio learns, when he all but drops Tobio on to bed after tugging off the outer layer of his gakuran. He’s barely aware of most of it; his headache is beginning to subside, but every subtle change of light, from the downpour outside to the bright lights of Kunimi’s living room, the dimmer lights of the hallway, and the deep shadows of his bedroom, makes it just a bit worse.
Luckily, the dark soothes the remaining pain from the sudden colors in his life. The sheets are soft, some color between dark blue and pitch black. Kunimi brushes his bangs off of his forehead before crawling into bed with him. Kindaichi follows soon after, and tugs the sheets and duvet up to the shoulders.
Kunimi’s arms drag Tobio into his chest; Kindaichi’s fingers meander under his shirt from where it came untucked, resting lightly on the exposed skin. He idly wonders what time it is, and if his parents are beginning to worry. But the heat leaves him drowsy and his head heavy, and the constant touch of his two soulmates drag him under the current.
He’s the only one awake.
Kunimi’s swung a leg up over Tobio, leaving his knee to dig into Tobio’s stomach. He’s clinging to Tobio’s neck with one hand and to Kindaichi with the other.
He shrugs off Kunimi’s wayward limbs and climbs over Kindaichi. He feels somewhat lightheaded when his feet first touch the carpet, but he finds his balance quickly enough and leaves the room in search of water.
The hallway is dimly lit, and most of the light comes from narrow windows lining the walls. His vision adjusted while he slept, so the scattering of light didn’t bother him too much. It was weakened by the water droplets on the window panes, anyway. He found the staircase with little difficulty, and he slipped down them, hand clasped firmly on the top of the balusters as to not slid in his socks.
By the time he reaches the kitchen, he’s fully awake. He’s still not sure of the time, but he figures it can’t be too late, considering that the sun is high enough in the sky to cast long shadows in early April.
But as he finds himself standing in the kitchen, he realizes he has no idea where anything is, he’s in a stranger’s house, and a woman he’s never met before is sitting at a table in the middle of the room. Her eyes are locked onto his. They’re the same color as Kunimi’s, he realizes faintly, but he still doesn’t know the name of the color.
He wants to run away, again, back down the hall and up the stairs and into his soulmate’s bed. She’s icy whereas his soulmate had been as pleasant as a space heater, and her gaze makes him feel trapped.
“Can I help you?”
Tobio wonders what this must look like – a middle school boy in a rumpled Kitagawa uniform. He shakes his head and turns on his heel, but stops when she calls out to him.
“The doctor mentioned Akira might have a poly bond, since the rest of his colors weren’t coming in as they should. I assume you’re him?”
Tobio nods, but mostly focuses on her words. Poly bond. They weren’t all that rare, but they were scarcely mentioned in school until students were older. It would explain everything he felt when he had first since Kunimi and Kindaichi together at club, and the remaining jealously that still coiled low in his gut.
“What’s your name then? I like to know who my son is paired with, especially when they sleep over without my knowledge.” Her look from before suddenly feels more like fire, because the one she’s shooting now feels like an icicle jammed down his throat.
“Kageyama – “
“Mom?” Tobio lets out a barely audible sigh of relief as Kunimi loops his arms around his neck, his jaw pressing into Tobio’s shoulder. “You met Kageyama?”
She nods stiffly, and the ice seems to melt just the slightest bit. He feels a bit unsteady again, and his mouth is still dry and his head aches. Kunimi leads him up the stairs, careful that Kageyama doesn’t fall in his dreamlike state. Kindaichi is waiting at the top of the staircase. His face is pinched up in a frown. Tobio feels grounded, less out-of-it, once his arms are around him as well.
The three of them stand in the hallway by Kunimi’s door, and the carpet is soft under Tobio’s socks. Kindaichi’s head rests atop Tobio’s, and the shorter boy can feel every chest fall for every breath. Kunimi is pressed against his back, a now familiar weight. They act like buoys in a violent ocean, or an underground shelter during a tornado. He feels safe, comforted by his soulmates.
They stay like that for what seems years, until Tobio feels his phone begin to vibrate. Kunimi whines when his makeshift pillow pulls away to answer, but releases him.
Once he answers, Tobio’s mother begins to scream. He has a flashback to the Toppo from only a few hours previously.
“Where are you, Tobio? I thought you didn’t have practice today!” She’s panicking; that much is obvious. “I came home and I had no idea where you were.”
“I, ah.” He looks over at Kunimi and Kindaichi, returning the slight smiles they offer him. “I met my soulmates. They’re both in the volleyball club at school with me.”
“You could have called me, then, Tobio. I would appreciate knowing where my son is.” He winces at the tone, even though he knows it’s not targeted at him, designed to hurt like the icy glare Kunimi’s mother had aimed at him. “I’m glad you met your soulmates. You have a polybond, right? I’m happy that you have all found each other.”
“I know, sorry. Just, the colors. And then there was rain, and they took me to Kunimi’s house, and we fell asleep.” He paused, taking a deep breath. Kindaichi rubbed his shoulder, and Tobio leaned into the touch. “We just woke up a few minutes ago.”
Tobio’s mother probably saw through the lie; she has always been too good at reading him. She hums slightly into the line, before reminding him to come home soon for dinner before hanging up.
Once Tobio finishes slipping his phone in his pants pocket, Kunimi and Kindaichi launch themselves back on top of him. He stumbles back into the wall, but he’s smiling as they simultaneously kiss both his cheeks.
They still have far too much to talk about, but he has two new phone numbers in his cell when he walks home. His messenger bag bumps against his hip, but he barely notices. There’s color all around him, even at dusk.
The world feels infinite, and he wonders how he will ever be able to take it all in.
Tobio’s mother fusses over him when he finally gets home; upset for walking in the rain, upset for not coming home like he was supposed to. She’s happy, though, that he’s found his soulmates. Everyone finds theirs eventually, but it’s nearly impossible to hear about meeting yours in middle school, especially when it is a poly bond. Many people believed that soulmates wouldn’t meet until they were ready, but for the most part, people just accepted that you would meet, one day.
She sends him up to his room with a handful of soulmate information pamphlets that she would hoard every time they went to the doctor. She always said it was best to be prepared, because who has any idea when the universe will chuck your soulmates at you? He grudgingly takes them from her, before heading to his room.
He no longer feels lightheaded, which is a relief, and his eyes no longer sting at slight variations of light. His mind shifts briefly to the hour spent at Kunimi’s house, and the soft warmth emitted from his soulmates. The time together helped to dispel some of his jealousy, but he can’t ignore Kunimi and Kindaichi’s obvious dynamic.
Tobio falls into bed to read the pamphlets, the majority of which are aimed at poly bonds. The one on top of the stack is a light color, with three smiling twenty-something year olds in matching t-shirts on the cover. So Your Bond is Poly is emblazoned over the soulmates. He flips it open mechanically, not partially interested in what it had to say. A few phrases pop out of him, but for the most part, he reads in a daze.
... poly bonds make up for 39% of all bonds... most soulmates meet their two matches within two hundred hours of each other... the first two to meet will experience little to no pain when their colors come in... the last one to meet will experience what is believed to be the combined pain of colors for all members of the poly bond...
Tobio flinches when he reads the last sentence. It explains why he had felt more pain, and he wonders what it would have been like if he had met Kunimi or Kindaichi first. He quickly pushes away the thought, however; he can’t imagine knowingly inflicting pain on either of them. With that cast aside, he continues to read.
... the first two to meet will experience the primary colors – red, yellow, and blue – first, followed by the secondary colors upon meeting the third...
That explained things...almost. If anything, it told him why monogamous pairs always complained about searing pain; they were being introduced to every color at once.
... it is common, and sometimes difficult to overcome, feeling of separation or inadequacy in a polyamorous pairing... most common in final member of the soulmate group... group or couples’ therapy... bonding activities focused on the last to meet their soulmates...
He drops the pamphlet, startled. He had heard of such tension in polyamorous relationships, but had never understood it fully. He was young, careless. Soulmates had seemed perfect to him from their unobtainable distance. But now that he is in the middle of one, everything suddenly becomes very clear.
He is the odd man out, the third-wheel to a happy pairing. His emotions don’t add up; the universe had stuck them together, the three of them, for a reason. He knows better than to doubt the relationship made for him.
He falls asleep, a soulmate pamphlet cutting into his cheek and his uniform a rumpled mess around him.
By the time his alarm (the flashing light of the numbers is bright, stinging his eyes when he fumbles to turn off the noise) goes off in the morning, Tobio is already halfway to convincing himself that the previous day was nothing more than a dream. The soulmate pamphlet and the subsequent mark left on his cheek make it slightly harder to continue.
He stays in bed far longer than he should, considering how wrinkled his gakuran is. He tugs off his jacket (dark, the same shade as before; Tobio suspects black, one of the few colors anyone can see before meeting their destined partner), before ruffling around in his closet for a clean uniform. It’s easier to find his other jacket and pants than iron, considering how tired he is.
Tobio is more or less conscious by the time he leaves his house. The world looks different now, when bathed in color. Without his throbbing headache from the sudden onslaught of colors, he’s finally able to enjoy the shades and hues.
His mind drifts to thoughts of Kindaichi and Kunimi, and how their three-way pairing would affect volleyball. Tobio played setter in elementary, and he is vaguely certain that Kunimi and Kindaichi were both spikers of some sort. It is a relief; Tobio can lead his two soulmates through a game, straight to victory.
“Kageyama!” Kindaichi’s voice rips him from his volleyball-centric thoughts. He collides against his shorter soulmate, wrapping his arms around his waist. Tobio can feel his body heat through four layers of fabric, and he melts back into it. His messenger bag cuts into his spine uncomfortably, but Kindaichi’s touch is enough to counteract the slight pain. “I was hoping to run into you.”
Tobio hums slightly, focusing on every slight movement Kindaichi makes, the way his chest rises and falls with every breath, the damp feeling of his hair on his neck.
“Good morning,” he replies, once Kindaichi pulls away. They walk down the street, swinging their joined hands between them. There’s flowers lining the sidewalk, plants that had been there as long as Tobio was able to remember. He often times forgets them until he sees them again, but now with their bright colors in sharp contrast, Tobio knows he wouldn’t forget them any time soon. “Where’s Kunimi?”
“He lives closer to school. We usually meet at the front gates and go in together.” There isn’t a shred of resentment in the words, so Tobio ignores it for the most part.
In the fifteen-minute walk, Kindaichi patiently answers every question on Tobio’s related to color that he knew. He points out green (the color of grass in spring time, bushes, and lime candy), red (the color of the flowers lining the cement, the slide at the elementary school, and the pants of the dangling mascot from Yokohama), and blue (the color of Kitagawa’s uniforms, the sky at high noon, and Tobio’s eyes.)
Tobio soaks up the information, rattling off color names and asking for examples. Kindaichi struggles to keep up at some point, completely blanking on a few color names (chartreuse, violet, maroon) . Tobio slows down whenever that happens, reminding himself that Kindaichi only met Kunimi a few days before he did.
By the time Kunimi joins them for the final block, Tobio can spot most of the basic colors. They surround him; red, blue, and yellow; orange, green, and purple.
“How are my soulmates today?” Kunimi asks, looping an arm around both of their shoulders. Kindaichi and Tobio simultaneously let go of each other’s hands at the same time, before rejoining them behind Kunimi. The position makes walking difficult and they trip near constantly, but by the time they reach the end of the block and the Kitagawa’s front gate, they are all smiling.
Tobio’s knees brush against Kindaichi’s once, twice, three times before the student counselor arrives. She sits on the opposite side of a round table from the poly bond, placing a manila file folder in front of her. Her eyes (green, the color of Kunimi’s bento wrap; the color of mint gum) are too harsh, staring at each of them, studying them until they flinch under her gaze. Her gaze seems to stay on Tobio the longest, cutting into his very soul until she can see the thin threads that connect him to the other two boys.
He knows the entire procedure is uniform, required of all minors in Japan. The counselor is professionally trained to educate soulmates. She works for the government, contracted to schools to keep young soulmates from being reckless. She will not hurt them, even if her eyes are cold and calculating. This does not help Tobio breathe easier, but it does take his mind off of his anxiety.
He flinches when she opens the folder, and the metal clips holding papers inside clatter against the tabletop. Kunimi grips his hand under the table, squeezing once but not letting go afterwards. Tobio finds Kindaichi’s hand with his other, holding them both in his lap.
“Kageyama Tobio, Kunimi Akira, and Kindaichi Yuutarou; correct?” She pauses, waiting for the three soulmates to nod in agreement. They comply, and she continues. “Poly bond, completed yesterday. Kunimi and Kindaichi first met before a volleyball practice. A teacher took them to the school nurse, where she suspected either a poly bond, or a late onset of colors and other soulmate identifying features. Correct?”
They nod again, and Tobio feels the jealous burn creeping up his throat again. He hates it, despises it, after everything his two soulmates have done for him. They welcomed him so fully from the beginning, no matter how much he ran away. Even now, they’re there for him, but he still wants more.
He’s always wanted more.
“Can you tell me how the three of you first came into contact?” There’s a pen in her hand, tapping against a blank sheet of paper. A bit of blue ink bleeds out, growing like tree roots across the paper.
Kindaichi tightens his grip on Tobio once before speaking. I’ll talk.
“We – Kunimi and I – were at the convenience store behind my house. Kunimi thought he sensed something while we were paying, but wasn’t sure, so we stayed close by. Kageyama left a bit after us, and I felt, I don’t know, something - “
“It was like fire,” Kunimi prompts, smiling slightly when he glances at Kageyama from the corner of his eye. “And it burned.”
They both squeeze Tobio’s hands in sync. The counselor has filled up an entire page, and is now currently retrieving a second from the back of her folder.
“We both just knew, I guess. We called out to Kageyama, followed him. He ran, and we followed. Eventually, we caught up. I got the rest of my colors, and so did Kunimi. Kageyama got all of his, but... it hurt? Kunimi and I had barely any pain, but Kageyama was barely conscious.”
And God, does Tobio hate it when Kindaichi mentions the pain. He knows from the poly bond pamphlet that his pain was normal, to be expected in a three-way soulmate bond. But the word leaves him feeling weak. His hand flinches, tightening too much around Kunimi’s fingers until he gasps. Tobio regrets it immediately, tries to let go, but Kunimi won’t let him. It’s reassuring, almost.
“That’s to be expected. The third person to meet in a poly bond always experiences the normal pain for a monogamous bond, in addition to the majority of the pain of the other two. It’s unfortunate, true, but it’s part of life and poly bonds,” she says, finally looking up from her notes for the first time. “Are you okay now, Kageyama-kun? No pain or discomfort?”
“No,” he said. And it’s true, for the most part. His eyes no longer hurt, and he’s consuming colors like a child left unattended in a sweetshop.
“That’s good; I know how painful it can be.” She smiles, and her expression finally appears genuine. “Now that we know Kageyama-kun has adjusted to colors without any residual issues, the next matter on the table: have any of you done any research on poly bonds, or know anything about them?”
Kageyama nods. His two soulmates don’t.
“How much do you know, Kageyama-kun?” she asks, jotting down another note in barely legible penmanship.
“My mom gave me a pamphlet from the doctor’s office. That’s it though, just basic information.” He doesn’t look up as he speaks in favor of keeping his eyes glued on his hands and those of his soulmates. Kindaichi’s hands are calloused and rough under his touch, while Kunimi’s are smooth, soft. Kageyama wonders briefly if he uses lotion, and if so, what scent.
“I’ll just give you a rundown of the basics, then. Poly bonds are the most complicated of all soulmate bonds. With three people, dynamics are often hard to work around. But, it is important to always remember every single one of you is important to the bond. Without one, you won’t function the same. You are all important. Do we all understand? No matter which member of the bond you are, whether it’s the first two to meet or the third, you help balance out the bond just as much.”
She’s staring Tobio dead in the eyes, daring him to contradict her. He can feel a blush forming on his cheeks, like she’s somehow reached inside his mind and dug around until she found his darkest fears. He does fight back, though, returning her gaze tooth for tooth. He had been scared when the therapy session first started, but her words has left an odd sense of comfort inside him.
He’s feeling better, more comfortable in the bond, by the time Kunimi drags them out of the conference room for the tail end of lunch. They sit on the roof, laughing and eating, with Tobio falling into Kunimi’s lap and Kindaichi kissing his cheek every so often. The other two hold hands, but their attention is solely on Tobio.
Tobio can’t imagine being anywhere else.
There’s brushing fingers and hips, lingering touches in the club room before practice later that day.
The coach was pleased to have a poly bond on the team, especially one comprised of a setter, middle blocker, and wing spiker. Tobio had blushed, along with Kindaichi, but Kunimi smiled bigger than Tobio had ever seen on the boy.
The run through practice drills, breathing hard. Tobio’s arms ache deep into the bone from repeated setting, but Kindaichi’s constant yells of one more! spur him on. Kunimi stands on the opposite side of the net to receive, a stream of encouraging phrases unceasing from his mouth. Even with Tobio and Kindaichi’s universal perfect timing, Kunimi still detects the ball with ease, knowing his two soulmates well enough to sense where the ball will crash into the ground.
They’re a machine. Oikawa and Iwaizumi watch from the sidelines occasionally, drinking water and bumping hips. Iwaizumi always watches the poly bond with mild amusement, lips curved up in a slight smile. Oikawa glares most days, but a few times, like when Tobio first synced perfectly with Kindaichi a week before inter-high, it looks more like fear. Tobio ignores it, most of the time. He just wants volleyball, and his soulmates. They’re all together, Kindaichi, Kunimi, and Tobio. He can ignore his senpai; he has a quick to sync.
Standing in the Sendai Gymnasium is a surreal experience. He knows that Kitagawa is good, that its volleyball club is strong, a front runner for nationals. But, he hadn’t expected other teams to duck out of the wall, or to whisper in the hallway as soon as they turned the next corner.
The colors are bright here as well, a million different color uniforms and banners everywhere he looks. The three of them, along with another boy who met his soulmate last fall, make a game of it. They shout the names of colors, starting with basics like orange and yellow until their competitive spirits take hold and replace blue and black with words like chartreuse and turquoise. Iwaizumi yells at them a few times, but they have fun nonetheless.
None of them get any time on court, so they scream themselves hoarse from the warm up area. They win game after game with Oikawa’s service aces and Iwaizumi’s spikes, bashing their way through to finals.
On the third and final day of the tournament, Kitagawa walks onto the court. The first years are bursting with excitement, bouncing and cheering their school’s name. Oikawa is more somber, along with the few third years on the team; Tobio hears whispers of a rivalry between the setter and someone from the other school in the final round, but he isn’t certain how true they are.
It’s Tobio’s job to stand at the edge of the court and toss balls high over Oikawa’s head, so he, in turn, can set them above his arsenal of spikers. He’s been doing the motion for months now, since Oikawa first picked him out to be his predecessor. Tobio first thought Oikawa would serve the role of a mentor of sorts, teaching him new techniques and showing him how to perfect his jump serve. Instead, Oikawa called for more balls. Tobio doesn’t mind, though, not really. He learns just as well watching from the sidelines, where he can study the exact flick of Oikawa’s wrist resulting in an unstoppable dump shot.
Warm ups aren’t too bad; Oikawa seems almost calm, not worked up into a violent fury like he is before most matches that Tobio has witnessed. Tobio breathes deeply, tossing a volleyball in the air a split second after his senpai calls for it. A spiker dashes past him to intercept the ball, but lands before it touches his fingers. Tobio hears the ball hit the court floor, sees Oikawa flinch. He glances over his shoulder to see the other team walk onto the far side of the court.
Shiratorizawa Junior High stalks onto the court, dripping blood lust. Their uniforms are maroon and black; the colors feel like they’re searing Tobio’s corneas.
“Pay attention, Tobio-chan!” barks Oikawa, before chucking the volleyball at Tobio’s chest. He catches it, barely, but grunts at its brutal force. His wrists sting, along with his fingers, but he focuses on the task at hand. “Toss it to me.”
