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Tadashi dives to receive a ball Hinata had spiked over the net, the ball connecting with his skin and launching back into the air, spiraling towards Kageyama. Kageyama’s pinpoint accuracy never fails to impress, and a second-year jumps into the air and slams the ball so perfectly positioned for him.

Tsukishima’s block puts an end to the rally, redirecting the ball’s momentum straight downwards on the other side of the net.

The three-on-three match progresses well, neither side getting much of a lead on the other. The match had been Tadashi’s idea, and his intention was to mix up the pairs that usually worked best together—hence Hinata and Kageyama, he and Tsukishima, and two of the second years being on opposite sides.

On the other side of the gym, Ukai runs drills with the first and second years not playing in the match.

As the three-on-three teams take a break, Tadashi leans against the wall and drains water from one of the yellow water bottles. Nearby, Kageyama exchanges words with Tsukishima about their performance, and Hinata chats excitedly to the second years and Yachi.

It’s Tadashi’s birthday today, but practice proceeds as normal and he wouldn’t expect anything less. He wouldn’t accept anything less. Being captain of the team is hard work, but unbelievably rewarding. Not only does he get to see everyone’s improvement, but he gets to have a say in how they go about improving. Ukai trusts him, Takeda trusts him, the team trusts him.

He can say with confidence that he never expected this when he first joined Karasuno’s volleyball club.

As a first year, he had motivation and pride, that was for sure. It was a struggle to keep that motivation at first, being the only first year that was not a regular on the team. But with time he settled into his role on the team, and the nerves that came with pinch serving began to calm.

Sugawara had a large role in making Tadashi feel as though he was useful to the team. As someone who, like Tadashi, lacked the natural talent that seemed to radiate from Karasuno’s new regulars, Sugawara accepted his position as a motivator and worked restlessly to not only get time to play, but also to ensure that the team worked towards victory even when he wasn’t on the court.

The influence that Sugawara had on him not only as vice captain of the team but also as a friend strengthened Tadashi’s will and helped him become the captain that he is today.

He thinks back to his first birthday as a Karasuno team member, when Daichi had treated the team to meat buns on Tadashi’s behalf. Sugawara had pulled Tadashi off to the side as they stood outside the Sakanoshita shop, their breath condensing in the chilled air.

“Yamaguchi-kun,” Sugawara starts, holding his half-eaten meat bun in one hand and extending the other to rest on Tadashi’s shoulder. “I just wanted to let you know that everyone on the team admires you.”

Tadashi blinks, disbelief clear on his face. What’s there to admire about a kid who fudged his one and only chance to play on the team at the Interhigh tournament? He’s been improving, he knows, and he also knows that he has to work harder to catch up to everyone else, but hearing that the team admires him feels far-fetched. The Spring Interhigh tournament is approaching rapidly and Tadashi’s nerves are almost already getting the best of him.

“I mean it,” Sugawara continues, pulling Tadashi from his thoughts. “We can tell—all of us can tell that your potential is larger than you can imagine. Not just for your serve. Your determination and willpower inspire the team.”

Unsure what to say, Tadashi stammers, “Uh, um. Thank you. I…”

“Hey,” Sugawara says, taking his hand off Tadashi’s shoulder. “Don’t thank me. Just keep working hard. You don’t know where it could lead you.”

Thinking back makes Tadashi wonder if Sugawara was prophetic. Or maybe he just knew better than anyone, as vice captain and someone who was benched. Tadashi wonders if Sugawara was like Tadashi in his first year, too, and not the outspoken player that Tadashi knew.

He’s torn from his reverie when Tsukishima approaches him. “Hey, birthday boy,” he greets, leaning against the wall beside Tadashi. He hands Tadashi a towel. “Kageyama’s already itching to get back on the court. Our captain should tell him to appreciate his break time.”

Tadashi lets out a snort; Tsukishima always tries to get Tadashi to use his title to torment Hinata and Kageyama in some way. The other day, he’d lamented about how the captain isn’t hard enough on Hinata and should tell him to shut his trap more often.

And, well, it’s all in good faith nowadays. Tsukishima provokes Hinata and Kageyama not because he doesn’t like them, but because he finds it entertaining more than anything.

“Maybe the captain should tell you to get your ass back on the court and match Kageyama’s enthusiasm,” Tadashi teases, laughing at the way Tsukishima’s face contorts at his words.

Tsukishima’s changed over the years, too. Of course he has; they all have. But Tsukishima, he’d always been cold. Cold to the point that sometimes even Tadashi was hurt by it.

And, well. He’s still Tsukishima. He still has a biting tongue and he still dislikes grand gestures and strong emotions. But where there was once apathy in his heart, he now holds his own special kind of care. Since he’s gotten more involved in volleyball, and since he and Tadashi got together in their second year, his sharp exterior has softened, and not just for Tadashi.

It’s something special to see, and Tadashi’s glad he gets to share some of it with the rest of the team. Most remarkably, almost everyone now calls him “Tsukki,”—the notable exception being Kageyama, but Tadashi can’t ever see that happening—and no one’s gotten their head bit off for it.

Tsukishima might act like he doesn’t care, but now it’s not just Tadashi that sees through his ruse. Tadashi’s grateful for that.

