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such great heights

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The road to the top has been painstakingly difficult. It’s been worth it, no doubt about it, but sometimes Hinata’s mind lingers, glued, to the worst nights. Nights where he’s woken up beside Kageyama hyperventilating and sobbing so hard it sounds like his heart is trying to come up and out of his throat, where Hinata's gentle murmurs of just a nightmare, Tobio, just another nightmare, it’s not real, and his inane, distracting stories accomplish nothing. Behind his eyelids, Hinata can still see the twitching of the scars Kageyama’s wings left behind on his back. He feels them contort against his hand as he rubbed Kageyama’s back.

Hinata will have dreams of flying so far up in the sky that it’s more white than blue, that the houses below are smaller than ants, when, suddenly, his wings just give out. Or, sometimes, dreams of wing analyzers telling him that this success is all foretold in his wings: that he’ll have the tiniest taste of his dreams only to have them viciously ripped away just before it truly grasps them. Kageyama is patient, then. He whispers that Hinata is so, so much more, dumbass, and you’ll never fall while I’m around. You’ll never fall even when I’m not.

Those nights are grueling. They always will be. But Hinata takes comfort in the fact that Kageyama struggles as he does. He believes that Kageyama takes solace in the same knowledge. They have one another, and that’s what makes them invincible against even those dreams.

Standing on the lineup of the Olympic team before the whistle sounds, that invincibility is palpable in his heart, as inherent as his blood. Every time he catches Kageyama’s gaze just as the whistle blows—he knows Kageyama feels it, too.

Hinata is among people with the most beautiful wings he’s ever seen. There are ones with billowing, elegant wings of such pure white they’re almost blinding. There are ones with sleek, sharp coal-black feathers that shine in the light. There are ones of the most mellow tones of grey, soft to even look at, that caress the gaze. They're all magnificent in their own right, and Hinata always wonders what their wing analyzer said about them. They probably heard prophecies of glorious success, of futures sprawling out before them for miles upon miles.

Then there are Hinata and Kageyama, one with paltry, stunted wings that are almost painful to look at, and the other with only scars to show for himself.

(Kageyama’s scars have healed, now. They aren’t the angry, gory marks they were in middle school: they’re clean and white now, almost faded. His phantom pains have faded alongside them. Hinata wonders if he mourns the loss of connection.)

Standing on the lineup as the only grounded players to ever make the Olympic team, might be discouraging. It might make Hinata wish he could magically grow wings and be just like everyone else, to avoid all the wide-eyed looks and slights towards them. Hinata might wonder if he really does deserve to be here, amongst the most talented volleyball players in the world.

But it doesn’t. There’s strength in knowing he’s paving brand new ground for himself and others. There’s pride in knowing he’s become worthy of standing on the Olympic stage, even with non-functional wings. There’s drive in knowing he’s made it past countless obstacles he thought he never could surpass.

He’s carved out a place for himself, here, with his very own hands. Wishing he could have wings disparages everything he’s ever longed for. He’s himself because of his grounded nature.

So he flies, in his own way. He floats onto the court upon the whistle, feet barely dusting the ground. He jumps high enough that the audience wonders if maybe his wings are functional after all. As he spikes, he feels the air parting around him and rippling between his feathers, his fingers, his whole being. Like he’s soaring. It’s the feeling he’s yearned, and yearned, and yearned for. He’s captured it at last.

(Sometimes, Kageyama smiles at him after a particularly good play. Hinata’s heart soars, too, right out of his chest.)

Hinata has earned himself a reputation as an oxymoron of being winged just as he is essentially wingless. Kageyama has, too. People say his wings must have been that of a crow’s, with his devious strategy and precision. The comparison makes their chests tickle with memories of long-past rivalries and long-ago passions, the things that laid the very first bricks on the path up this mountain.

Their lack of wings follow them in everything, like shadows. It’s been arduous, proving themselves to the populace, to scouters. Overcoming their nightmares and fears. Playing through the doubts and criticisms of both themselves and others. The glory of making it through and standing atop the tallest mountain, built up of all they’ve conquered, stems from those hardships.

As Hinata stands next to Kageyama in the lineup, the numbers on their jerseys glow with pride. He holds his gaze steady against the opposing team, fire burning within him. Just as the whistle blows, he tears his eyes away to meet Kageyama's. This is a place far, far above the summit, above even the highest-flying clouds.