He complies, noting faintly how the timing is a moment off. Iwaizumi still hits it solidly, but would anyone besides his soulmate be able to? The answer is obvious when Iwaizumi grabs Oikawa’s collar, whispering angrily. Oikawa blushes, glares, before pushing Iwaizumi off of him. They don’t talk for the rest of the warm up. Tobio can’t help feeling guilty.
They lose the match. No one is surprised when the score flashes two-zero, with Kitagawa never going above twenty-two. Their coach corrals them back to the locker room. Once inside, he tells them that they all fought excellently. It feels like a taunt to Tobio; all he did was help Oikawa warm up before the match, leaving him pissed off at his soulmate.
The poly bond strips out of their blue Kitagawa uniforms, huddling in the corner. Kunimi mentioned heading to his house after the game earlier, but it’s hard for them to talk, to be cheerful when their captain ran to the showers hoping no one would see the tears staining his cheeks. It’s hard to be cheerful when Iwaizumi-san’s lip is a bloody red from where he bit it to hold in a cry, after he punched a locker.
The loss hits them hard, but Tobio finds himself satisfied with Kunimi and Kindaichi by his side. They’re only in their first year of middle school; they have the rest of their lives to perfect things.
“Am I supposed to be sad that we came second?” Kunimi asks, falling backward onto the bed. “None of us played. I know I should be sad for the third years, since they probably won’t play in the spring. But...”
Tobio rests his head on Kunimi’s stomach. The fabric of his soulmate’s warmup jacket scratches his cheek, but Kunimi emits enough warmth for him to overlook that. Kindaichi lays down beside him, snatching up Tobio’s hands. He presses a kiss to the pale purple on his fingers and the scattering of red irritation.
Tobio breathes slowly as Kindaichi brushes his mouth over Tobio’s knuckles again and Kunimi rakes his own fingertips through Tobio’s hair. His eyelids flutter shut; he’s tired but not sure why. The amount of energy he exerted doesn’t correlate with how exhausted he feels now, and how hard he has to fight to keep his eyes open.
“Sleep, Tobio,” Kindaichi whispers against his hand, another kiss, another touch.
He doesn’t want to listen. Time between them all feels precious, sacred. Tobio wants to cling onto every second, every millisecond, that passes between them. He knows they will never leave him behind, not when their very existence is bound together with celestial intent. But, every heartbeat apart leaves him breathless, every second apart leaves him restless.
But, he just feels so warm and loved, with the way his soulmates wrap their arms around him like a quilt. The colors fade into pastel hues as he drifts off and his limb feel heavy. It’s enough, though. Kunimi and Kindaichi have always been enough, and always will be. In the moments before Tobio’s eyes finally shut, his two soulmates are the only spots of color in a sea of gray.
In the months that pass between inter-high and the spring tournament, Tobio rapidly excels in volleyball.
He throws himself into practice, setting until his arms feel dead, setting until he matches the speed of every second string spiker. They’re happy enough to work with the first year; Oikawa and the coach often forget them at the edges of the court to improve the starting players. But Tobio, he plays with them, plays for them.
Kunimi watches him sometimes, when he’s not working on blocking with other members of the club. It scared Tobio, the first time he noticed Kunimi at the edge of the court. He wanted to succeed for his soulmate, to advance until they could beat Shiratorizawa together. But now, it's just encouragement, fueling him to work harder.
Occasionally, Kindaichi joins in watching. Tobio wishes desperately that they were on the court with him. He opens his mouth to call them over for synchronized quick practice, but Oikawa grabs his elbow first.
“Show me how you set.”
Tobio opens his mouth, closes it, and opens it again. “What? Why?”
“I’ll be gone soon. I can’t have my kouhai embarrassing the school or my legacy.” He leads Tobio to the far court, gesturing for Tobio to roll over one of the ball carriages.
Iwaizumi is waiting for them. Tobio catches the spiker’s eyes on Oikawa, but doesn’t mention it. Iwaizumi is the senpai he’s always dreamed of having; saying something that could be considered rude about his soulmate wouldn’t help him win any favors.
It feels like their roles have been reversed; Oikawa tosses the ball high above Tobio’s head, and the first year sets it, in turn, to Iwaizumi. It’s too far to the right, and a little too slow. It’s to be expected; Iwaizumi and Tobio have never trained together before. Iwaizumi hits the ball, but it goes out, a good two feet from the tape.
“Ah, sorry about that.” He cracks a half smile.
“No, it’s my fault. The ball was too high. I’m sorry!” His fingers curl into the bottom hem of his shorts, twisting around the mesh fabric. He’s blushing; he can feel his cheeks heating up with blood as he ducks his head down, close to his chest. “Please forgive me, Iwaizumi-senpai.”
Iwaizumi starts to respond, but Oikawa cuts him off. He steps forward, gripping his jaw and dragging his head upwards with icy hands. There’s a smirk on his lips, curved severely.
“Shut up, Tobio-chan. Iwa-chan doesn’t want to hear your apology, and neither do I,” he whispers low enough for Iwaizumi to not overhear. “Maybe if you could set as well as I, to any player at any time, then I would have given you the time of day before now. Maybe, if that had been the case, you wouldn’t have moped around like a dog.” He lets go before rubbing his hand on his shirt like he was dispelling dirt. “Get over yourself and set the ball.” He steps back, his smirk disappearing when he turns to face his soulmate. “Ready to spike, Iwa-chan?”
Kageyama’s hands shake as he hands a volleyball to Oikawa. He’s not sure if he’ll be able to set this time, certain it will be even more wonky than the last. He stumbles as he gets into position. He squeezes his hands in a fist, shakes his head, and signals for Oikawa to toss.
His fingers connect with the ball once it is in the correct position for an instant. It wobbles in the air, meeting Iwaizumi’s elbow instead of his palm.
Tobio half expects him to yell, to tell him to get his head out of his ass and play, or something. Instead, Iwaizumi turns on Oikawa.
“What the hell did you say to him?” he roars, shooting daggers. “We have this conversation every time you meet a setter, Trashykawa. You fuck them up until they’re shaking. Is this how you make up for your injury? Is this how you make yourself feel stronger? I’m here for you, Tooru, but you have to actually ask sometimes; I’m not a mind reader.”
Tobio isn’t sure what is happening between the two third years. His first instinct is to run and get as away from the far court as he can, but he’s stuck in place. His feet are glued to the floor.
“No, Tooru. Honestly, why can’t you just apologize for once?”
The entire room is silent as Iwaizumi storms out, and everyone is watching the far court. Both Oikawa and Tobio are still for the most part, but Tobio’s hands shake. Oikawa looks over his shoulder at Tobio, rolling his eyes.
“If there isn’t a spiker waiting, what’s the point?” he laughs, before he, too, leaves the gym.
Eventually, players go return to quietly chatting among themselves, filling the large room with chatter and the sound of volleyballs connecting with the lacquer floor. Tobio still doesn’t move, his eyes locked hazily on the discarded ball that Iwaizumi had missed. He wonders briefly if he should pick it up, but abandons the thought when he still can’t move.
“Kageyama?” Kunimi’s hands, soft and warm, wrap around his. Tobio remains stiff even as Kunimi pulls him into a tight hug. “Are you okay? We can leave practice now, if you want to. It’s almost time, anyway.”
If there isn’t a spiker, what’s the point?
Oikawa’s words circle around his mind, locking his limbs to his side. What is the point, when there isn’t someone to toss to? Tobio tells himself that he’ll always have someone to toss to; he’ll always have Kunimi and Kindaichi.
He isn’t sure why the words ring hollow, though.
“Kageyama?” There’s a tug on his arm. His breathing hitches; Kindaichi is here now as well. Kunimi must have called him over. “Do you want us to take you home?”
He nods his head numbly. The volleyball is still on the ground ten feet from him, the red and green a bit faded, the white a greyish hue. A hand is on his chin, dragging his vision away from the ball. It feels almost exactly like Oikawa, but warm enough for him to recognize as one of his soulmates. It’s Kindaichi, and his features are pinched with worry.
“Did Oikawa-senpai say something to you? I know he normally ignores you during practice.”
That is something Tobio has complained about at length while cuddling in one of their beds. He wants to improve, is hungry for it. Kunimi and Kindaichi agree, whenever the topic comes up. Oikawa and Tobio are the only setters at Kitagawa, and everyone in the club knows how fast Tobio advanced in both accuracy and speed.
Tobio nods again. He wonders where Kunimi is; he had sensed the middle blocker leaving. He wants to ask, but his mouth still won’t open.
“Kunimi is asking the coach if we can leave,” Kindaichi supplies. Both of his hands are on Tobio’s jaw, tracing the bone with careful fingers. The motion leaks heat into Tobio, loosening him up until he can bring his own hands up to Kindaichi’s face. His fingers rest on his soulmates cheeks, pink from working out.
“Can we leave now? Or, once Kunimi gets permission?” Tobio finally asks. He waits for the words to hurt, for his throat to be left sore and aching, but it never comes. Only five minutes has passed since Iwaizumi left; he hasn’t been silent for the eons that seemed to have gone by.
Kindaichi nods. The pink skin of his cheeks rubs against Tobio’s palms, comforting.
Kunimi arrives soon after that, smiling when he tells the rest of the poly bond that the coach cut practice short after Oikawa’s outburst.
“He also wants you to stay away from Oikawa for the next few practices. He said that the assistant coach will help you with technique, since he played setter in college.”
Tobio nods, smiles, takes Kunimi’s hand when they leave the gym. In the club room, Kindaichi presses a kiss to his nose after he tugs his shirt off. His skin is damp and salty under Tobio’s touch, and knows his own is the same under Kunimi’s arms when the middle blocker hugs him from behind.
Tobio’s cheeks are pinker when the rest of the team files into the room, quiet and despondent when they notice Oikawa’s locker door hanging open and clothes scattered on the floor in front of it.
Neither Iwaizumi or Oikawa show up to practice the next day.
The rest of the year hurtles passed. Tobio practices with the assistant coach and the first string players. Iwaizumi doesn’t talk to him, too busy stopping Oikawa from picking fights with the first year setter. Tobio makes a few friends on the second string, but stays closest to Kunimi and Kindaichi, rarely shifting his orbit to include others when not at practice.
By the time the coach announces a practice match against a top eight school for the second string, Tobio’s setting is consistent across the board. Kunimi squeezes his hand when they hear the news, smiling at Tobio. No one in the poly bond has played in an official game or in a match outside of a three-on-three at practice. Even if it’s against a top eight team and nowhere as strong as what Kitagawa normally plays, it is something .
Tobio wants the excitement of a match, yearns to play with his soulmates, to show everyone, to show Oikawa, just how strong the three of them can be.
Kindaichi is hold his other hand. His palm is rough from callouses, similar to Kunimi’s smaller hands in that respect.
Tobio never wants to let go.
Izumitate Junior High has barely clung to its top eight position for as long as anyone can remember. The team’s receives are solid, but other than that, the team is mediocre.
When Kitagawa steps onto the court at Izumitate, the few girls that came to watch cheer. They’re ignored for the most part by the home team, but the second string feels stronger for their support knowing that they still mean something without Oikawa.
Tobio doesn’t remember the last time he set during warm ups. It had to be elementary school, back when starters didn’t exist and the team was small enough for everyone to play in every game. He takes comfort in the familiar weight of the ball on his fingertips, tossing it above his head a few times to warm up his muscles.
“Are you ready, Kageyama?” Kindaichi asks, smiling and his eyes flash, amber and bright.
Tobio doesn’t answer. He smiles instead and gestures a set. Kindaichi nods, holds his hands out to catch the volleyball Tobio had been holding. He catches it with ease when Tobio throws it his way.
Kindaichi tosses it back to him, in the perfect position for Tobio’s split second connection. He sprints to the net, jumping high, and his palm touches the ball flawlessly. It hits the ground a few centimeters beyond the attack line, colliding loudly.
“Nice hit, nice toss.” The words are too quiet to be heard audibly, or should be, really, but Kunimi is crystal clear to his two soulmates.
Tobio smiles; if they are good in practice, they are terrifying monsters in a match.
Kitagawa comes in second at the spring tournament. Shiratorizawa grabs first, but not without losing the second set. This result leaves a bittersweet smile on Tobio’s captain’s face, but at least Oikawa is not crying this time around. Tobio has learned to fear Ushijima, and Oikawa’s smile when he loses is another thing on the list.
The poly bond ends up at Kunimi’s house again, skin salty from sweat. They’re laying atop the quilt, and their hands are linked between their heads. Kindaichi is on his back, legs pressed vertically to the cream colored walls. Tobio’s dangle off the edge of the bed.
Kunimi’s mom comes into the room after she comes home from work. She is not as cold when it comes to Tobio anymore, but she still frowns every time she sees him. Tobio doesn’t mind; Kunimi frowns back just as hard, never letting go of his hand when she’s in the room.
“Do you regret losing the game?” It’s a familiar scene with near identical lines, a flashback to the previous tournament.
“No,” Tobio replies. He doesn’t regret it. Second place two tournaments in a row isn’t a terrible first year. “Besides, there’s always next year.”
“And our dear little Kageyama will be starting. Isn’t that right, Kunimi?” Kindaichi asks. He lets go of Tobio’s hand, trails his fingers along the skin on the inside of Tobio’s forearm.
“You’ll start as well. We all will. Coach knows how well the three of us work together.” Tobio pauses, considering his next words. “Besides, what’s the point of volleyball if I can’t play with my soulmates?”
They’re quiet after that. Kindaichi traces a heart on Tobio’s wrist. By the time they all fall asleep, they’re huddled in a mass of tangled limbs and twisted shirts.
The winter after their first year seemed to last decades.
The poly bond learns more colors: the violet of skies in late December, the ever shifting white of snow mounds. The memory of dead grass, brown and dull, planted itself firmly in Tobio’s brain for some reason, even if he found the color ugly.
They practice volleyball in Tobio’s backyard. It’s hard for him to set in his mittens, but they still flow through each play until the game eventually dissolves into tumbling in the snow.
Tobio forms a snowball carefully. The cold, white powder chills his fingers, even with the mittens. Once it is smooth enough, he looks to where Kunimi and Kindaichi are building a snowman. They had already finished the base, and are currently working on the midsection.
Tobio lifts the snowball, closing one eye as he takes aim. Kindaichi isn’t far away, only about six feet, and Tobio has fairly competent aim. He slings his arm, and releases the snow once it is fully extended.
The snow hit Kindaichi squarely in the back. He jumps, a quiet squeak falls from his lips. Kunimi laughs, but claps a hand over his mouth once he sees Kindaichi’s expression. He’s frowning, scrunching his eyebrows up.
His hat slips down a bit as he leans down to scoop up a handful of snow. He slaps it together into a faint spherical shape.
“Run,” he whispers, barely loud enough for Tobio to make out each individual letter, before Kindaichi chucks it at him. The ball hits his shoulder. The impact trips him up, and he falls to the ground. The snow cushions his fall, but leaves his pants cold and wet. He’s lying on his back, staring at the sky, hair growing damp. It’s a pale blue, speckled with clouds heavy with snow.
He stays like that, even after Kunimi and Kindaichi finish their snowman and come sit beside him. Kunimi cards his gloved fingers through Tobio’s hair.
“Do you think we’ll be in the same class next year?” Kindaichi asks, even though he knows the answer already; they all do. Kunimi is in college prep courses, and soulmates are never placed in the same room, lest they distract each other during lessons.
“Maybe,” Tobio still responds. It’s barely a hope, and there’s no harm in wishing for them to be together all the time. It’s a normal wish, a normal thought.
Volleyball is strange in the spring when practice restarts without the older third years. The gym seems quiet without Iwaizumi’s spikes and Oikawa’s fangirls. Tobio had been looking forward to this year, to the quiet and to playing in official matches, but now, it feels too forced.
Four first years try out for the team. They’re strong enough, but not so much that they could hope to replace Iwaizumi and the others who had graduated. Even the current third years aren’t that good.
But the poly bond is unstoppable, a force unprecedented in Kitagawa. They’ve only improved since their first year, developing moves that even their prolific coach can’t keep up with.
They push themselves harder in practice, even more than their third year senpai, even more than Oikawa before his first injury. They play until Tobio’s fingers twitch, until Kindaichi’s palms are bruised, until Kunimi can barely lift his arms to block.
The first years keep away from them and their grueling practice regimen, sticking close to their own setter. He’s short, with pale blonde hair and hands that shake whenever Tobio watches him play. Tobio ignores him for the most part, and his stuttered words.
Eventually, even the coach notices. Tobio supposes that he remembers Oikawa’s determination, his rise and fall that resulted in his knee injury. He warns the three soulmates, and they listen for the most part. Kunimi stays for extra practice but only ever watches, occasionally tossing a ball for Tobio’s setting practice.
Kindaichi and Tobio, however, play even harder, like they have to make up for Kunimi. They come home later and later, weekends blurring into a steady stream of volleyball, homework, volleyball, volleyball, volleyball. By the time the spring tournament rolls around and the third years don’t play, they’re monsters on the court, famous throughout Miyagi.
Tobio’s sets evade blockers, zooming through the air to connect with Kindaichi’s hand before smacking the ground. Kunimi’s blocks, fingers spread wide in the air, devastate the other teams until the final game.
Kitagawa Junior High finishes the spring tournament in second place, right behind Shiratorizawa Academy.
Something shifts that winter. It falls like a line of dominos, and each one falls one by one.
It begins when Tobio pushes the other two for longer practices. It’s their final year, his last chance to do what Oikawa never could. He’s going to beat Shiratorizawa Junior High, but he can’t let up; he’s not strong enough yet. They need to practice more, for longer hours. He tells Kindaichi and Kunimi as much, but Kunimi protests for napping together during lunch and after school, and Kindaichi sides with him.
It continues when Kindaichi fails three science tests in a row, and he and Kunimi skip practice to go over flashcards. Tobio doesn’t think much of it the first time; he is doing fine in science, actually passing unlike English class, and Koizumi, a second year setter, is finally warming up to him. Tobio is trying to not be like Oikawa, to be the kind and courageous senpai the other setter deserves.
The second time is right before a test, with the morning summer sun casting through the third floor windows. The air feels too still, blocking up Tobio’s throat.
“Kunimi and I can’t make it to practice. Sorry,” Kindaichi had apologized, staring at the floor instead of his soulmate.
At the time, Tobio didn’t know what to say. It was the first time Kindaichi had avoided his gaze, but in the following months, it certainly wasn’t the last.
Kindaichi and Kunimi skip every practice leading up to the test, and the one the day of the test. Tobio doesn’t say anything to anyone; he wants his soulmate to do well in school, even if it means their connection is boiled down to the few volleyball practices they go to, and the odd lunch when Kunimi isn’t studying for his college prep courses, and Tobio isn’t setting against a wall.
He practices with the other players in the first string, and even some of the second string. Setting to them doesn’t come as naturally as it does with the other members of the poly bond. He can’t perfectly sync with their timing or speed, so he spends even more time in the gymnasium. The first and second years start to avoid him more, whispering behind him in the club room.
It ends two days after the science test, when Kindaichi approaches him.
“One of the first years asked me a question during lunch today,” Kindaichi says after practice as they pack away the rest of the equipment after the first and second years leave to head home. “He looked like he was about to piss himself. I was surprised that he came all alone.”
Tobio doesn’t say anything, and lets Kindaichi’s words run their course. It’s easier than talking after how forced things have felt in the recent weeks.
“He said that everyone in the club was afraid of you, and that you pushed too hard, expected too much of first years. He made you sound like Oikawa-san.”
Tobio drops the volleyballs he had been holding. They hit the floor, scattering and rolling off in every direction. He doesn’t want to talk about Oikawa, even if two years have passed since he last spoke to his senpai. Being compared to him by his soulmate rips his breath from his lungs, leaving him feeling like the scared first year who couldn’t manage a toss to Iwaizumi.
Kindaichi pauses, and leans down to pick up the volleyballs Tobio dropped. He presses them into Tobio’s arms, looking him dead in the eyes once he begins to talk again.
“I said he was lying. I told him that my soulmate wouldn’t act that way, not after his experience with the setter from our first year. And do you know what he said to me? He didn’t realize that you had your colors, or that you even knew what love was, because you acted so heartless all the time.
“He said that my soulmate was a monster, and after everything he told me about, it almost seems true.” He steps away once he is done, but his eyes remain on Tobio’s. “Please try to be kinder to the kouhai. Akira was eating lunch with me; he looked like he might cry.”
And suddenly, it’s Tobio who wants to cry. He could look past science test study dates no one asked him to attend, he could ignore skipped club practices. He could pretend none of that was real, and that it was all a bad dream.
But this wasn’t a dream; it was his two soulmates having lunch together in Kindaichi’s classroom, the one they didn’t share no matter how much Tobio had hoped the previous winter that they would. It’s given names while he’s still going by Kageyama, not Tobio, and he wonders when the shift happened.
He’s staring at the volleyball, and memories from his first year of middle school hit him like a semi-truck going seventy miles per hour.
He wonders how the therapist who told him he is important, that he matters, is doing. He hopes her poly bond hasn’t been ripped to shreds. He wants her to be happy, even though he doesn’t remember her name, or if he ever even knew it.
“You are all important,” she had said. She had looked him in the eye, and made him feel worth it. He knows she specialized in poly bonds. She must have seen hundreds of them fall apart, melt apart like a popsicle in summer until even the universe couldn’t hold them together.
Tobio should have kept running that day outside of the convenience store, Toppo firmly in his hand. He hasn’t had any since that day, and the near thought of his makes him sick. He should have run, shouldn’t have looked back. Because today, in the gym and gripping a volleyball to his stomach, that jealous burn is back like a day never went by.
“Kageyama?” Kindaichi’s hands are on his jaw, holding his head up like he did that they back in first year. But it’s not first year anymore, and it’s not a senpai ripping him apart. It’s Kindaichi and Kunimi, his soulmates, his poly bond.
He rips away from the touch like he’s been burned, and maybe he has. Jealousy boils up his throat, chopping up his words. “O-okay.” His vision is blurring even more and he feels dizzy. The volleyball slips through his fingers again. “I need to go home. Now. Sorry.”
He barely makes it through the door before he breaks down. Kindaichi calls after him, but he’s run too far at this point, running like he should have all those years ago. His feet pound against the pavement, but the sound is distant, watered down in his head.
His hands shake when he tries to open the front door of his house, only to realize it’s locked, his bag is back in the club room at school, and his mom won’t be back from work for at least an hour. He collapses onto the front porch, breathing hard. Tears blur his vision, so he closes his eyes.
It’s easier that way, when he can’t see how the grass doesn’t seem as bright anymore.
His eyes are still screwed shut when his mom gets home from work, and remain that way as she guides him inside and into the living room. She’s quiet for the most part, but Tobio can hear the fluttering of her skirt when she leaves the room, and the sound of a cabinet opening and closing before she opens the sink tap. She comes back soon and offers him a glass of water, which he eagerly drinks from.
She takes the glass from him once he drains it, and places it on the coffee table. He finally opens his eyes. He’s in the living room, which he already knew. His mother is sitting on the couch beside him, clear worry wrinkling her features. She reaches out a hand to wipe away his tears; her hand doesn’t feel like Oikawa’s or Kindaichi’s, pleasantly warm without being overbearing.
The room is growing dark, and long shadows are thrown across the room through the sliding glass doors. They sit in silence until the light fades and Tobio’s breathing calms, though it still feels like someone’s arms are squeezing his ribs, cracking the bones under their touch and sending shards into his lungs. Breathing is hard; thinking is harder.
“What happened?” she finally asks, hand still wiping away the stray tear. The words feel too loud after being trapped in his own head for so long. “I haven’t seen you cry in who knows how long.”
Tobio feels like he’s choking again. He hopes the counselor is happy, that she doesn’t feel as broken down and as destroyed as he does in this moment.
“They left me, I suppose.” Tobio hates the words as soon as they leave his mouth. They’re not big enough, too soft to describe the broken glass and shrapnel filling his heart. They don’t say how he’s choking on every word Kindaichi and Kunimi speak about him , how he’s the only monster in the volleyball club now. “They left ages ago, and Kindaichi finally decided to tell me.”
It feels more final once he finishes talking, instead of hanging above his head like a guillotine.
He’s crying again, damp, fat drops rolling down his cheeks. He hiccups, whimpers.
“You are all important,” the therapist had said that to him, back in first year as Kindaichi and Kunimi both held his hand, when nothing seemed impossible, when they were monsters together.
It feels like a lie now, and he wonders how he ever believed her in the first place. He’s tripping over his own thoughts now as they rush around his brain. His hands tense. His knuckles whiten when he grips the edge of the couch, and his blood veins glow blue underneath skin.
“It’s okay, Tobio. You’ll work your way back together – “
“I don’t think we will, Mom. The colors, they’re fading constantly now.” he whispers, like saying it aloud will speed the process. And maybe it does, or maybe it’s the sun sinking beyond the horizon, but the room is dim, darker than Tobio remembers for this time of year. “I can’t remember the last time we were together, and half of the team didn’t realize I had my colors, or that my soulmates were a part of a poly bond. No one knew, and no one made any move to learn.”
His mom makes a pained noise before pulling Tobio into her arms. They rock together on the couch, cheeks and shoulders damp from where they meet. This, crying, sobbing, gasping for breath, is easier than thinking and a hell of a lot better than talking. Tobio pushes down the memory of Kindaichi words as best he can as they keep resurfacing.
They fall asleep holding each other. When he wakes, Tobio wonders how he ever found the sunrise beautiful, with its washed out yellows and reds, rimmed in purple and stardust.
There are bushes lining the sidewalk by the convenience store. They were small, low to the ground and too often trampled by wayward children to ever grow much. Tobio could never remembered those plants once he left the stretch of that block, too insignificant to build lasting memories.
He can no longer tell the color of the flowers, if they were ever something beyond grayish pink.
He reaches the front gate of Kitagawa Junior High. He doesn’t have his messenger bag, barely has enough time to fetch it from the club room as it is before first bell.
He keeps his gaze on his shoes; those are black, were dark even when he fully had color. It’s easier than looking up at the students that swarm around him, on the off chance that he would see Kindaichi and Kunimi. He feels like they’re in the courtyard, hears snips of their voices and names. He keeps walking, head down, eyes on his shoes.
He ends up in front of the administration building, where the onsite soulmate counselor’s office is held. He considers going inside, talking to a therapist, if not the one from first year. She was nice enough, once she looked him in the eye and told him, no matter when he met his soulmates, he was just as important in the dynamic. Now, her words sound like scripted phrases, fed to her at university. He hopes the bond crumbles, shreds itself to pieces printed in grayscale. He regrets the thought, hopes Kindaichi and Kunimi are happy.
He keeps walking to the club room.
Tobio, as unhappy as he was when he first learned, is thankful that Kunimi is in college prep and Kindaichi is in a different class. He can’t imagine being in the same room as them and breathing normally, when the thought of Kindaichi’s name and the brush of Kunimi’s hand leaves him gasping for oxygen.
He goes to administration during lunch, and asks to see the poly bond counselor. There’s paperwork to be filled out before he’s allowed in the office, but it’s mostly tedious and not overly thought-provoking. He bubbles in his year and class number after writing his name on the dotted line. Next is the reason, which is easy enough, just a few options and a fill in the blank for ‘other.’
(Other: issues in dynamic, resulting in fading of colors.)
He turns it, as well as the pen she loaned him, into the secretary. Within five minutes, she calls him to the poly bond counselor’s office. It’s the same woman from first year, with the same icy and calculating eyes when the door first opens. Her eyes soften somewhat when she recognizes him, but melt completely when the secretary whispers something in her ear and hands over the paperwork he filled out.
He sits on the opposite side of the round table. She stands and walks over to a massive filing cabinet, retrieving a familiar manila folder from inside. Once she sits, she opens it.
“Do you remember what I told you two years ago, Kageyama-kun?”
“You said that I mattered, that everyone in the bond mattered.” He’s alone in this room; there is no soulmate to hold his hand, or squeeze his knee. “I think that you were lying, though.”
She’s writing notes in pen, but unless the ink is black, Tobio doesn’t know the color. He still can’t read her handwriting, and doesn’t particularly want to.
“If you didn’t matter in the bond, why did the universe include you in it? You were made for the bond, and only that bond. It would fail without you.” Tobio wonders if she liked the professor who taught her that, or if she actually believed it.
“Then why did they leave me?” he nearly shouts, but his voice cracks painfully halfway through. Neither of them mentions it; neither of them cares to.
“The textbook answer is a lack of communication and varying interests. But, you are also very young, Kageyama-kun. It’s possible that you met too early,” she says softly, placing her hand on the table as if she might reach across and squeeze his, but the table is too large in diameter. It feels bigger than it was in first year.
“And the colors? Can you tell me why they’re fading?” Tobio expected that to be the worst of it all, plunging back into gray and black. If anything, he feels too hollow to notice, like blurry vision due to a cold. But this isn’t a cold, and it won’t be better in three days.
“It’s a common effect of soulmate rejection in any bond.” Her words are constructed carefully, but they still smack his chest with the force of a wrecking ball. “In rare cases, if the soulmate is reintroduced into the bond, they may regain primary colors. Anything more than that is practically unheard of. You have a better chance of winning the lottery.”
He stands when she says that, swinging his messenger bag over his shoulder. She doesn’t call his name, and he keeps walking. The bell rings as he walks past his classroom door, but he ignores it, and doesn’t stop until he’s home.
He skips a full week of practice. No one comes to find him, not like they would with Kunimi. No one mentions it either, when he finally shows up in the club room, like they would have with Kindaichi. He doesn’t mind, really doesn’t mind. It’s easier for him to not dwell on the past week, or the colors that he no longer cares to know the names of.
Besides, he figures as he slams his locker door shut, what do they care if the tyrant doesn’t show up to practice? It just makes life easier on the court.
He only ever wanted to play; he could have gone to Izumitate and done just as well, could have abandoned all idea of Kitagawa. But, if he had done that, there’s the off chance that Kunimi and Kindaichi would have never met, and even after everything that has happened, he still can’t bring himself to hurt them in practice.
The captain leads the club through warm up stretches, and it still feel strange to Tobio to not stand beside the other members of the poly bond, even if he knew it was coming. He moves through the motions numbly, barely feeling the tug of stretched muscles.
Once they’re done, Koizumi finds him. His blonde hair is fluffy, and Tobio hopes that the pale color fades soon. Maybe once every color is gone, he will stop missing his soulmates. It’s a foolish hope, but one he clings to anyway.
“Who should I practice with today?” Koizumi ask. Although his words no longer stutter, he still won’t look at Tobio as he speaks.
“First string. You haven’t worked with them before, have you?”
“Okay, do you want me to work with Kindaichi and Kunimi as well – “
“Yes, they’re on the first string, aren’t they?” Tobio walks away before the other boy can answer. Distance is good. Distance is safe.
Tobio doesn’t know the last time he worked with the current second string, or if he even ever has, but they fall into line easily enough on the far court.
Tobio has a hard time syncing with their jumps. He can’t focus. None of it comes as easily as setting to Kunimi and Kindaichi, or even the other starting players. The second string was eager at first to practice with Tobio, tripping over their own feet to spike first. Tobio is happy enough to run the drill mindlessly, tossing the ball over and over and over again. He wears the second string out until even his own fingers ache. But even then, he doesn’t stop.
It’s just giving them another reason to call him a monster, but it is easier to accept if it’s more than just his soulmates.
He fakes being ill and leaves before clean up. Kunimi watches him go, and it’s obvious that he can detect the lie. As far as Tobio can tell, he doesn’t point it out to anyone.
It’s the kindest thing either one of his soulmates has done in months, and Tobio tries to not think about it too much as he packs his stuff in the club room. He does not tear up when he leaves, and the colors do not fade another hue.
They say that absence makes the heart grow fonder, but Tobio doesn’t believe them. All it does is stop his colors from fading out of existence all together for a little longer. Hints of color flicker at the edge of his peripheral vision, whispers of what once was and what never will be.
Once a week, he forces himself to set for the first string, to run drill after drill with them. He still knows how each player functions well enough that he can set even when salt water blurs his vision. He can set with his eyes closed when it’s Kunimi or Kindaichi; the motion is as ingrained in his body as breathing.
Besides, with his eyes closed, he can pretend that the color of their eyes is fading just as much as the world around them.
Walking into the gymnasium that summer felt less surreal as it had in previous years and more of a chore. The smell of Air Salonpas leaves him light headed and anxious, but Tobio looks passed to win the first two games in straight sets.
They lose their third game. No one can remember a time when Kitagawa was not in the top two, let alone in the top eight.
When they get to school, no one mentions how Kindaichi didn’t touch the ball outside of serve receives in the entirety of the third match. Tobio can feel everyone’s eyes on him as he grabs his stuff after changing in the club room, but Tobio can’t bring himself to blame anyone.
Kitagawa isn’t strong anymore, and Tobio doesn’t care. Things change, and his volleyball career is just another domino to fall.
“What the hell was that game?” Kindaichi shouts, grabbing Tobio’s elbow as he walks past the convenience store. His touch feels like ice, even though the fabric Tobio’s gakuran blocks his touch for the most part.
Tobio knew this was coming, but he hadn’t expected it fifteen minutes after he left the club room. He keeps walking, head down. The pavement was a dull gray even in the winter of his second year when everything felt possible, so looking there is less painful than dull gray bushes with grayish flowers.
He shrugs off Kindaichi’s hand but doesn’t keep walking, before saying, “I have no idea what you’re talking about. I didn’t throw the game, if that’s what you think.”
“If there isn’t a spiker, what’s the point?”
Tobio wonders if this is what Oikawa meant back in third year, when he stormed out of the gym after Iwaizumi-san. Because, somewhere along the line, those words faded from spiker to soulmate, shifting to what’s the point if Kindaichi and Kunimi aren’t there? What's the point if they don't want Kageyama?
He knows how Iwaizumi felt for his soulmate, the way that he would cling to keep Oikawa grounded and whole. It’s possible, that if Tobio had been in a monogamous bond, someone would have done the same for him.
“You are all important.”
He doubts she believes that. He should have asked how her bond was, and if they had ever cast her aside without a second thought.
“I never said you did,” Kindaichi says indignantly. “I just want to know why you didn’t even fucking try. We could have won, if you gave me the toss. That first year was right; you are a tyrant.”
Tobio turns around and walks down the sidewalk, eyes on the unchanging cement. He doesn’t want to be here when he could be home, covers pulled up over his head as he munches on Toppo for old time’s sake. He hasn’t had it in years, but he wants it now even if it leaves him sick.
“You made Akira cry, Kageyama. Do you have any idea how he feels now? You – “
“Shut up, Kindaichi. How he feels?” Tobio scoffs. “How about how I feel? My own soulmate called me a tyrant. Do you know what happens when your soulmate leaves you? Do you really?”
“Kageyama – “
“Your colors fade, Kindaichi. Can you imagine how painful that must be?” Tobio shakes his head. “But that’s not what hurts. I barely notice it now, after how much it hurts to know you said goodbye, and that you and Kunimi are still happy together.”
He walks away, and like that day at the gym, Kindaichi makes no move to stop him.
Kunimi’s eyes are puffy and red at practice the next day.
Tobio pretends not to notice, which is easy enough when he sends Koizumi to practice with the first string. He also pretends to not notice when the other players whisper about the game, throwing around words like king and tyrant.
His colors remain steady until the spring tournament. He practices with the first string more, but he keeps his eyes closed whenever he sets to the soulmates from volleyball club. It’s almost like everyone forgot about the poly bond amidst their ranks the moment it shattered, and it makes things easier for the most part.
Volleyball consumes him. He masters his jump serve the way he used to watch Oikawa do it. But for him, when he’s worn out and panting on the cold floor of the gym, there’s no Iwaizumi to make sure he gets home alright. It’s the coach who finds him, and it’s the coach who doesn’t say a word when he ushers Tobio out of the gym after handing him a sports drink.
It’s raining again as he walks home, splattering on his skin. Tobio has always liked thunderstorms, when the clouds were dark enough to cast long shadows that bathe everything in obsidian. He shivers as water soaks through his jacket, close enough to the ice Tobio felt the last time Kindaichi touched him.
He buys Toppo on the way home. He doesn’t feel sick afterwards, and views it as the one good thing the universe has done for him in years.
The morning of the spring tournament, Tobio considers quitting the team. Koizumi knows the first stringer better at this point, even if he lacks Tobio’s accuracy. He lays in bed until his mother pounds on the door to wake him up, and then doesn’t leave his room until the captain sends a message in the group chat reminding everyone to arrive at Kitagawa on time.
On the bus, Tobio sits in the very back. Koizumi smiles at him when he gets on, but sits next to the libero, who was also a second year. Tobio doesn’t mind, not really. People have friends, and he happens to be an acceptation. Kindaichi and Kunimi sit together in the middle, laughing over some joke the captain told.
Tobio falls asleep before the bus pulls out of the school parking lot.
Their first game is against a no-name school that’s barely large enough to support a team. He doesn’t bother to remember the name; his focus is solely on winning this game, bypassing blockers again and again until they win finals.
The captain of the other team, some short boy with bright hair who belongs in elementary school is the only one with experience, and even then, he can barely play. They win the set easily at twenty-five to five, only losing points when a serve goes out of bounds. It’s clear who is going to win, but Tobio keeps pushing, throwing everything into the game. He won’t lose, can’t lose, all for them. Even if his soulmates don’t want him, he will still fight for the poly bond. Kindaichi’s spikes tug a smile at the corner of his lips, but Tobio stamps it down. Kindaichi isn’t his anymore, he’s just a teammate, a means to an end.
The first time he jumps, Tobio swears that the wing spiker is flying. His head is above the net and he’s smiling, whipping his arm around. The toss is shaky but the spike is excellent, a clean point if the poly bond hadn’t jumped to block it.
It takes Tobio back to the practice match against Izumitate Junior High, when the three of him had been monsters together, unstoppable beasts.
Not his, not his.
When the captain of the opposing team jumps in the second set, Tobio wonders what it’s like to believe until the end, to fight point for point even when you’re so far behind. The ball lands inside the tape.
“The six of us can finally play volleyball on the court. The first game, the second game – we’ll win and keep winning.”
Blind faith in the team; that’s something Tobio has long forgotten. He had it when the bond was whole, not now, when he’s clinging to splintered shards of it. Now, he can’t imagine it. It’s hard for Tobio to understand how the small captain does it, even when the score is abysmal.
“The playoffs, nationals; I’m going to win them all.”
He had told the short that so surely, like there wasn’t a doubt in the world that he won’t win, that it was predestined that he would surmount Shiratorizawa and rise to national fame. But now, without a reason to toss, Tobio doesn’t think he can climb that high anymore.
Four points from the end of the game, Kitagawa stops trying. There isn’t a point really; blocking alone would insure their victory. But Kindaichi stops running for the spike, and the libero stops digging for the receive. Points start to slip by.
Tobio pushes further, demanding more and more. He has to win, has to beat this team, the next opponent, and the one after that.
“That was close,” Kindaichi jokes, a smirk on his face even though he was barely on time for the hit.
“Faster, you need to be faster,” coaches Tobio, turning away before anyone see his face drop due to Kunimi’s glare.
“Reckless tosses as usual,” Tobio hears Kindaichi complain as Kitagawa lines up to serve.
Tobio knows it’s a lie, everyone knows it is a lie. When it comes to Kindaichi and Kunimi, his sets will always be perfect, snug in their palm at the apex of their jump. There is no margin of error beyond their own hatred for him.
“I know. The opponents can’t even block; what’s the point?”
“Then when will you get serious about it?” Tobio whips around, roaring. He’s just so angry. Kunimi use to care about volleyball, playing his hardest against any and all teams. The bond meant something; playing hard until victory was in hand.
The play begins before Kunimi can say anything else, or Kindaichi can comment further. Tobio suppresses a frown; only a few more points until Kitagawa wins. He can last that long, hopefully.
Kunimi’s serve is spot-on, but one of the players manages to pick it up. The ball is airborne, heading straight for the far wall.
“Another service ace,” Kunimi says, but it’s not true. The captain is running, gaining ground faster than Tobio thought possible for his height. He’s pushing the way Kindaichi use to, the way Kunimi use to play until the end, no matter how hopeless the situation.
“He won’t get that.”
It’s obvious, but he keeps fighting, pushing hard until he slides into the wall, the ball landing beside him.
Tobio lets out a shaky breath. Almost there, almost there.
Number three receives Kunimi’s serve cleanly this time, and the captain spikes it through Kindaichi’s block.
“One touch!” Kindaichi shouts. They’re so close, one more point, one more point.
It sails through the air out of bonds. Kunimi doesn’t run after it. The other team raises their score to eight. Kitagawa is certain to win, but they were so close. It could have ended; Kunimi could have ended it.
“Don’t give up on the ball,” Kageyama chastises, although it comes out more like a growl.
“M-my bad.” Kunimi ducks his head.
Tobio feels like he’s been stabbed through the heart. He’s hurting Kunimi, hurting his soulmate. Volleyball, a game, shouldn’t be more important than that, but somehow it is. It’s their last thread connecting them, and Tobio can’t let it break, even as it unravels.
“We haven’t won yet. You can’t let your guard down.” Even though victory is so close he can taste it, Tobio feels more like he’s losing.
They return to position for the other team’s score, and the world seems a little dimmer. He can’t afford a break down in a game. Color doesn’t matter , he tells himself. Win the game, that’s what matters.
The rest of the game is a blur, just setting and blocking. Don’t mind, don’t cry.
They win. Tobio should have quit the team that morning, he tells himself as he sits in a locked bathroom stall. He should have quit, let the second year handle it.
They win the second and third games. Tobio isn’t surprised, but he still wishes they lost. It’s his last chance to play beside Kindaichi and Kunimi, but the sooner it ends, the less time they’ll ignore him like he had never meant something to them.
Absence makes the heart grow fonder, but it also keeps the pain to the minimum.
Finals start at six in the evening. The team goes out for a late lunch at a small family-run restaurant. Koizumi drags Tobio to his table. It’s awkward for the most part, but it’s better than sitting with the coach and factuality advisor like he had the day before. He pokes at his shrimp tempura, not really paying attention to what he’s eating. The second years are talking about soulmates, like everyone does when conversation runs stale.
“I met mine when I was eight, back in elementary.” the libero says, smiling dreamily. “She goes to a different school now, so we hang out on the weekends mostly.”
“Why can’t I meet mine?” moans Koizumi, resting his head on the table. “Half of my class knows theirs, and it’s the same with volleyball. Even Kageyama-san knows his.”
“You know yours?” the libero asks like Koizumi is joking, a lie to make Koizumi’s suffering more predominate.
Tobio nods, shoving some of his tempura in his mouth to delay answering. His food is cold at this point from messing with it for so long, but it still tastes good.
“We met in our first year of middle school.”
He really doesn’t want to say more, not when Kindaichi and Kunimi are a table away. They haven’t talked since semifinals, and even that was arguing and yelling. It’s easiest when he pretends that they don’t exist, or that the color tinting the edge of his vision is from a lack of sleep.
“Do they go to Kitagawa? Do I know them?” the libero keeps asking questions after that, but Tobio doesn’t think passed the first two.
“Yeah, I have a poly bond with Kunimi and Kindaichi, actually.” There was a time when he smiled as he told people this, proud of his colors and relationship. Now, he hides it. It’s not too hard though, when his soulmates don’t even give him the time of day.
“What?” everyone at the table except for Koizumi asks in unison.
“I’ve never seen you three together. Kindaichi and Kunimi, sure, but not you,” says one of the first years.
“Sorry,” Koizumi whispers to Tobio. Tobio shakes his head; he doesn’t really care.
“Why don’t you play together as much anymore?” a second year asks. “You were really good together second year.”
Tobio opens his mouth to respond, but stops when he hears a glass hit the floor and shatter. Kunimi looks at him, scared, before running out of the restaurant. Kindaichi follows, yelling, “Akira!” loudly. Tobio remains firmly in his seat.
The first and second years don’t talk about soulmates after that.
For the first time, the crowd doesn’t cheer for Kitagawa. They scream for Shiratorizawa Middle, going hoarse as soon as they step onto the court. People from Kitagawa watch, but they’re washed out by the sheer number of Shiratorizawa fans.
Kitagawa fills onto the court, heads held high. It’s his last chance to win with his soulmates. They won’t all go to the same high school, playing volleyball in the same gym. If anything, he’ll be lucky if Kunimi even plays after this year.
He shuts out the fans until it’s just the court, the net, the blocker and the next toss. They run through spiking, with Koizumi tossing the ball to Tobio like he did for Oikawa during every tournament in his first year. He finds himself missing the motion, strangely enough. For years it has been twisted into a bad memory, but now, it’s so simple, nearly impossible to screw up.
“Line up,” the coach calls after Tobio does one final run through with the starting lineup. They bow, and the game begins.
Shiratorizawa destroys them in the first set. They are nowhere close to how they were when Ushijima Wakatoshi and Oikawa were in middle school, but Kitagawa is still shaky from their fall to top eight.
Shiratorizawa serves first, lightning quick and as forceful as a bullet. It goes straight to the libero, but he falls flat on his back from the impact.
The game goes from bad to worse after that, with Shiratorizawa gradually building up momentum. Shiratorizawa reaches twenty points first, Kitagawa at seventeen, before gaining four points through a pinch server. Kitagawa’s libero manages to receive the next ball, sending it straight to Tobio. He sets it for Kindaichi, who hits it straight into the ten-foot line.
It’s Tobio’s turn to serve next. He takes a deep breath.
“Nice serve!” Kunimi yells right before he tosses. Tobio can’t tell if Kunimi is saying it to trip him up or offer a boost of confidence, but Tobio hits the ball soundly. It crashes into the ground an inch from the back line, fast enough for the libero to not even react.
Twenty-four to nineteen. Tobio can work with this.
A wing spiker receives his next jump serve, but it goes askew, heading straight back for the net. Kunimi bumps it to Tobio, who sets it to a second year wing spiker that didn’t have any blockers on him.
Twenty-four to twenty. They’re getting closer.
His next serve is picked up cleanly, and sent back to the setter. It’s then in the ace’s hands before colliding with the floor.
It’s only the first set; Tobio can work with this.
In the beginning of the second set, both teams grapple for momentum. They trade point after point, rallies running long. Eventually, Kitagawa manages to score double points. They run with it, evading blockers and launching their own defense. The set runs long, deuce after deuce until ending at twenty-nine twenty-seven, Kitagawa in the lead.
One more set, Tobio can do this, Tobio can win and stand on the national stage. It’s his last chance; there’s no going back now.
Tobio serves first in the third set, but by this point, Shiratorizawa has adjusted accordingly to his power. Shiratorizawa keeps hold of a steady five-point lead until they reach fifteen points, when Kitagawa begins to make a comeback.
Kunimi serves; it’s in, just missed by the libero. They can make it.
They lose the next point, and soon enough, Shiratorizawa has twenty and Kitagawa has fifteen. The exchange of points is steady, a back and forth transition, but Kitagawa is never going to get ahead. Everyone on the team can sense it; even their fans have stopped trying to beat Shiratorizawa’s cheerleaders.
“We’re not going to win this year either,” Kunimi says, loud enough for everyone to hear during a timeout. No one calls him out on it, even if Tobio wants to. They can still win, he wants to say, even if the odds are stacked against them.
“There’s no way,” Kindaichi agrees. He combs his fingers through his hair, tilting his head back.
“Shut up!” Tobio yells. His soulmates visibly flinch. “Just, shut up. We can still win; we just have to try. And, work together, I guess.”
“And the king is willing to? I’m shocked, Kageyama-sama. I never took you as one to work with others,” Kindaichi retorts, face flushed red. “After everything - “
“Keep it off the court boys,” the coach finally steps in, frowning. “Now, I don’t know what is causing tension in your bond, but work it out on your own time.”
“Coach – “ Kunimi begs, but the ref blows his whistle, signaling the end of the timeout.
“Get on the court, boys, and do your best. There’s no shame in coming second.”
Shiratorizawa starts out strong, a service ace right out of the gate. It smashes into the ground a foot from Tobio in the backline, leaving him reeling.
Twenty-one to fifteen. Shit odds, but he’s seen worse and still won.
He receives the next serve to the chest, but Kunimi keeps it up, bumping it to Kindaichi. Their time is impeccable, but Shiratorizawa’s blocker catches it. Kitagawa’s libero barely manages to make the block follow up, but it’s back in the air to Tobio.
He raises his arms above his head to intercept the ball. He knows this angle to the T even with his eyes closed, but he manages to keep them open this time around.
Tobio knows his exact position; four feet to his right and one three feet ahead. He knows to the millimeter how high he can jump this late in the game, and when he’ll reach his apex.
The ball sails smoothly through the air, not wobbling even once. It reaches where Kindaichi should be, and goes straight on pass. No Kitagawa players are in the air. The volleyball lands far louder than it should a foot to the right of the referee.
“If there isn’t a spiker waiting, what’s the point?”
There’s a gasp from the crowd, a perfect toss gone unhit by the ace. Tobio keeps hearing Oikawa in his head, louder and louder until he’s screaming.
“If there isn’t a spiker waiting, what’s the point?”
He watches the ball roll along the lacquer floors until Shiratorizawa’s coach, old and balding, picks it up. He spins the ball in his hands. Tobio doesn’t look away from its yellow and blue surface.
“If there isn’t a spiker waiting, what’s the point?”
But he’s not looking at the ball, not really, not in this moment. He’s watching it fly over Kindaichi as the wing spiker doesn’t jump. Tobio is seeing the bittersweet smile, and how it illuminates when he looks straight through Tobio’s shoulder and to his soulmate.
“If there isn’t a spiker waiting, what’s the point?”
A million things suddenly make sense, from the science test to skipping practice, rebelling against Tobio’s shouts of faster. Kindaichi was never was his, and neither was Kunimi. The three of them may be a poly bond, and every member may matter, but Tobio has always been an outsider, from the first volleyball practice to the day surrounded by snow when they built a snowman that didn’t melt for two weeks.
“Kitagawa member change: number four out, number twelve subbing in,” the announcer says over the loudspeaker. The voice is monotonous and crackling, backlit by whispering spectators.
“I never took you as one to work with others.”
Tobio wants to know when his soulmates, the soulmates from the volleyball club, first enacted this plan. It wasn’t new, a sudden change of heart. He should have seen this coming, after every muttered word during practice. They were never his to love.
“The king is dead; long live the king.” Tobio can ignore Kunimi’s slight smile, the upturn of his lips that used to be for Tobio in a completely different setting. He never cared about the game this year; he should have quit, Kunimi, not Tobio. “Shame it happened on television, though.”
Tobio walks off the court stiffly, head held high even as tears well in the corner of his eyes. He collapsed onto the bench next to a first year, but the smaller boy slides a foot away.
Tobio pukes, dry heaving, before the other staring players finish welcoming Koizumi onto the court, slapping his back and joking loudly.
Tobio can’t see an ounce of color; even his memory has been stripped. He won’t miss it, not even as Shiratorizawa wins with three consecutive points. It was never color that he wanted, color that he missed.
“The king is dead; long live the king.”
Tobio wants his heart back in his chest, his and his alone, not splattered on the floor for the entire gymnasium to see.
“If there isn’t a spiker waiting, what’s the point?”
Tobio goes home alone as soon as the closing ceremony for the tournament concluded. The walk is dismal, full of shadows and hollow lights. Even with the slow descent, he had forgotten over the years what it was like to live colorlessly.
The shock from losing had worn of by this point, slipping off his skin like rain. All that remains is their betrayal, the soulmates from the volleyball club. He didn’t know how this would affect them, or if the counselor told the truth all those years ago when she said they were all crucial to the bond, because it sure as hell doesn’t feel that way anymore. He wants their colors to fade, come off Kunimi and Kindaichi in waves and soak up into Tobio until he lives out his days in 20/20 technicolor.
But, God, Tobio wants to give them every moon and star in the universe and more. He’s clinging to a memory of perfection, even when they cast him aside, threw away a game, just to break a bond.
Kindaichi had always been one for drama; a simple goodbye would have sufficed.
Tobio quits the team the next day. It’s all pretense at this point, really, since they lost in the spring tournament, but it’s a nice ending to his junior high career. The coach frowns when Tobio tells him, opens his mouth like his opinion can stop the setter. It can’t, and the whole team knows that as Tobio empties his locker as they dress for practice. There’s still a month before school ends, and he wonders if Kindaichi and Kunimi will stick around for the last few weeks of club activities. He doubts it, though. They’ve done their damage.
“You’re quitting?” Koizumi asks as he slides on his kneepads. “We lost, and that’s it? You’re done, just like that?”
“Koizumi-san,” whispers a timid first year. His eyes are wide, terrified of the second year.
“No, I deserve an answer!” the second year bangs his fist against the locker bank. “What is it? You get subbed out for your kouhai and run away? You’re so pretentious and full of shit. God, Kindaichi-san was right. You are a tyrant.”
“Koizumi!” The first year is shaking now, tugging at Koizumi’s shirt collar. “Stop it. Come on, leave him alone, please.”
“No, it’s fine,” Tobio laughs, shaking his head. He doesn’t mind grayscale; everything is clearer, even when tears clouded his vision. “You really want an answer? Come back when you grow up and meet your soulmate. You might understand then, if they’re an asshole.”
“Kageyama-san – “
“Just, shut up. Stop, Koizumi.”
He goes back to the club room a month later, during the final volleyball practice. The boys are scrimmaging; third years against first and second.
Kindaichi and Kunimi ended up sticking around, sharing a locker like Oikawa and Iwaizumi had two years ago. Tobio stands in front of it now, studying the scores in the metal door. He’s running out of time, touches the door handle for a second before pulling back. He’s not sure what he’s doing, or why it is so difficult. It’s just a door, steel with a few slashes to provide some air regulation.
“If there isn’t a spiker waiting, what’s the point?”
He takes a deep breath, exhales, and yanks the door open. Grasping the second button of his gakuran, he rips it off and places it on the locker shelf. It clinks against the metal, flashing light one final time before Tobio slams the door shut.
“I’m sorry,” he whispers, before running out of the room and down the hall seconds before the scrimmage ends.
“The king is dead; long live the king.”
Tobio bounces the volleyball against the floor of the gym. He hasn’t touched a ball since the Spring Tournament, except the few times one rolled out from under his bed for him to trip over. The texture almost feels unfamiliar now, foreign under his fingertips. The ball is in worse condition than he was used to at Kitagawa, scratched and peeling, seams burst.
Tobio doesn’t mind, not really, when he tosses the ball for his serve. Jump serves are something he’s been thinking about since the last tournament; it is his one system of attack where he doesn’t rely on anyone else, the single thing where no one can let him down.
The first serve is out, hitting the far wall with a loud thump. Tobio stumbles as he lands, nails biting into his knee caps as he breathes hard. His head is swimming, heartbeat pounding in his head. He’s stronger than this, a flying ball and its resulting collision. He’s better, faster and fiercer. This doesn’t hurt him, even with how much his chest feels as if he’s been hit by a shotgun.
The next serve comes easier, riding the line, just on this side of clean. It’s still not good enough, wobbling in the air too much before it touched down with a faint smack. It’s not his gunshot, not Oikawa-san’s thunderclap. It’s weak, really, and that’s something Tobio refuses to ever become. He’s not weak, nor limp, and every other insult Oikawa ever launched at him in an unceasing volley.
He’s a setter, one of the best in middle school in Miyagi the previous year. He’s a fighter, and he will not give up.
The next toss comes easy, the perfect height above his head. His jump follows through, lining up for the first time in months. Tobio is meant to do this, to play this game until he stood on top of the world stage.
The setter hears footsteps milliseconds before his trajectory will meet the volleyball. The footsteps are soon followed by a voice, high and faintly familiar.
His arm comes in for the swing too fast, leaving him in the wrong place for the jump serve. He could have had it, but there’s insult to the injury when he trips himself up in the landing.
“You!” And it’s that voice again, the one that made him miss the serve, and it’s just so fucking loud.
Tobio turns around, scowling. It is the expression that comes easiest lately, and as a plus, it kept away the stray first year boy at Kitagawa. It keeps away Koizumi, too, after their falling out, even if the second year mutters king and tyrant every time they pass in the hallway.
But, Tobio is moving on now; that much is clear from his approved application to Karasuno High School. The soulmates from the volleyball club would never go to a top eight school, not when Iwaizumi and Oikawa are waiting for them at Aoba Josai, firmly planted in the number two spot as long as the sun has risen.
It’s a good school, even if Tobio’s senpai hadn’t attended. He could have gotten in, maybe, even after finals, but now, he has no desire to go.
He’s moving on, really, or trying, at least, but a boy barely tall enough for elementary school is standing in the doorway, his chest heaving and arm extended as he points at Tobio, shock covering his features.
And it’s him, someone Tobio saw once and wishes he had forgotten, the final nail in the poly bond’s coffin.
“I met you last year,” Tobio begins. It’s simple enough, really, to hold back the flashbacks, or the still frames from nightmares that keep sleep away from him. “But, I don’t know your name.”
“My name is Hinata Shouyou.” The expression on his face wears an expression similar to one right after someone punches you, but he squares his features as glares across the room at Tobio. “You probably don't remember me, or the school you beat in the first round.”
Tobio is not sure why he does remember, but he wants to say, I just said I remembered you, dumbass . The team would have been slaughtered at an elementary school club scrimmage, let alone hold up against a top middle school. This boy, Hinata, was the only one on the verge of remarkable, on the borderline of strong even with a shit setter.
“I remember you very well.” And he does, or at least he remembers Kunimi not running after the one touch, and Kindaichi not jumping as well as he could have. But, he also can recall how talented Hinata was physically, and the way he didn’t put any of it to good use.
“What? You wanna fight?” The shorter boy jumps into a defensive stance, waving his arms around wildly.
“You were lousy.” But Tobio isn’t sure who he’s yelling at: the boy before him, or the two across the city. They were all lousy, weak until it truly mattered. Tobio cares, and he cares far too much. He just wanted to win, to play for longer with his soulmates, even after they didn’t want to.
Hinata lurches back. “Don’t make fun of me! Sure, we were slaughtered by you guys. Next time, I won’t lose!”
But, neither will Tobio. He can’t afford another failure.
He is going to win, and he is going to be good enough.
Being thrown out of the gym by Karasuno’s captain, Sawamura Daichi, doesn’t affect him the way he thought it would. Hinata screams, blinking back tears and running, begging to play. Tobio doesn’t understand Hinata, or his determination to play. He’s too short, and even if he isn’t, if he had fifteen more centimeters and the same jump, it still wouldn’t be enough. He just can’t play; that much is obvious to Tobio, and he hasn’t improved.
But Tobio doesn’t hurt, per se, but it does leave him breathless, like he’s been slapped. He doesn’t need Hinata, or Daichi and Tanaka and everyone else from this shit high school. He’s big enough, strong enough, to play all the way to the top.
He says as much, banging on the gymnasium doors. This gives Tobio a strange sense of deja vu, the mirror image of the past year engraved in sliding metal doors. He’s slammed so many to keep Kindaichi and Kunimi away, this, having one shut and not opening, leaves him dizzy, a foul taste inhabiting his mouth.
But even if it is closed, it can’t stop him. Not now, when he has so little left. Karasuno is his last chance, his one shot at redemption. Even if he has to play with Hinata, he’ll give it his all.
The other boy jumps, waving his arms, eyes wild. “Gwah? You wanna fight? C-come at me, Kageyama!”
“What? No, shut up, dumbass.” Tobio rolls his eyes and sighs. “If we ever want to play, we have to make Daichi-san believe that we get along. So, just shut up for a second.”
This is his only chance. He has to make them proud.
Tobio and Hinata practice in the park after school everyday until they can no longer see the ball well enough to play. Hinata begs Tobio to set for him, but the short boy’s receives are abominable. Tobio can receive well enough - the coaches at Kitagawa had drilled the importance of it into his head for three years.
But, Hinata barely can do it, sending the ball up and behind him, taking it to the face, or, missing it completely. A person who can’t get the ball for himself is useless in Tobio’s opinion, and he’ll never send it to Hinata if he can avoid it.
And so they play, bumping a volleyball that Tobio dug up from the depths of his closet. It sent up clouds of dust the first time Hinata hit it, but a commandeered air pump left it fit enough for use.
“Let me spike it, Kageyama-kun! Toss to me!” And it is the same request everyday, the same ecstatic voice begging for the ball. Tobio is used to it at this point, barely even allowing a scowl to inhabit his features.
“I don’t set to people who aren’t necessary for the team to win,” he replies curtly. And it’s true, number one on his personal code. Kindaichi allowed him to win time after time, and Tobio always would toss to him. Kunimi was the same way. Tobio didn’t expect betrayal, but he’s ready this time, fully prepared for any and all situations.
“Haa? How do you know if I’m not necessary?” Hinata tilts his head and narrows his eyes. “You’ve never set to me before.”
“What? You think that spiking is all you need to be a good player? Well, surprise surprise, Hinata, it takes more than that.” He knows his cheeks are red from his accelerated breathing, but the sky has grown dark enough to hide it.
Hinata storms off after that, kicking the volleyball into the fence. Tobio sits on the grass after he leaves, tugging at the blades and forming a pile of them. The slight wind keeps the pile from ever growing by much, but the motion calms his heart rate.
“Fuck,” he whispers.
Tobio only ever wanted to win.
Tobio stands awkwardly in the Foothills Store, ducking down behind a Toppo display. A pork bun is clutched in his hands, and he stares at it in an attempt to center himself. He needs to breathe, to intake oxygen and clear his head.
Kindaichi and Kunimi are on the other side of the shelf, laughing and holding hands as they inspect the merchandise. Tobio had thought this shop was safe, closer to his house and school, the opposite side of town in comparison to Aoba Josai. But they’re here, cheerful voices like shards of ice in Tobio’s heart. It takes him back to that day they played in his backyard in second year, when it snowed in their town for the first time in a decade. But this isn’t white and fluffy, hopeful, like the snow had been back then. This is dark and harsh, leaving blood in its wake.
He can hear their footsteps, flickers of their conversation as it carries through the isles.
“...I like this store. I just wish it wasn’t so far. Too bad the place by your house doesn’t have Dagashi . ” It’s Kunimi, and Tobio can see the middle blocker in his mind, bumping up against Kindaichi as he studies the candy selection.
“True,” Kindaichi laughs. “Do you want to check out if they have any Toppo? I haven’t had any in ages.”
Tobio freezes. The meat bun slips out of his grasp, and his just manages to catch it when the two soulmates from Tobio’s old volleyball club turn the corner.
They stop, staring at Tobio. The setter resists the urge to brush past them. It’s the first time the three of them have been in the same room in months; the air is thick with tension. Luckily, Tobio doesn’t drop his pork bun this time.
It reminds him of the first time they met, when he watched them from behind the Toppo. Except, now, looking into their eyes, there is no magical burst of color, or the pounding headache that came with it. It’s just the three of them in the back corner of the Foothills Store, next to the Toppo display.
“Kageyama,” Kindaichi doesn’t even try to smile, or force a hint of kindness into his words. In all honesty, Tobio is not exactly why he expected some sign of affection, but it still hurt when there was none. “It’s good to see you.”
Tobio holds back a bitter laugh. Kindaichi had never been skilled at lying, and he hasn’t improved, either.
“What are you doing here?” he asks instead, a safer option than agreeing with Kindaichi. It’s not good seeing them, not after all these months, when Kindaichi can greet him in the shop as if their old friends out of contact, when Tobio still gets hot flushes at the thought of them.
“Shopping,” Kunimi rolls his eyes almost like he’s joking, but his shoulders are hunched over defensively. “Why? Are you are our handler?”
“No, not that - no. I’m sorry,” Tobio whispers, squeezing his eyes shut for a moment. He reminds himself to breathe. “It’s just, this is really far from Seijoh, and Karasuno is just around the corner. You both avoided me for months; I was just shocked, I guess. It’s good to see you again, though. I - I’ve missed you.”
It’s anything but good. Tobio would never say that to their faces, though. He’s too kind really, no matter what Hinata says during practice in the park.
The three of them are silent after that, before Kindaichi turns him back on Tobio, snatches up Kunimi’s hand, and leaves without purchasing anything. Tobio stays in the shop for a few minutes, before ducking out the door, clutching a bag full of all the Toppo on the shelves.
It starts with Tsukishima and Yamaguchi, in the clubroom before a practice match.
Hinata left his practice jersey at home, and is freaking out, running around the room, shirtless, and screaming. Tanaka is frowning, also shirtless, for for a completely different reason (they’re constraining, Daichi-san!), asking Sugawara-san if someone should go find Kiyoko-san, or maybe even Takeda-sensei.
“Kiyoko might know where an extra is,” Sugawara says, and soon enough, he’s frowning as well. “I don’t know if there will be one in Hinata-kun’s size, though.”
Tobio watches all of this, vaguely disinterested. It’s nothing new for Hinata to forget his practice jersey. At least, he never forgets his knee pads or shoes, which is more than Tobio can say for his old teammates.
Tsukishima laughs bitterly beside him. He pushes on the bridge of his glasses with one finger.
“Why can’t he just wear a different shirt? I doubt anyone on the other team will be able to see the difference, and if they can, maybe he’ll finally stand out on the court.”
Hinata screws his face up, squeezes his fists. He shouts, “Stingy-kun, I’ll - “
“I’m sure we can find an extra in the storage locker in the gym - “
“Why not purple? Or would that make your orange hair even brighter? I’m sure you would rather stand out for your skill than your hair, though. But that’s impossible isn’t it? Because you’ll - “
“Tsukishima!” Sugawara shouts, glaring. “There’s no reason to act that way towards your teammates. Hinata - “
And Hinata is shaking, and it’s not from anger. Every emotion had had been on his face has dripped off, leaving him pale and silent. Sugawara places a gentle hand on Hinata’s bare shoulder, but the short boy jerks away.
“How do you know what color my hair is?” he finally asks, and the room takes in a collective breath. When Tsukishima doesn’t answer, Hinata asks again.
“Sugawara-san and Daichi-san aren’t the only people with soulmates on this team, Hinata.” He smirks, before standing up to leave. “Come on, Yamaguchi. Do you want me to help you with serve drills?”
And it makes sense really, with the way Tsukishima Kei and Yamaguchi Tadashi move around each other. Hinata is the only one to truly act shocked, and even he is mostly angry.
“Why does he have a soulmate?” he asks, even though he knows no one will answer. “And why is it Yamaguchi? Isn’t he too nice for Stingy-kun?”
Tobio finds himself out behind the gym in a few seconds, oblivious to the shouts of everyone in the clubroom. It’s too hot in there, with everyone else, sticky with humidity from the downpour outside. Even in the rain, Tobio is feeling feverish, even under the rain, with it dripping off the roof and onto his head.
He stays out there, until Kiyoko finds him, and shy smile on her lips.
“Are you okay, Kageyama-kun?” she asks in the same soft voice she always uses, like she’s approaching a skittish colt.
Tobio doesn’t particularly like comparing himself to a horse.
“Yes,” he replies. His voice is thick, and he feels like he might choke on it. “I’m just a bit dizzy.”
“Is it about what Tsukishima said in the locker room? Suga-kun told me what happened.”
And it is, and it’s what Hinata had said afterwards, because why does an asshole like Tsukishima get paired with someone as docile as Yamaguchi, who follows everything the middle blocker says? Tobio tried so hard, and he did everything he could to make Kunimi and Kindaichi stronger, and yet, he still ended up alone in the end.
“No,” he says anyway, and he knows, Kiyoko knows it to be a lie. There have been a lot of lies coming out of Kageyama Tobio’s mouth as of late.
Or, maybe it starts with Sugawara and Daichi, on the first official day of club.
The first years - Tobio, Hinata, Tsukishima, and Yamaguchi - stand in a line. Hinata is the first to announce his middle school and position, along with that he wants to be the ace.
“We already have someone in that position,” Daichi says with an air of finality. Hinata opens his mouth to continue, but Daichi gestures for Yamaguchi to introduce himself.
Tobio almost doesn’t realize when it’s his turn, until Sugawara clears his throat loudly.
Daichi’s arm is around the third year setter, and his hand is resting just above his hip. The position seems almost protective, and Kageyama wants to puke. When Sawamura introduced himself, he introduced Sugawara Koushi as well, as the head setter, third year, vice captain and his soulmate.
Seeing soulmates interact always leaves Tobio gasping for air, but this time, he zones out, because the captains move like they’re the extension of the other. It’s not fair, a voice in the back of his head whispers. And maybe that’s true - Tobio tried his hardest, and yet he’s not happy, he’s not smiling the way Sugawara is. Or, maybe it is fair, and maybe Sugawara and Sawamura can actually work out their problems like mature adults, instead of shutting each other out.
“I’ve scheduled a practice match for next week,” Takeda announces at the end of practice. “It is against Aoba Josai, one of the top teams in the prefecture.”
Tobio’s breath catches in his lungs. He - he doesn’t want to see that team, doesn’t want to play against them. After everything that has happened, he doesn’t know if he can stand to be the same space.
Daichi claps the teacher advisor on the back. “That’s great,” he says, smiling. “How’d you manage that?”
“Ah,” Takeda blushes slightly. “It doesn’t matter, Sawamura-kun.”
“Isn’t that the school most of Kitagawa goes to?” Tsukishima raises an eyebrow. “Why did you go there as well, King?”
Tobio glares at him. “I didn’t apply,” he spits out.
“Is it because they stopped listening to your orders? Did they no longer wish to serve the king?”
“Shut the - “
“Tsukishima-kun!” Takeda, Sugawara, and Daichi all yell at the same time. The middle blocker just shrugs, a miniscule grin gracing his lips. Tobio doesn’t know how it makes him feel, but he knows now that he wants to play, knows now that he wants to prove that the events of last year didn’t ruin his playing style.
“Aoba Josai did have one condition though,” Takeda continues. “Kageyama-kun must play the entire game.”
He’s still strong, still good enough.
He doesn’t need the soulmates from volleyball.
The practice match against Seijoh goes better than Karasuno could've ever hoped for. Well, for most of the team.
As Tobio sets, he keeps seeing flashes of color in his peripheral vision - green practice jerseys and dark hair. It’s familiar, almost, and when they have a break between sets, Tobio dry heaves in a bathroom stall until the burning in his throat is more noticeable than it is in his lungs.
And when Oikawa finally arrives, freshly recovered from yet another injury, it only seems to get worse. Iwaizumi yells at him to be cautious, to not push himself too far when he serves. Tobio is use to it, Iwaizumi’s tough love. Tobio ignores the glare Oikawa sends his way.
“How is everyone?” Tobio hears Oikawa ask his team, all the way across the court. “I see that you’ve almost lost the set, Yahaba-chan. We can’t have that, can we?”
“Trashykawa, you’re up to serve!”
Oikawa claims the set easily for Aoba Josai. Tobio wouldn’t expect anything else from the Great King. By the time the second starts, the direction of the game is obvious. Out of all of the first years, Tobio is the only one with any inclination of how to receive. Daichi, no matter how amazing his receives are, isn’t a libero and can’t pick up all of Oikawa’s serves. Even Karasuno’s blocks aren’t enough to stop Iwaizumi from racking up points.
Tobio heads to the bathroom while Karasuno gathers their bags. He needs a moment to himself. Some time to recuperate alone, before he has to go back to the gym where the soulmates from volleyball are probably laughing with Oikawa.
What Tobio doesn’t expect to see in the restroom, tucked away in a back corner of Seijoh’s volleyball gym, and what he certainly doesn’t want to see, is Oikawa Tooru, accompanied by the two soulmates from his junior high volleyball team. The three of them, or any combination of them, is the exact reason why he left the gym. He would back track, walk straight out of the bathroom without a single glance behind him, but Oikawa has already stopped speaking to stare him directly in the eye.
“Tobio-chan!” And Oikawa smiles, but it’s the same grin he’s always offered Tobio, the one that makes him feel like he’s been dunked in acid and his skin set aflame, and it makes him want to peel it all off, along with each and every neuron, until he can’t feel a thing. He clenches his fist, and stares resolutely at Oikawa’s tennis shoes. “I was just talking with Akira-chan and Yuutarou-chan about why you looked so sad during the match just now. To be frank, I’m surprised you’re still playing, after finals last year. A disappointing game to watch, wouldn’t you agree, Tobio-chan?”
“Fuck off, Oikawa-san.” Tobio doesn’t look up from the third-year’s shoes.
Oikawa fakes a gasp, covers his mouth with his right hand in faux shock. “Tobio-chan can bite now? That sure is a surprise. I thought you would have learned to keep quiet after what happened last year.”
Tobio doesn’t want to think about that game. He’s been avoiding it for the past few months, ever since it happened; of course Oikawa would bring it up.
“I thought Iwaizumi-san would have finally taught you to play nice, Oikawa-san. It doesn’t seem like it, unfortunately.”
“Kageyama!” Kunimi snaps, but Oikawa places a firm hand on his shoulder.
“No, it’s fine,” Oikawa laughs. “It’s understandable that Tobio-chan is still emotional after his crushing defeat. Besides, he was never able to beat - “
The door bursts open then, and Hinata falls in, followed by a slightly annoyed looking Iwaizumi.
“Oi, Trashykawa, are you being a shitbag again?”
Hinata nods, before echoing Iwaizumi, “Yeah, Great King, are you being a - “
“Shut up,” the other four people in the restroom say at the same time. Hinata blushes and ducks his head.
“Hey, Kageyama-kun.” Iwaizumi offers him a small half wave. “Is Oikawa being shit again?”
Tobio shrugs. “Nothing worse than usual. I’ll, ah, take Hinata and go now.” He grabs Hinata’s wrist and drags him out of the room. As soon as they’re in the hallway, Hinata forces Tobio to let him go.
“What was all that about?” the middle blocker asks, frowning. “Why was the Great King being so mean to you?”
“Don’t you have better things to be doing, Hinata?”
“Oh!” Hinata perks up some. “Daichi sent me to find you. We’re getting on the bus soon. And I ran into the grumpy looking spiker on the way, and he said he was looking for the Great King, and you were probably with him, so we came to find you two together!”
The days pass quickly after that, with serves and sets and quicks, Hinata’s cheers too loud for his body every time Kageyama sets for him. He cheers, screams and shouts, even when he’s blocked.
When he makes two spikes in a row, Tanaka claps his back, cheers just as loud.
“Calm down, Hinata, Tanaka,” Daichi chastised, but he’s still smiling, eyes bright. He’s a good senpai, Tobio decides, calming and encouraging, a good leader, better than one Tobio has ever had before. “The game isn’t over yet.”
Tanaka screams, “Then we’ll just have to win!”
“We’ll just have to win!” Hinata echoes, jumping high enough to touch the top of the net. He keeps jumping and bouncing around until the referee calls for Daichi to serve.
When Karasuno walks back to their bus, Tobio sees Oikawa out of the corner of his eye. He turns to face his old senpai. When their eyes meet, Oikawa smirks, eyes hard. The soulmates from volleyball club are a foot behind him, pressed up against each other like magnets with opposite poles cover their bodies.
Hinata stops beside him, frowning.
“Why does the great king hate you, Kageyama-kun?” Tobio sighs and turns away from Oikawa, tries to block him from his peripheral vision.
“I don’t know. Iwaizumi-senpai - san - always said that it was because he was scared. He said that Oikawa knew I was a genius, and that meant that I would beat him one day. Oikawa doesn’t like when people are better than him.”
Tobio isn’t quiet sure why he’s explaining. He doesn’t owe Hinata anything, and the blocker doesn’t really need to know. But, these are also words that have been building up inside of him since his first year of middle school, like carbon dioxide in a baking soda volcano.
“What about the other two? The ones from the bathroom?”
“Who knows? Probably for the same reason you do.”
He starts walking back to the bus. Hinata shrieks and runs to catch up.
“How was the game, Tobio?” his mother asks during dinner. Neither of them have spoken until now, besides a hello when he got home, and when she called him to the table. “I imagine seeing them after...all this time could not have been easy.”
He shrugs, and continues to push food around in his bowl. He’s tired, both mentally and physically, from the game. He knew he would feel this way, ever since Takeda-sensei announced the practice match at the end of practice last week; he just never expected it to be so bad.
“Tobio,” she sighs, sets her fork down carefully. “This is something you need to talk about. Pretending it didn’t happen, pretending you never met - none of that is going to make you feel better.”
It’s easier to not think about it, and isn’t that the truth? Avoidance and forgetfulness - the two true ointments to an ailing heart. But he can’t escape, can’t forget, when soulmates and happy couples are all around him. He can’t move on when they’re still happy, when they’re still okay, even without him.
The bond will fail without all three.
You’re all here for a reason. The universe chose you, you only need to trust it.
“I know,” he says. His grip on his spoon tightens. “I, I just - it’s fine. I’m fine, Mom.”
She nods. “Just - Tobio, never be afraid to reach out to me, or to other people. This doesn’t say anything about your character. Many things ended your bond, and it is impossible for you to be responsible for all of them. Do you understand?”
He stands and carries his bowl to the sink, not answering.
“Do you, Tobio?”
The months pass and the team solidifies, develops strategies that bring out the best of every player. Kageyama is accepted into the team by almost everyone except to Tsukishima, but then again, the only person he seems to like is Yamaguchi.
No one brings up the practice match for any reason to stay that the team is making a come back, nearly good enough to stand toe to toe with a powerhouse. People don’t really bring up soulmates, either, other than in passing. It feels forced, like the entire team is trying to avoid stepping on any toes, but as much as it annoys Tobio, he’s thankful for it.
When the libero and the ace come back to the team, all of the upperclassmen seem happier. The team dynamic shifts without a doubt, and it’s strange to see the tiny libero throwing himself at the shy ace, but they’re cute together, and - Tobio doesn’t want to ruin that for them.
But he still thinks about snow every time the weather shifts, and it’s hard to ignore the shades of gray all around him when Noya-senpai is always shouting about Asahi’s cherry red blush.
He wants to go back and figure out what he did wrong. He wants nothing more than to fix everything that happened between the three of them, but when he looks back, he doesn’t see what’s wrong with wanting to win.
The match against Nekoma is far from the hardest Tobio has ever played, but it’s still challenging. Syncing up with Hinata isn’t the same as setting for Kindaichi - it feels more forced, and Tobio knows that if he’s even a millisecond off, Hinata will miss completely. Their pairing lacks the safety net that his soulbond provided, but the challenge keeps his mind on the game. It’s just him and the next point, set after set. He doesn’t have to think about anything.
Even once Kuroo begins to block Hinata, Tobio doesn’t give up. It’s just him and the ball, the perfect angle to meet up with Karasuno’s blockers.
He’s not going to lose this time.
Hinata and Tobio are walking home from the Foothills Store after the match. It’s dark and cloudy, allowing Tobio to just make out the moon. Hinata stops walking after a bit. Tobio ignores him at first and continues to walk, until the blocker asks,
“Why does Seijoh hate you? Honestly? Everyone on the team knows there’s something between you, but you never tell the truth when we ask.”
Tobio doesn’t turn around. Turning around means that Hinata will see his face, and Tobio has never been the best at masking his emotions. Maybe that’s why everything with the soulmates from volleybal hurt so much, because he took down his walls and let them in, let them know how to hurt him best.
“I asked for too much,” he says, and maybe Hinata can’t hear him, but Tobio doesn’t care. This is already more than he wants to say to anyone, especially freaking dumbass Hinata Shouyou. “Kindaichi Yuutarou and Kunimi Akira are both first years at Aoba Josai. I don’t think either of them are starting this year, but the three of us - we used to be Kitagawa’s trinity. We played together perfectly.”
“We broke each others’ hearts. Or, they broke mine and were somehow happy.”
“It was a while ago. I don’t care anymore.” He starts walking again, and Hinata runs to keep up.
“How can you not care? You were soulmates. Even if you haven’t talked in ages and they broke your heart, even if things didn’t work out, you still gotta feel all gwahh!! for them, right?”
“You’re so stupid,” Tobio bites back, but he can’t help but smile.
“See?” Hinata asks, grinning. “They can still make you happy.”
Interhigh begins. Tobio feels strange, walking into the gym in Sendai, as everyone whispers about Karasuno. They’re fallen crowns, easily beaten. Tobio is going to prove them wrong, even if knows that they’re not yet strong enough. He sounds like Hinata, back in middle school, back when he made Tobio almost believe that sheer willpower could overcome skill and talent.
When Karasuno beats Tokonami easily, the whispers slow. They’re not so flightless, after all. Clipped wings grow back, given time.
Karasuno is ready to fight, teeth bared, all the way to the top.
The problem with winning by a significant margin is the high it leaves behind. You feel unstoppable, and there isn’t a single thing that can hold you back. You become reckless, and once something stands in your way that isn’t so easily defeated, it doesn’t take much to topple you from your podium.
Tobio realizes this all too late, when Date Tech begins to block Asahi and Daichi. It’s not bad at first, just a block here and there. Tobio was expecting it, after everything he heard from his senpais and other players about the Iron Wall.
He wants to know how Oikawa broke past Aone, and if Karasuno is strong enough to do the same. He knows he isn’t entirely to blame, but spikers constantly being blocked out is beginning to weigh heavily on him.
“Kageyama,” Ukai calls during one of Date Tech’s time outs. “Hinata will lighten the load, if you let him. Use him to draw out the blockers, and it’ll open up the wall for Asahi.”
Tobio nods before taking a swig from his water bottle. The game has been close the entire time, and even now, with the first set coming to a close, it’s impossible who will come out on top. Tobio wants to come out on top, and he knows he can’t do that alone. Maybe things would have been different, if he had known that last year - but what’s in the past has to stay there.
“Hinata,” he yells over his shoulder.
“What, Bakayama?” the blocker shouts back.
“You ready to play?”
He’s never seen Hinata smile so brightly before.
Even if Hinata can’t stay at the top forever, even if Aone can block him time and time again, he doesn’t stop flying after the ball. Tobio doesn’t set to him every time, but he’s still there, waiting, smiling every time he touches the ground.
Hinata can’t stay in the air forever, but Tobio won’t let him stay down for long.
When Asahi scores the final point of the match, Tobio wonders if this is how Hinata always feels - a floating feeling, like he’s suspended up above the court, free of all stress and worry. Free of all of it, until Hinata tugs on the hem of his jersey.
“Oikawa-sama just won his match,” the blocker whispers, voice hollow. “We’re playing them tomorrow.”
Tobio should have seen this coming. There’s only one team that Tobio can ever see Seijoh losing to, and with Shiratorizawa in another bracket, playing Oikawa is unavoidable. But still - Tobio is scared.
“We’ll beat him, right?”
“Obviously,” Tobio lies, as he follows the rest of the team out of the gym. Hinata can see right through him, but that doesn’t matter. Tobio will be strong enough to beat Oikawa Tooru, one day.
“Hey, Bakayama? Are you still awake?” Hinata whispers, quiet enough that the rest of the team can’t hear.
“Go back to sleep, dumbass.”
“But I need to ask you something?”
“What?” Tobio sighs. He rolls over to face the blocker. Immediately after he decides that it’s pointless, considering that he can’t see anything.
“In the game tomorrow, you’re not allowed to get upset, okay? No matter what happens. Even if your - even if Kindaichi-kun and Kunimi-kun beat us, it doesn’t matter. There’s always the spring tournament, and even if we lose that as well, it doesn’t matter. You’re a good person, even if you’re a dumbass when it comes to talking to people. It’s their loss, not yours, so don’t give up, Kageyama, okay?”
“Thank you,” Tobio whispers before tucking his face into his pillow.
“Anytime. It doesn’t mean you can throw the game, though.”
It takes all of Tobio’s willpower to not reach over and slap him.
Tobio isn’t awake enough for Oikawa first thing in the morning, and Hinata somehow picks up on that. He edges his in way in front of the setter and puffs out his chest.
“What do you want, Oikawa-sama?” he barks, but the effect is somewhat lessened by the drastic height difference between the two of them.
“Shut up, Chibi-chan,” Oikawa replies, airy and soft, before smiling at Tobio. “It’s good to see that you already found yourself a new subject. Was it hard, after Akira and Yuutarou cut you off? Or is Chibi-chan too oblivious to care?”
Tobio scowls. “Why are - “
“Try not to hurt yourself before the game, Kageyama-kun,” Tsukishima says. His glasses glint in the sunlight, and a cocky smirk illuminates his face. “Hinata’s ‘Great King’ isn’t worth the struggle.”
He turns around, but doesn’t stop talking. His smirk grows as Tobio watches him say, “Your team is a mess without you. It’s a wonder they made it this far, with how often you’ve been benched due to injury. Is your pride the only thing keeping your team in the number two spot?”
Oikawa’s smile disappears in a instant. “Who are you?”
The blocker looks over his shoulder, fainting indifference even as his eyes broadcast how annoyed he is. “Tsukishima Kei, middle blocker. I hope Chibi-chan breaks your face with one of his spikes.” He turns back around. “Coach Ukai wants you for warm ups in five minutes. Try to not be late.”
Once Tsukishima is gone, Oikawa cracks a bittersweet smile.
“I’m surprised that you have any friends, after what happened at finals last year. We’ll just have to see what happens this year, won’t we?”
“He annoys me so much,” Hinata says as they watch him walk away. “He’s just so.. bwah!”
“We have to win.”
“Obviously. I’m not losing to his dumb ass.”
The match isn’t easy. Right off the bat, Oikawa takes the lead. Tobio thought he knew what to expect, after a year of training together and the practice match, but nothing could prepare Karasuno for him and his lightning quick serves.
Tobio thought he was strong, Tobio thought he knew what he was doing. Tobio was wrong, because every time the soulmates from volleyball so much as bump the ball, he sees flashing of color, momentarily blinding him. He breathes as deeply as he can and continues to play, but he’s distracted, and Oikawa knows it.
“You okay, Kageyama-kun?” Daichi asks the third time Tobio misses a receive.
“Mm?” He’s not looking at the soulmates from volleyball. What’s the point? It’s not like they ever looked back. “Of course.”
“Bakayama!” Hinata shouts, before attempting to kick Tobio in the shin. The setter shoves him out of the way, but Hinata doesn’t look deterred. He’s pouting when he says, “You promised to not throw the game.”
Daichi looks confused. Tobio is glad that Tanaka isn’t close by, too busy being riled up by Tsukishima to hear what Hinata said.
“I’m not throwing the game, dumbass. It’s just taking some time to adjust.”
“What are you talking about?” Daichi asks. His arms are crossed, and he looks like an overly concerned parent. It suits him, Tobio decides faintly, the same way being captain suits him.
“Nothing,” Tobio replies, and at the same time Hinata says, “Bakayama is colorblind and it makes him angsty.”
This seems to confuse the captain even more. He turns around, waving a hand over his shoulder. “Just focus on the game, boys.”
The whistle blows, signalling Seijoh’s turn to serve. Tobio bends his knees and gets ready to receive. His past doesn’t matter right now. The team he’s playing against is inconsequential. Just him and the ball, just the ball -
His receive is clean. Tanaka bumps it next, sending it to Asahi. The ace spikes hard and fast, sending the ball crashing into Seijoh’s side of the court. The first set is going to be close, and Karasuno might not win, but that doesn’t matter.
Tobio isn’t giving up.
The flashes of color are becoming brighter, leaving imprints on his retinas for a long time after. Tobio is disoriented, and the longer the set goes on, the worse it becomes. He misses receives that should be easy and sets go way off of their mark. He’s off, and everyone knows it.
“Kageyama-kun,” Ukai calls, patting the bench beside him during Seijoh’s first time out. “I’m having Sugawara-kun go in until you find your bearings.”
“I’m fine - !”
“You’re really not, Kageyama-kun. Sit down, yeah? You won’t be out the entire game, there’s no need to worry. Sugawara-kun will finish up this set, and then we’ll decide the best course of action from there.”
Tobio nods numbly and plops down on the bench.
“Do you know why you’re having such a hard time this game? You were fine this morning.”
It’s not a secret, or, at least, Tobio never intended it to be. It wasn’t a secret in middle school, and he’s not sure what made Karasuno different. Was it all of the happy soulmates on the team? Tobio didn’t think so. He doesn’t care how his relationship affects others. It’s not a big deal; it doesn’t matter.
“My soulmates are on Seijoh’s team, numbers 12 and 13. We went to the same middle school.”
“Did something happen between you?” Ukai asks, not looking at the setter. Tobio likes that. He likes the lack of pressure, the separation, the gray area functioning as a safety net.
“We had a fight. Kindaichi and Kunimi were made with me, and we never fixed things. The three of us didn’t communicate well. I don’t talk to them anymore, and normally it doesn’t bother me, but - I didn’t expect them to keep playing, after everything that happened. I keep seeing them out of the corner of my vision, and it - it doesn’t matter anymore.”
Ukai doesn’t speak at first, not until Karasuno takes the serve with a spike from Tanaka, hugging the line close.
“People like to say that we meet our soulmates at the opportune time, and maybe we do, but it’s all up to your opinion, Kageyama-kun. I only met mine recently, and sure, I would have loved to meet him sooner, but he’s in my life now, and that’s enough. For you, it’s quite possible that meeting them later would have made you very different. In the future, you might reunite and make things work, but who can say? In the short time I’ve known you, Kageyama-kun, you’ve grown greatly.
“I do believe you’ll find happiness eventually, but I can’t promise it will be soon.”
Karasuno loses the set, and Tobio doesn’t get put back in right away. He doesn’t care - once he has the ball, he’ll leave it all on the court. Love doesn’t come easy and neither does victory over a powerhouse, and maybe one will affect him more over the long term, and maybe it’s obvious which one he should care about more -
But you can bet your ass there will be hell to pay.
They lose, to seemingly no one’s surprise. Daichi puts on a tough face, pats them all on the back and says they did their best, says they gave Aoba Josai a run for their money, but it doesn’t change the fact that Hinata is trying to not cry beside him. Noya is full on sobbing into the back of Asahi’s jersey, arms wrapped around the ace tightly like he’ll disappear the instant he lets go.
It’s hard for Tobio to not blame himself. If he had been stronger, faster, more levelheaded -
If spots of light weren’t dancing in the corner of his version for the entire game, maybe they could have won. But then again, maybe he could have won finals back in his third year of middle school. Tobio shuts down the thought quickly. The past is over now. There’s no point in trying to resurrect old demons.
It takes Tobio and Hinata begging the entire bus ride home to get the vice captain to unlock the gym for them.
“You need to rest,” Sugawara says sternly as he twists the key. “So only thirty minutes, you hear me? Then you have to go home and eat.”
“Of course, Sugawara-san,” the first years promise, but all three of them know the only way that would happen was if Suga stayed and dragged them home.
Suga sighs, drags his fingers through his hair. He looks haggard, and his eyes are red rimmed. “Just make sure you lock up when you go home,” he concedes, tossing the keys to Tobio. “I don’t want Takeda-sensei to have messages from school about the volleyball team not being responsible.”
They practice for what seems hours, sets and spikes, serves and receives. They empty and refill the cart numerous times. Tobio is exhausted but Hinata isn’t stopping for longer than a second, and the setter refuses to fall behind. They can’t stay where they are now, two steps behind Seijoh. Two steps doesn’t mean victory, and what’s the point of playing if it’s not to win?
“Number 12 had a few good spikes,” Hinata says as they race around the gym, collecting balls.
“Like you would know,” scoffs Tobio. “Yours are still shit. Did you spike at all while Suga-san was setting?”
“Shut up, Bakayama. At least I was on the court!”
He knows he’ll live to regret this, but he still says, “Kindaichi was better back in middle school. They both were.”
Hinata slows, eyes never leaving Tobio as he picks up the final Mikasa ball. “Better because he was with you?”
“Obviously. You know how well we’re synced for the quick - Kindaichi and I were better than that. The ball never missed him, and if he was blocked, Kunimi was always there to pick up the slack.”
“If you were so good, why did you push so hard?”
“You can always become better. You can't win if you don’t improve.”
“That sounds a lot like bullshit, but - “
Before Hinata can finish speaking, and before Tobio can either kick him or chuck a ball at his face, a teacher sticks their head in the doorway. Tobio doesn’t recognize them, so they probably work with the third years.
“You’re still here?” They sound concerned, almost. “You need to go home. The school is closing.”
“Okay - “
Hinata is grinning, a wild glint in his eye. “Race you to get meat buns?”
“We have to clean first, du - Hinata.”
The middle blocker pouts, but still dumps all of the balls he’s holding into the cart. The teacher just sighs and shakes their head.
Hinata takes off running as soon as the gym is clean, only stopping for a second to change his shoes. Tobio follows him, even though he knows he can catch up easily, once Hinata takes a different turn than usual, away from the Foothills Store. They run through the town, not quite running but not jogging either, until they’re close to Seijoh. Tobio isn’t sure what Hinata is planning, but he knows whatever it is can’t be good.
“I won!” Hinata shouts, punching Tobio in the shoulder once they reach a shop.
“That’s because I didn’t know where we were going, dumbass.”
“Doesn’t matter! I’m faster.” He’s grinning when he opens the door, pushing it a bit harder when he lets go so it will stay open for Tobio. Inside it’s brightly lit and cramped, with rows of shelves decked heavily with food and drinks, as well as miscellaneous homegoods.
“Why couldn’t we have just gone to Sakanoshita - “
Tobio stops when he sees them - the soulmates from volleyball, the boys who showed up late to club the first day of first year with giddy smiles and bated breath. They’re standing close - only
an inch between them. The air separating them looks electric. Tobio thinks he might be sick. They still look perfect, even with exhaustion from the tournament clear in their faces. Like porcelain dolls, ideal, a higher standard, no matter what.
“Why are we here, Hinata?” It’s quiet, and soft, and not him at all. They look like a mirage. Tobio wishes they were, even though he knows that’s impossible - it’s them, standing still, watching him with blank faces.
“You deserve to be happy.”
“That’s bullshit,” Tobio spits out and pushes past Hinata. He leaves the store as quickly as he can, ignoring Hinata’s calls. Once he’s outside he begins to sprint down the sidewalk, his messenger bag thumping against his back. Tears blur his eyes and he has no idea where he is, but it doesn’t matter. Anywhere is better than that convenience store, facing a hopeless mirage.
An hour later, he ends up calling his mom. Tobio is lost and google maps says that walking home will take several hours. He doesn’t mind walking, but trying and running has left him far too drained. It starts raining some time after 5, coming down slowly at first until it’s all Tobio can see, illuminated by the hazy lights of shops and street lamps.
“You okay? You’re soaking wet.” she asks once he buckles his seatbelt. He just shrugs and looks at his hands, fidgets with the zips on his bag.
“Would you like some tea when we get home? It’s cold, and I don’t want you to get sick.”
He nods. His fingers are cold, shaking. A bit blue, at the tips. He’s mostly just tired, though, and any kind of functioning feels like too much. Water drips in his eyes.
“Why are you out so far? I thought you would come home after the tournament. The club advisor sent out an email saying that there wouldn't be any practice today or tomorrow so the team could rest.”
“Hinata and I stayed late at the gym to practice, and then we went to a convenience store.”
She slows at a red light, glancing at him briefly. “Is Hinata-kun still out here? I didn’t see him waiting with you.”
“He’s riding his bike home.” Tobio doesn’t actually know that, but he doesn’t really care, either. This entire thing is such bullshit - he’s so fucking sick and tired of people telling him what he deserves, and who will make him happy, like it somehow isn’t his decision to make.
“But doesn’t he live rather far away? I would hate for him to come down with something.”
“He’ll be fine.”
She sighs, but doesn’t say anything for the rest of the ride home.
“Starting today, the team will have another manager,” Takeda says at the next practice.
“What about Kiyoko-san?” Tanaka calls, urged on by Noya’s frantic nodding.
“This is her last year, and she thought it best to begin training her replacement.”
“What grade is the new manager in?” Daichi asks, and unlike Tanaka and Nishinoya, he looks happy.
“She’s a first year, class five. She will be coming by later with Kiyoko-san to meet the team.”
Tobio shrugs, completely indifferent and still drained from the convenience store and the rain. Once they are dismissed, he goes back to setting against a wall. It’s easy and doesn’t require much thought, allowing Tobio to slip into the repetitive motion. He doesn’t know how much time has gone by when Kiyoko shows up, the new manager in tow, but Tanaka and Noya’s excited shrieks are enough to drag Tobio back to the present.
The first year’s hair covers most of her face when she leans forward to bow. She’s tiny and high pitched, her uniform perfectly pressed.
“My name is Yachi Hitoka. Pleasure to meet you.”
When her back straightens, she smiles nervously at the team. Kiyoko is positioned just a bit closer to the team than her, like she knows how the team will react to a new manager and is providing protection.
“You can go back to practicing,” Kiyoko says. “We’ll come around so Yacchan can meet all of you individually.”
This triggers some dissatisfied grumbling from the second years, but for the most part, people go back to where they were before the managers arrived. Slowly, the two of them make their way through the gym. Any hint of conversation is masked by the sound of balls flying, colliding with skin and the wooden floors. Tobio can’t hear anyone talking, but he can hear Hinata’s excited scream, followed by Yachi saying something -
“What happened?” Tobio asks Tanaka, the closest person to him.
“They’re soulmates!” Tanaka replies. He looks happy for the two of them, something Tobio wasn’t expecting.
“Oh,” he whispers. He feels like he’s choking, swallowing back a sob. Everyone on the team is happy, everyone has a soulmate. Even Kiyoko has hers - Tanaka’s older sister, much to the wing spiker’s annoyance. It’s just him, stuck in the purgatory between happiness and love.
Tobio doesn’t talk to Hinata at school the next day. The middle blocker waves during lunch, a hopeful smile on his face and the tiny manager by his side. Tobio raises his hand in a small half wave, but still turns around and walks away before either of them can reach him.
Maybe it’s drastic, maybe there’s no point to behave this way, maybe Hinata is his only friend, but Tobio has to draw the proverbial line somewhere, and unfortunately for Hinata, this is where it crosses. He could deal with the captains, with Noya and Asahi, even with Tsukishima and Yamaguchi. But it was him and Hinata, friends against all odds. People change after they meet their soulmates. Hinata won't be so interested in racing for meat buns and practicing through lunch, now that he has Yachi Hitoka.
Tobio doesn’t feel bad, not really. He wonders what Oikawa would say, if his senpai could see him now. “You’ve become so pathetic,” maybe, “You brought this upon yourself, Tobio-chan,” definitely.
It’s just a friend, not even someone he’s particularly close to. It’s just high school, another stage of his life he’ll be happy to forget once it’s over. And he may love volleyball, but there will be other teams, other people to play with and against.
And at the end of the day, it’s all another thing he’ll regret and repress, regret and repress.
Tobio looks to up to see Hinata, sticking his head in the doorway and waving. It’s lunch time, and in the corner, a few of the boys are playing cards and joking around, but other than that, the room is empty. Yachi is right beside him, holding her bento close to her chest. When their eyes meet, a nervous smile appears on her face.
“What do you want?” he asks, his head flopping back down on his desk, eyes falling shut. It’s not comfortable, what with his english notes sticking to his face, but his neck is sore and he’s exhausted. He spent the night before setting to himself in bed instead of studying, and now he’s paying the price.
“Do you want to eat lunch with us?”
No, he wants to say. No, as loud as he can, sharp and bitter and heartless.
“Okay,” he says anyway.
They sit on the roof, and the wind whips through Yachi’s hair until she looks like a storm cloud. She looks happy, if a bit intimidated. None of them talk much, and Tobio knows he’s partially to blame. Yachi doesn’t want to be here - that much is obvious. Hinata wants to fix things between him and Tobio, and he could go along with it, fall back in their friendship like a warm bed after a long day.
Or he could not - he could stay the same person he’s always been, acidic and definite in his stances.
“Sorry about the other day,” Hinata says.
Tobio looks up, wrinkling his nose at the sight of food falling out of Hinata’s mouth.
“At the convenience store. I should have known seeing them would upset you.”
“It’s fine,” Tobio replies gruffly. He could say he’s moved past it, but he knows even Yachi Hitoka would be able to see through that lie. “I could have… responded better.”
“What happened?” She’s timid, small. Nothing like Hinata, but they both have sunshine in their smiles or some bullshit like that.
Tobio looks at Hinata and nods sharply. He doesn’t want to say it, but he doesn’t mind Yachi knowing, if Hinata is the one to tell her. It’s just failed biology, after all.
“Kageyama’s soulmates go to Aoba Josai. They’re known each other for a while, but things didn’t… work out well.”
“Oh,” she whispers, smiling sadly. “I’m sorry, Kageyama-kun.”
“It was a while ago. I don’t really mind, anymore.”
“What happened at the convenience store, then?”
“After practice, the entire team usually goes down to Sakanoshita, since Coach Ukai owns it,” Hinata explains. “But after the tournament a few days ago, Kageyama and I went to a different convenience store, closer to Seijoh. It was stupid - “
“Because you’re a dumbass, dumbass,” interjects Tobio.
“Shut up, Bakayama!” Hinata shrieks. “Anyway, we ran into Kindaichi-kun and Kunimi-kun, Kageyama’s soulmates - “
“You planned it,” Tobio adds, interjecting again.
“You told me to explain, Bakayama!” This time, Hinata doesn’t just scream, instead going in for the punch, smacking the back of Tobio’s head. It’s not that painful, but still comes as a surprise. Tobio winces as he rubs where Hinata hit him.
Unexpectedly, Yachi begins to laugh. It’s high, like the song of a little bird. Hinata’s entire face lights up and he smiles, laughing as well.
Couples are disgusting, Tobio decides. There’s no way around it.
Practice is still the same that afternoon for the most part. They play, Yachi asks questions, and the team races to be the first to answer. If anything, the only discernible shift was Hinata. He seemed to run faster, jump further, spike harder, and every time one of his hits scored, as soon as he landed, he would turn around to smile at Yachi, and she would smile right back.
Tobio didn’t care, not really. Now they’re all matched up, ready to be filed away in neat little rows. Biology at its finest - is it not? Tobio wanted to be able to stand on his own, wanted to be strong enough to go toe to toe without any help from his team mates. Hinata wanted a team, people to stand by his side and support him.
They all got what they wanted, didn’t they? Isn’t this what you asked for? Isn’t this what you wanted?
So, why aren’t you happy?
Tobio’s been to Tokyo a few times before with family and school trips, but it’s always strange to go back. The city is so different from what Tobio has grown accustomed to back in Miyagi, and even if most of his time in there will be spent at Nekoma, the city’s massive size still hangs over him.
All around him, Nekoma, Fukurodani, and Karasuno players are yelling, happy to see each other once again. A few feet away, Tsukishima looks rather annoyed. Kuroo and Bokuto don’t seem to mind, going on about how their son has returned. They become even louder, once Hinata is off of the bus. Bokuto even makes fucking owl noises when he picks up the middle blocker and spins him around. Yachi looks petrified, from that moment, all the way through her introduction to Bokuto and Kuroo, and her subsequent time being spun around by Kuroo.
“Kageyama-kun,” Sugawara says, placing a hand on the first year’s shoulder. “Will you help me carry our gear in? Tanaka and Noya said they would help, but…” Together, they both turn to glare at the second years, messing around with their counterparts from Nekoma.
“Of course, Sugawara-san,” Tobio replies, before following after the third year.
“How are you feeling, Kageyama-kun?” Sugawara asks. “You and Hinata-kun haven’t been talking as much as usual. Is it because he met Yacchan?”
“No,” he replies, shaking his head. His fingers tighten around the bag strap. “I’m… happy for them. Hinata deserves someone who will make him happy.”
“But, wasn’t that you, before he he met Yacchan?” Sugawara presses. The entire situation feels a little strange - Sugawara is still smiling the same carefree grin as always.
“That’s not the same thing,” Tobio insists. He stops walking. His grip tightens once again, imperceivably. “It’s different.”
“How?” Sugawara stops walking as well, and turns to face Tobio. They’re standing in the hallway, a few doors away from Nekoma’s volleyball clubroom. “How is that any different, Kageyama-kun?”
“Yacchan is his soulmate. I’m just a friend.” It sounds flimsy as it leaves his mouth, papery.
“But, you still feel like you’re being replaced.”
“That’s not true.” And it’s not - Tobio knows how that feels. Being replaced doesn’t happened with his consent. He likes Yachi, and he likes how happy she makes Hinata. He just doesn’t having their newly blossomed relationship shoved in his face.
“Then, stop lying to your senpai.” The smile is still there, but now, it’s paired with an almost sinister twinkle in his eyes. “How do you really feel?”
“Hinata is still my friend, even if we don’t talk as much. He just talks to Yacchan more now.”
“Hmm… Do you wish Hinata-kun was your soulmate?” Sugawara asks the question so easily, so lightly, but it still hits Tobio like a punch to the throat. He drops the bag of balls, but neither of them react, even as they begin to roll down the hallway.
“No!” Tobio shouts as soon he realizes that he has yet to answer. “Why would you say that?”
“You two seemed awfully close, until he met his.”
“That’s so stupid - “
“Do you know your soulmate, Kageyama-kun?” Sugawara asks, head cocked to the side. “You never want to talk about them, do you?”
“I met them in middle school. We all went to Kitagawa.”
“Then why do you never talk about them?”
Because they’re just more people who grow to hate me.
“What’s the point? I don’t talk to them either.”
If there isn’t a spiker, what’s the point?
“Why not?” Sugawara’s voice is softer now, like Tobio is fine china or crystal about to fucking shatter. Tobio doesn’t care; there’s nothing left to break.
“Things don’t always work out the way you want them to, Sugawara-san.”
“I’m so sorry, Kageyama - “
“You didn’t know,” he interrupts, brushing away the apology. He squats down to collect the balls, roughly shoving them into the bag. Sugawara starts to help, but Tobio ignores him and finishes quickly. He stands and shoves the bag into Sugawara’s arms. “I’m going to see if Tanaka-senpai will help.”
There’s no point in hiding it anymore - he’s retreating, plain and simple. But then again, he’s always been good at running.
The lose almost every match at the training camp, and the sprints up the hill begin to blur with one another after the twentieth time. All of Karasuno is tired, trying their hardest to continue fighting even though it all seems useless, but it’s the hardest for Tobio.
If there isn’t a spiker, what’s the point?
The thought stays, lurking just below the surface, only to throw itself to the forefront every time he sets. Balls go wide - not by much, and the wing spikers are still able to hit the majority of them. Their accuracy suffers and they lose more points than they gain, but it’s something.
But things don’t work that way, with Hinata. They both have to be perfect, synced down to the millisecond. The instant one of them falls behind, it’s all over. And it ends, again and again and again. Ukai won’t sub him out, even as people stop to watch him - the little tyrant toppling from his throne.
“What’s wrong with you?” Hinata asks during the fortieth game when they miss yet another quick.
If there isn’t a spiker, what’s the point?
“Nothing,” Tobio says. “Get back in your spot, Gora is up to serve.”
Off on the sidelines, he can hear the subs talking. He doesn’t know enough of Ubugawa’s players to pinpoint exactly who’s talking, but it doesn’t matter.
“Why do they keep trying the quick when it doesn’t work? Don’t they want to win?”
Tobio wants to win. He can taste blood on his bottom lip, rubbed raw from biting it every time he’s up for the serve, every time he dives for the receive. He’s doing his best, but he’s ruined, shattered like the Swarovski crystal Sugawara-san thinks he is.
“Why don’t they take the setter out? He’s been awful the entire camp.”
So Tobio sucks it up and plays, gives the other team Hell for all he’s worth. They still still lose 25 to 16, but the dump shot shuts them up for a while, even if Tobio’s hands shake and breath comes too quickly.
“What’s wrong, Bakayama?” Hinata asks that night, when they’re walking back from the showers. The ryokan isn’t far from Nekoma. It isn’t as nice as some of the ones he stayed in while at Kitagawa, but it’s better than nothing.
“Nothing - “
“Bullshit!” Hinata yells, whacking Tobio’s ass with his still damp towel. It stings, and Tobio does his best to suppress any winces. “You never eat lunch with me anymore, Bakayama, and you were crap at practice today. Is it because of the convenience store thing? You said you weren’t upset anymore.”
“I’m not upset - “
“So, why do you keep shutting everyone down? Hitoka barely knows you, and she can tell something is wrong.”
“You call her Hitoka?”
He hates himself the second the words come out of his mouth. Of course he calls her Hitoka - they’re fucking soulmates, why wouldn’t they?
“Just curious.” Not everyone’s relationship was as tedious as his, straddling the line between love and jealousy. Not everyone messes things up as horribly as him.
“Is that why you’re upset? You’re jealous that Hitoka and I are together?” Hinata looks crestfallen, heartbroken. Tobio wants to deny it, pretend that Hinata can’t read him with ease.
He keeps walking, even as he can see tears well up in Hinata’s eyes.
He pauses, glancing over his shoulder. He regrets it instantly. Hinata is crying - his cheeks flush and lips quivering.
“I want you to be happy, and I want things with your soulmates to work out, but shouldn’t I be allowed to be able as well? You’re not the only person in the entire world. You’re so self obsessed, and I - “ he sniffles. His knuckles are white from how tightly he’s gripping his towel. “I thought we were friends. I thought you’d be happy for me.”
“I am - “
“Then act like it!” roars Hinata. He seems to have stopped crying, but it’s shifted into anger, white hot and ready to kill. “You’re so goddamn selfish, Kageyama! Do you ever think about other people?”
“I do - “
“I don’t think that’s true. You’re not supposed to lie to your friends, but you keep saying you don’t mind and you don’t care about your soulmates, and that you’re sorry - but if you don’t care about the people the universe made for you, how can you care about anyone else?”
“I do care! They’re the ones who left me! They decided that I wasn’t good enough! We were all told at the same time that it took all three of us to make it work, but they’re the ones who turned around and were happy and content like a fucking old married couple without me!”
“What’s going on?” Daichi asks, sticking his head through a doorway. “Are you fighting again?”
Neither of them care much to reply.
“Well, maybe they left because you were so full of yourself! Maybe Kindaichi and Kunimi wanted someone who would care about them instead of his own ass!”
“Stop yelling!” Daichi orders. “Both of you. I don’t know what’s going on, but this needs to stop, right now.”
Hinata juts out his chin, mutters, “Dick,” when he shoves past Tobio. The setter doesn’t care, not really. In his head, he can hear Hinata telling him to stop being a liar, but he doesn’t care about that, either.
He goes back to the bathroom, ignoring the fact that it’s the second years’ turn for showers. Tanaka makes a surprised noise when he sees Tobio, but the first year ignores him, shouldering past to lock himself in one of the stalls. He sits on top of the tank and leans against the wall. The ceiling is brown and dingy, marred by water marks and mysterious stains better left unanswered.
“You okay, Kageyama?” Tanaka calls over the rushing of water. Tobio doesn’t bother answering - the fight with Hinata has left him too tired to lie.
“What’s wrong?” he hears Noya ask. “Was that Kageyama?”
“Yeah,” Tanaka replies, before more loudly, “I want to make sure you’re okay! It’s a senpai’s job to help his kouhai, after all!”
“I’m just tired.” It’s the truth, but just the bare minimum, just enough to get by.
“Then go to your room?” Noya offers the suggestion like it’s obvious, and Tobio guesses it is, without the backstory.
“Hinata’s there.” There’s a hole in the ceiling. It’s small and perfectly round. Tobio suspects it’s from a mouse.
“Aren’t you friends now?”
“We had a fight.”
This prompts quiet mumbling from his senpai, too low for him to make out. He closes his eyes and sighs. On top of a toilet tank probably isn’t the best place to sleep, and Tobio already knows that when he stands up, he’ll be riddled with cramps and aches.
“What was the fight about?” Tanaka asks. His voice doesn’t have its normal jocular undertone, but Tobio only realizes this faintly and doesn’t bother with processing it.
“Soulmates. He said I’m jealous of him and Yacchan, since they’re together and happy, and my soulmates don’t want to be with me.” The only logical explanation he can come with for saying all of that is that Kageyama Tobio doesn’t do things halfway - he gives and gives, pours in his entire soul until there is nothing left.
“You know your soul - ?” The end of Tanaka’s sentence is cut off with a muffled yelp. “What was that for, Noya?”
“You know the two first years on Aoba Josai’s team? Numbers twelve and thirteen? That’s them. They’re still together, happy and all that shit. It’s kind of sickening, having to see them together, after everything that happened.”
His senpai don’t reply at first. The water stops, and the bathroom is quiet and still. Tobio slides off of the toilet tank and unlocks the door. Tanaka and Noya watch him, apprehensive.
“Chikara and I used to fight, in the months after we first met,” Tanaka says casually as he roughly dries his short hair. “He thought that I didn’t want him as a soulmate, because of the way I acted around Kiyoko-san. I was pretty shitty to him - “
“You still are,” Noya says, smirking.
“But I’m trying! And, we’re making things work. Do you know how we fixed it?” Tobio isn’t given a chance to respond before Tanaka shouts, “Communication! It’s essentially, especially in a poly bond. Okay?”
“Okay,” Tobio says, nodding.
“But! That doesn't mean your senpai won’t beat them up to defend you and restore your honor!”
Tanaka slings an arm around Noya’s shoulder, and together, they say, “It’s our job, after all!”
“Now, go apologize to Hinata and sleep,” Noya says, smiling, before slapping Tobio’s back. “We have games to win tomorrow, and how can we do well when our setter isn’t in peak condition?”
“I’m - I’m sorry.”
“Will you - “ yawn, “ - shut up?”
“We were about to have a moment, Stingyshima!”
“And I want to sleep, so hurry up.”
“I’m sorry, Hinata, about earlier.” Fast, spat out like boiling water. Rushing, like the winds of a tornado. “You were right, about all of it.”
“You two are pathetic - “
“Shut up - “
“Go to sleep, Tsukki - “ sleepy, slow, low and careless, “ - or I won’t let you use my charger on the ride home.”
“Fine. The wild children could still be quieter, though.”
“I know, just, come back to sleep, Kei.”
“I’m sorry, as well. I could have been nicer about it. I just - I don’t want you to be afraid to have emotions and to act on them.”
“I know. Thank you, for that.”
“Good night, Tobio.”
“Good night, Shouyou.”
And finally - silence, darkness, and sleep. A funeral shroud over the room, concealing us, protecting us.
Interhigh begins again. The wind is cold when Karasuno gets off of the bus, and it tugs at Tobio’s uniform and hair, wiping all around him. Hinata is almost vibrating beside him, flying back and forth from excited jumping around to drive heaving into a ziplock bag.
Yachi isn’t much better. Tobio feels bad for her - there’s so much riding on each and every game of this tournament, and the third years aren’t doing much to lighten the pressure.
“We’ll win,” he says, and it feels a bit uncharacteristic, a bit sour on his tongue, but she still smiles at him.
“I’m just nervous, you know…” She clutches the straps of her backpack. “It’s my first game, and I know there isn’t much that I have to do, but it’s just…”
“You’ll do fine,” he reassures. “The team is happy to have you.”
“Thank you!” She smiles. Tobio wouldn’t put it past her to start skipping soon.
“Kageyama,” Hinata says. He is far more serious than he was only a few moments before hand. “They’re here.”
And sure enough, Aoba Josai is standing by the entrance of the gymnasium. Oikawa is laughing, head tilted back, hand resting on Iwaizumi’s chest. He’s either oblivious to those around him or perfectly aware and uncaring - with Oikawa Tooru, it’s always hard to tell. Iwaizumi looks annoyed, but then again, he’s carrying both his and his soulmate’s bags.
“Daichi said we would play them tomorrow afternoon, if we both stay in the tournament.”
“We will.” And Karasuno will win, and go on to finals, and nationals, until they stand at the very top, until they’re the very best. “We’re not coming up short again.”
When they’re walking to the entrance, Oikawa waves at them before ushering his team inside. It feels fake, like polymer and plastic. He sees the top of Kindaichi’s head, and he bites his lip - he was expecting it, seeing them here, but it still hits him like a sucker punch.
“You got this, kouhai?” Tanaka asks, leaning against him heavily. On the other side of him, Hinata is pushed away and replaced by Noya.
“We’ll fight them if you want us to!” Noya offers, jumping slightly to bump his hip against Tobio’s, sending him rocking into Tanaka. The second year shoves him back into the libero laughs, rough and coarse.
“What are you talking about?” Daichi asks, turning around. One of his eyebrows are raised, and he looks vaguely annoyed and overly tired. There’s a lot of pressure on him as captain, but Tobio hopes he isn’t too tired for his final tournament.
“We’re gonna beat up Kageyama’s soulmates!” Tanaka says it like a cheer, and Noya encourages him, echoing “Yeah!”
Daichi sighs. “Please don’t attack anyone. I really don’t want to have to deal with the tournament officials when you get us all disqualified.”
“But they’re douche bags!” Hinata yells from somewhere in the back, somewhat disappointed. “And they go to Seijoh with The Grand King! Oikawa-san is a douche bag as well!”
Noya cheers again.
“I know you’ll probably do it even if I tell you not to, so just try to not get caught, okay?”
The first game is easy, even after Ougiminami’s captain is hit with the desire to win. Tobio has never been that far from winning, but once they exit the court and the other players begin to cry, it reminds Tobio of Hinata, back in middle school. Only the strongest win.
Tobio will never be called weak again.
The second game isn’t much harder, once Karasuno finds its rhythm. Kakugawa might have a two meter player, but he isn’t much better than Hinata when it comes down to it, and their setter isn’t anywhere close to Tobio skillwise. Hyakuzawa might be hard to block, with how high up he’s spiking, but his crosses are easy for even Tsukishima to pick up.
They’re close - one singular win away from their rematch with Aoba Josai. Tobio won’t lose again. He will be strong enough, fast enough, to defeat Oikawa. He is no longer fighting alone - he has an entire team backing him up, from here to the end of the line.
“How is the tournament going so far, Tobio?” his mother asks. She’s been busy lately, coming home from the office late. He barely sees her anymore, what with school and volleyball and her schedule, so they both do everything they can to hold onto tiny moments like these.
“Good. We’re, uh, playing our next game the day after tomorrow, against Johzenji.”
“Which game is that?”
“The last one of qualifiers. Quarterfinals start in the afternoon.”
“Mmm,” she hums around a mouthful of food, nodding her head. Once she finishes chewing, she asks, “Do you think you’ll win?”
“Yeah, I do. We’re - the team is pretty good, this year. We work together well.”
“Better than when you were in middle school?” she jokes.
“Definitely,” he replies, cracking the barest hint of a smile.
“Well, I’ll tell you what, Tobio.” She places her chopsticks down beside her now-empty bowl, and rests her jaw on the palm of her hand. “If you make it to nationals, I’ll take some time off of work and go down to Tokyo to watch you play. How does that sound?”
When he thinks back on it, he doesn’t think she’s seen any of his games since he was still little, messing around at an after school pseudo-volleyball club, back before he was in elementary school. The teams there didn’t even have positions, and focused on building skills and teamwork. She was always busy, back then, just like she is now, but she always came, cheering “Tobio! You got this!” from the sidelines as he ran around the sand court.
He wants that back, more than anything.
“I would love that, Mom.”
She smiles at him and stands, pushing her chair under the table. Kissing his forehead, she says, “You got this sweetie. And if you don’t win this year, just remember, this isn’t the end.”
“I know the Great King is strong, but…” Soft breathing into the microphone, the shifting of fabric heard in the undercurrent, “How strong is he, really? I can tell with spikers, and with blockers, and liberos, but it’s easy to tell, there.”
“I think - I know - he’s stronger than me, even now.”
“Ehh? Really? I thought you were the best, Bakayama.” Laughter, biting and sharp, but not ice.
“Then why is he scared of you?” Serious, now, vaguely intrigued. Bubbling just below the surface, waiting to erupt and burn Tobio the second he steps.
“It’s - it’s complicated. Oikawa is extremely talented, at least when it comes to the prefecture. Nationally, he’s just another above average high schooler. But I’m better than him, theoretically, or at least better than he was, at my age. I advance better than he does. It’s hard to explain. Our styles are too different.”
Laughter, soft this time, breathy and low. “Whatever you say, Bakayama. Try to not get a big head about it, eh?” Pause, backtrack, shift in gears. “Hitoka’s calling me. I’ll see you in the morning, yeah? Let’s meet at Sakanoshita and race the rest of the way to school.”
“Mhm, whatever you say. Gotta go, bye.”
“ Bye - “
Cut the cord, the call is over.
Johzenji is a weird team.
They’re fast and unpredictable, changing positions and attacks with the drop of a hat. They’re good, there’s no doubt about it - they didn’t make it to top four during the summer tournament out of sheer luck. But at the same time, they make simple mistakes, like running into each other while trying to make a receive, or straight up missing the ball in an attack. But, for all of their faults, they’re fun to play.
But then again, they’re more fun to beat.
Quarterfinals are going well, for the most part. Wakutani South is good, and their one family cheering section is well deserved. Tobio thinks, believes they can win, and maybe it’s not false hope, maybe it’s not wishful thinking -
And then, Daichi is injured. He smiles and pats Ennoshita on the back when he leaves the second year in charge, but they can all see how his eyes are growing cloudy, and they way his fist tightens around the tooth he spat out.
“Daichi-san,” Tanaka says. Someone should check his shoulder, if the state of the captain’s face is anything to go by, Tobio thinks, and right after he adds, at least it wasn’t his spiking arm. “I’m so - “
“It’s okay, Tanaka. Just don’t lose the game, yeah?” He flashes a smile. His teeth are lined in red. “I’m leaving the team in good hands. Trust Ennoshita, he knows what he’s doing.”
They win, barely, by the skin of their teeth. After the final point is scored, Tobio feels peeled open and exposed. The game was too close, too long, too dangerous -
Tobio wants to win, he wants the victory and the gold medal and the national recognition. He wants that, but most of all, he wants to look at Aoba Josai and its players and say, ‘Look at me. I was strong enough to go where you never could -
L o o k a t m e.’
“The purple one, Sleepy-chan! I told you to get the purple one. That one’s orange.”
“Yow know I can’t see either of those colors, right?” Kunimi grumbles, tucking a strand of hair behind his ear. His skin looks paler than Tobio remembers, like he’s dropped two shades since the last tournament. It looks thinner, as well, and sallow.
“But you’re so much fun to - “ He’s laughing, smiling, eyes crinkled. But it falls, once he sees Tobio, and it’s replaced with perpetual calm, like the surface of the ocean moments before a storm rolls in. “Tobio-chan!” Fake, fake fake. “You’re looking… grumpy, as usual. You really do take after Iwa-chan, don’t you?”
“Better than taking after your prissy ass,” he shoots back.
“Tobio-chan, you should be nice to your senpai.” He’s pouty and fucking ugly, same as he was back in middle school. “After everything I’ve done for - “
“You haven’t done anything.” Tobio turns around, and starts to walk away, he only makes it three steps before, “I’ll win. There’s no way I’m losing to you again.”
“You can’t win alone.”
“I wasn't planning on it.”
“Just take this like any other game, boys,” Ukai coaches. “We can win this, but not if you freak out. Seijoh might be a powerhouse, but this team, right now, is strong enough to be one as well. Anything you’d like to add, Sensei?”
“I…” He looks up from his clipboard, frazzled. A moment later, Ukai squeezes his elbow, grounding him. He pushes up his glasses and looks at the team. “The crow’s broken wing was healed and now it is stronger than ever. The bodies and techniques you’ve trained for this day… Please make sure you all go out, and fly into the huge sky. If you’re able to do everything that needs to be done, results will followed. That’s what I believe.”
When Oikawa tosses the ball up and begins to run, Tobio can’t breathe. Pressure is building in his throat, rising up from his stomach to the back of his tongue. It’s a weight, a pressure point, a rock dunked in acid and shoved in his mouth.
Behind him, Daichi receives, grunting at the force of the ball. Tobio runs to the center of the court for it, and out of the corner of his eye, he can see Hinata running as well. He tucks that thought away, and focuses on the opposite side of the court. Who to send it to, who to send it to -
“You can’t win alone.”
Kageyama Tobio is not alone - he has friends, people who stand beside him and play beside him and fight beside him. Kageyama Tobio is not alone, and he hasn’t been since he stepped foot in Karasuno’s gym. Karasuno does not fight as one singular entity - it’s a swarm, a hive mind, constantly shifting and pulsing, growing and changing. That what makes it so strong, and that is why they are going to win.
Hinata’s quick is clean, hitting Seijoh’s side of the court with a resounding thump.
He can hear people screaming, cheering, calls of let’s go, let’s go, let’s go Karasuno! The rush it leads to is heady and exhilarating, sending an electric charge from his shoulder blades to the tips of his fingers.
“Let’s keep this up,” Daichi yells, clapping his hands together. “We’re gonna take this one point at a time.”
The ball is tossed to Kageyama for his serve. One point at a time - the last game doesn’t matter, and neither does the next one. Even the next set is inconsequential, let alone last year. It’s one point at a time, zero to twenty-five, until he wins - until Karasuno wins.
It’s a better mindset than he had last year, anyway.
They’re close to winning the first set, until Oikawa releases his dog.
“His hair…” he hears Hinata breathe, quiet as a pin drop.
“What are you talking - “ He stops, because even his colorblind eyes can pick apart the colors of his hair, the two toned fuzzy mass with crisp lines encompassing it. “Oh.”
“He looks scary.”
“He can’t be any worse than Noya after a shower.”
He’s wrong. Kyouken - the only name he’s managed to pick out so far, but he’s not sure why anyone would be named Mad Dog, except for the fact that he heard Oikawa say it - is as much of a monster as he looks. He hits hard, close to the line until it’s all gut reaction and hoping you don’t judge the distance wrong. A single miscalculation will cost them points they don’t have to lose.
But Kyouken snaps, bares his teeth and growls, just as often as he scores.
“Get him angry,” Ukai says during a timeout. “Take away Oikawa’s new weapon. Make him too angry to be careful and keep his spikes in, and he’s done.”
“So you want us to break him?”
“Tanaka,” Daichi chides. “Can you be any less cordial?”
“Sorry, Dai - “
“No, no.” Ukai shakes his head. “Break him, if that’s what it takes. Get him out of the game and ruin their strategy.”
It doesn’t take much - a few clean receives from Daichi and Noya, a handful of Tsukishima’s precise read blocks - and Kyouken is out, and the third year he replaced is running back out and slapping number two’s ass. It earns a whistle blow of the referee, but the ass slapper and slapee both just wave at the official and laugh it off. Cute or disgusting - pick your poison, because Tobio can’t tell the difference.
Tobio has his rhythm, but he is easily shaken. Things pop out unexpectedly, like flashes of color and cross spikes he used to know so well and receives just shy of the perfect parabola. But he keeps it together, if only to hold off Floppy’s know it all smirk.
He plays faster, harder. It would be easy to slip back into the role of a tyrant and give orders, yell at his team until they fall in line and play just like him. But the thing is, with Hinata beside him, jumping until he barely can do more than throw himself into the sky, chasing after the ball like his blood thrives on it, there isn’t air left for orders.
There’s just the next volley.
They win that first set, but the second is far from that easy bliss. Yamaguchi’s serves help, there’s no doubt about it, and Tobio isn’t fully convinced he didn’t see Tsukishima hug his soulmate, but that doesn’t stop Oikawa’s serves from widening the divide between their scores.
“Hurry up, Hinata!” he yells, when one of their quicks is blocked.
“I judged wrong, sorry - “
“Then do it properly, next time!” His hands are clenched.
Take it back, take it back.
“I did my best, Bakayama! What more do you want from me?”
“I know you can do better.”
You don’t mean this.
“Cut it out, you two. We still have time to turn this around.”
“We wouldn’t have to turn this around, if Hinata got the point!”
Stop, please -
“Shut up, Bakayama. I know you don’t mean that.”
The referee blows his whistle and tosses the ball to Seijoh for the serve.
Hinata steps into his space. There isn’t time for this, but he needs it. He’s sinking, drowning in the pressure.
“This isn’t you. You’re not who they think you are. Don’t be that person. Or you’re buying me meat buns for a month, got it?”
“I’m glad we had this conversation. Now get back in position, Bakayama! Strawberry is up.”
And he stops sinking. He isn’t that person, not anymore. He’s not anyone they say he is, not anymore.
When they win, Tobio doesn’t realize the game is over, at first. He’s waiting for the referee to toss him the ball when the whistle is blown and Hinata screams in his ear, a jumble of words about going to finals and nationals, maybe, and beating the Great King.
He stands still as a barrage of noises hit him. They won.
He beat Oikawa.
Ukai runs onto the court once the teams bow and slaps them all on the back. “Your parents will be so proud. I’ll buy y’all dinner, all right? You deserve it after that match.”
He beat Oikawa.
“We’re going to finals, Kageyama-kun,” Yachi says, smiling her sunshine smile. Tobio doesn’t know how she got down from the stands so quickly, but with the way she’s vibrating at the same frequency as Hinata, he’s not surprised.
It doesn’t really set in until someone clears their throat and Tobio turns around to see Oikawa. His hair is still artfully tousled, even after three grueling sets. His hip is jutted to the side, and he’s clearly pissed, even if most of his anger is simmering just below the surface. Behind him, Tobio can make out the soulmates from volleyball.
“I’m not surprised I lost, Tobio-chan. Someone like me could never win against a genius like you. It doesn’t matter how much I practice, or train, or strategize, people like you and Ushiwaka will always stand in my way. Don’t think for a second that I won’t destroy you the next time that we play, though.”
“I didn’t ask, Oikawa-san.”
“Don’t be fucking rude, Tobio - “
“You’re the one being rude!” It seemingly comes as a shock to everyone still in the gymnasium. Oikawa, Kageyama and Hinata all turn to Yachi at the same time. “You should leave Kageyama-kun alone. You’re older, so be more mature.”
“And who are you?” He doesn’t sound curious at all, just vexed. “I don’t remember you being at the last tournament.”
“Yachi Hitoka, and you can kiss my ass, Oikawa Tooru. Don’t be mean to my team, or I’ll report you to tournament officials for harassment.”
“I didn’t come this close - “ Oikawa holds his index finger and thumb a few millimeters apart, “ - to be dragged by some tiny first year. I can’t - actually, you know what? I don’t have to put up with this. I hope Ushiwaka makes you all cry.”
He stalks off. A few moments later, Iwaizumi chucks a ball at him, but still hugs him. Tobio can see the setter’s shoulder’s shaking. It feels intimate and deeply personal, like cutting out a piece of Oikawa’s soul and passing it around for the entire audience to see.
When he looks away, the soulmates from volleyball are still here, standing side by side, a few feet back.
“What do you want?”
“Can we talk?” Kindaichi asks. He still hasn't softened his edges, still feels too much like an Iwaizumi Hajime in the making with rather unfortunate hair.
Tobio wasn’t expecting that, after the match and these years, after every sharp word said between them. He don’t know how he should react.
“I think the team is going out for dinner, soon - “
“It won’t take long.” It’s not begging, because Kunimi Akira doesn’t beg, but it’s still close. It breaks him, tears down his walls stone by stone. It’s not a big opening, but everything still rushes in - they’re close, that’s bright, that’s not grayscale -
“Fine.” He already regrets agreeing. “Did you pick a place yet?”
The entire team dinner, Tobio can’t stop looking at his phone. It feels heavier, now, with their numbers listed in his contacts. He’s still got two hours at least, and judging by how Saeko is only drunk enough to hang off of Kiyoko loosely and not press damp kisses to the manager's cheeks and forehead, it’s pressing closer to three.
“Stop fidgeting,” Tsukishima says. “You’re shifting the table.”
“You stop fidgeting!” Tobio retorts. It’s not until Tsukishima mumbles “I’m literally not even moving,” that he realizes how dumb it is, and it’s only because Tsukishima is tired from a stomach full of rich food that he wasn’t dragged within an inch of his life.
“You got somewhere to be?” Tanaka asks.
“Hmm? Oh, no. Just tired.”
“Eh? Don’t lie to your senpai.” Noya coaxes, sloppy, hanging off of Asahi in a way that isn’t entirely child friendly. “I saw you talking to some Seijoh players, after the match. You meeting up with your soulmates?”
Noya shrieks so loudly Asahi falls out of his chair.
“It was their idea!”
“And you agreed? Tanaka asks, just as incredulous as Noya.
“We haven’t talked in a while - “
“Can I fight them if doesn’t go well?” Tanaka asks, and Tobio can’t help but agree - it’s strange, having people in his life who care about him and are willing to defend him. Tobio likes it, at any rate.
“Are you being violent again?” Daichi asks from the other end of the table. “I told you to stop.”
“Nope!” Noya and Tanaka yell back, but their giggles give them away.
“Besides,” it comes out breathless as Noya attempts to calm his laugher with little success. “You said to just not get caught!”
The captain sighs and drops his head on the table. Sugawara laughs and rubs his back, “You did say that, honey.”
He gets to the cafe first. It’s small and cluttered, filled to the brim with mismatched chairs and low tables and books and boardgames. It feels overwhelming and yet still cozy, once Tobo relaxes. He purchases a cup of tea and sits by the window but doesn’t look outside. It’s growing dark, and every time he catches a glimpse of the glass, he can see his own reflection. It’s dark and a bit grim. With shaking hands, he sets his teacup back down on the saucer. The china clinks, too loud in the near empty cafe.
Tobio was five minutes late, and in the ten minutes that have past slowly, like water dripping off of the tip of an icicle, he has sat alone. It feels like a joke - Come on, we want to talk. Come on, we’re sorry.
He glances through the window. The overhead lights and various lamps are too bright to make out anything outside. His tea is cold and he’s barely drunk half of it. He picks up the cup it swirls it around some before placing it back down.
He checks his phone - twenty minutes have passed since he was supposed to meet them. It takes a few minutes to choke down the rest of his tea and drop off the cup and saucer with the baristas. Soon, he’s outside, his volleyball jacket zipped up to the top of his throat to ward off the chill. His hands are shoved deep in his pockets, his chin tucked against his chest. Eyes on the sidewalk - it’s smooth, but he’s never been to this corner of town before.
He should have kept walking, ran straight home and locked the door. How would his life have turned out, if he had gone to a different middle school? Something tells him they would have still met, somehow; that much was unavoidable.
“Kageyama, come back!”
He stops, but he won’t turn around. That’s as far as he’ll go.
“Tobio, come on.” Two hands on his elbow turn him around. They feel warm, electric, like he’s been struck by lightning and died. He sees two sets of brown eyes, and he’s been brought back, dragged from the ocean’s waves and thrown unto the beach, breathless.
“Sorry we were late.” Kunimi sounds sorry, just barely. His hair is falling in his eyes. Tobio wants to brush it back, feel the smooth skin of his cheeks. He shoves down the urge. “Oikawa-san wanted to talk to us for longer than we thought he would.”
“You could have texted.” It makes him sound desperate, but he doesn’t really mind. “If you knew you would be late.”
“You could have texted us that you were leaving,” Kindaichi says sharply. Tobio swallows down the mass forming at the base of his throat.
“I think there were a lot of things we could have all done,” Kunimi says.
They’re both still holding onto Tobio. He doesn’t want them to let go, despite what’s happened.
“Where do you want to go?” Tobio asks. Their touch is warm, sinking through the fabric of his jacket. If he clears his mind and focuses on them alone, he can make out the individual outline of each and every finger.
Kindaichi and Kunimi look at each other. Kindaichi lets go of Tobio’s elbow and takes his other hand, and Kunimi’s grasp slide down to Tobio’s palm. His fingers are cold, long and narrow and bony.
“We could go to my house?”
Kunimi’s house hasn’t changed much, over the years. The kitchen is dark, with only the light over the stove turned on. Kindaichi and Tobio are sitting at the table while Kunimi makes tea. It’s domestic and feels forced, even as their ankles brush under the table.
“What did you want to talk about?” he asks, once Kunimi is sitting down. Tobio’s hands are wrapped around a mug - white china with a simple back design. It feels fragile and delicate in his fingers, warm stone filigree.
“I’m sorry,” Kindaichi says. The words are clunky, spoken into his tea. “About everything that happened last year.”
Tobio doesn’t speak. The only words he can form are a combination of “It’s okay,” and “I don’t mind,” and they weigh heavily on his tongue, pushing his tongue down until he feels like he’ll gag.
“We promised to never hurt you, and we did, and I can’t imagine how that must have felt, and to know that we caused that - “ he stops. His cheeks are damp. Tobio doesn’t reach out. He takes another sip of his tea. It’s warm, and sweet. It’s just the way he’s always taken it, ever since he was little.
“I think,” Kunimi begins, “The people we looked up to in middle school weren’t the best role models. I think every relationship functions differently. And, I think we would have been better off if we had realized that sooner.”
“My teammates think Oikawa-san is a douche bag.”
That makes them laugh, and Kindaichi’s toes brush against Tobio’s calf feather-light.
“Yeah, yeah he is.”
Thinks don’t work out perfectly and they don’t work out right away, but Tobio sees blue when Akira and Yuutarou kiss him goodnight and whisper, “We’ll cheer you on tomorrow.”
And he sees red in the sweater Akira wears to finals. They cheer him on, scream themselves hoarse from the stands. Tobio calls them stupid and ridiculous afterwards when their voices are scratchy are barely there, but he still kisses them in the hallway, even when Tsukishima scoffs.
And he sees yellow in the cake his mother bakes once she finds out that he’s going to Nationals and she gets the time off. His soulmates kiss each other with frosting-sweet lips, rub buttercream on each other’s faces and and shriek when cake is thrown in the kitchen.
And he sees purple in the strings of lights hung up for new years as they walk through town, hand in hand and wrapped up in fuzzy jumpers. It’s freezing and Akira complains about the weather and Yuutarou ends up having to carry him home once he falls asleep.
And he sees orange in the snowman they built in January, decked out with a carrot nose and a red scarf. He shoves snow down Yuutarou’s shirt and runs when his soulmate chases after him with arms full of snow and hides behind Akira. When Yuutarou finally catches him, Tobio gives him frosty eskimo kisses, laughing through the cold.
And he sees green in the first signs of spring, when grass and wildflowers pop up along the sidewalks. It’s barely above fifty and too cold to be running around, but they still play volleyball in Yuutarou’s backyard, laughing when one of them falls in the mud.
And there’s pink - bright, pink flowers growing on the bushes by the convenience store. Tobio cries when he sees them, cries into Akira’s neck while the other first freaks out and tries to decipher what’s wrong.
“I remembered them,” he says. The words are muffled by his tears and Akira’s neck.
“The flowers. I remembered the color but it’s so much brighter now, and - “
“I love you, Tobio.”
Tobio stops, stares at Akira and Yuutarou, and then he’s crying hard, arms wrapped around both of them.
“Did we break him?” Yuutarou asks.
Tobio spits out, ‘You’re so stupid,’ and keeps crying.
He loves them back, as stupid as it seems.