It’s a few moments longer that Tsukishima and Tadashi linger in comfortable silence before Tadashi claps his hands together in front of him and calls the players back to the three-on-three.

In the clubroom after practice, Hinata and Kageyama bicker amongst themselves over what they could’ve done better during the match, and Tsukishima keeps to himself as he changes in the corner.

On his birthday during his second year, Ennoshita, Tanaka, and Nishinoya had decorated the clubroom with streamers. They did so for everyone’s birthday, but they didn’t fail to smother Tadashi in so much attention he felt special, anyway.

And, maybe the gifts that he received from his upperclassmen weren’t exactly… personalized—a motivational quote book from Nishinoya, an… inappropriate magazine from Tanaka, and a keychain of a volleyball from Ennoshita—but the card he received with signatures from all his teammates still sits on his desk in his room.

It wasn’t long after that day that Ennoshita told Tadashi about his decision to appoint him captain for the following year.

“Hey, Yamaguchi. Can I talk to you for a minute?” Ennoshita asks, catching Tadashi just as he’s about to leave the clubroom. Tsukishima, who stands beside him, raises an eyebrow at Ennoshita’s request.

“Oh, uh. Yes, of course,” Tadashi answers, nerves suddenly swelling in his chest. Did he do something wrong during practice, or…?

“It’s nothing bad,” Ennoshita says immediately, as if he can read Tadashi’s mind.

Tsukishima glances between the two of them before he says he’ll meet Tadashi outside. The door shuts behind him, leaving Ennoshita and Tadashi alone.

Despite Ennoshita’s consolation, Tadashi’s nerves do not settle.

“I’ve been thinking a lot lately, with the Spring Interhigh tournament coming up,” Ennoshita starts, and he when he sees Tadashi’s shocked expression, he quickly adds, “I’m staying for the tournament, of course. I’m fairly certain the other third years will as well. But after that…”

Tadashi blinks, unsure what to expect. He buries his hands into his coat pockets and waits for Ennoshita to continue.

“After that, the team will need a new captain.” Ennoshita does not avert his gaze from Tadashi’s. “I want that to be you.”

Shock crashes against Tadashi’s body like a tidal wave. “What?” he blurts before he has time to think.

“Yamaguchi, you’re an essential motivator on the team. You have been since your first year. Not only that, you’ve had apt time to observe your teammates from outside of the match and assess their strengths—and their weaknesses. Next year will be the perfect time for you to put that knowledge to use.” Ennoshita goes through his reasons like marking off a checklist in his head.

“I’m not sure—”

Ennoshita lets out a small chuckle. “And even that. You’re not sure you’d be best for the team, because that’s what you want, right? The best for the team?”

Tadashi nods slowly.

“You’ve gained a lot of confidence throughout this year. You know when you’ve done something wrong and you know how to discipline yourself. You’re also the glue among the second years, have you noticed?” Ennoshita tilts his head to the side curiously.

Tadashi never thought of himself that way, but he supposes it makes sense. He maintains a good relationship with each of the other second years, and he doubts that Kageyama and Tsukishima could be civil without a mediator of some kind.

“And, not to discredit the reasons why I’ve chosen you, but… To be blunt, could you imagine one of the others as captain?” Ennoshita’s mouth pulls into a guilty smile as he speaks, and Tadashi lets out an amused huff.

“I guess not,” he replies, and then he takes a moment to let Ennoshita’s words sink in. He hasn’t said anything that’s not true, Tadashi thinks, but Tadashi still has his self-doubts.

“I trust you,” Ennoshita says, “You’ll do great.”

Tadashi hadn’t told anyone about Ennoshita’s decision until much later, but no one seemed surprised or put up any objection. That in itself calmed the spikes of self-doubt that still pierced Tadashi from the inside out, and as the time came for him to put on the jersey with a large number one emblazoned on it, he felt more and more like it was right.

Now, as he folds the jersey and neatly tucks it in his bag, he traces a finger against the white number.

It’s just then that Tadashi feels two hands on his shoulders, and before he has time to react, Hinata has jumped onto his back.

“Surprise!” Hinata says and Tadashi stumbles around, trying to get his balance. “We’re gonna take you out for dinner! Our treat!”

Tadashi laughs once he finally stands upright again, Hinata hanging off his back. Tsukishima shrugs at him from a little ways away.

“Yachi is waiting outside,” Kageyama says, “So let’s get going.”

Tadashi sets Hinata down and asks, “Where are we going?”

“Tsukki said that place that serves the gross french fries is your favorite!” Hinata exclaims, and Tsukishima casts Tadashi a small, knowing grin.

After scoffing playfully, Tadashi says, “The fries aren’t gross, they just take refined taste.” Even Tsukishima lets out an amused snort at that.

The rest of the team has already finished changing and has headed home, and only the third years are left. Tadashi lets Kageyama and Hinata walk in front as they exit the club room, so he can walk beside Tsukishima. As promised, Yachi waits nearby with a grin on her face. She’s already wished Tadashi a happy birthday about five times, but that doesn’t stop her from doing it again.

The restaurant is a short walk from the high school, and as they walk, Tadashi and Tsukishima fall into easy conversation.

“For the record,” Tsukishima starts, “Those dipshits didn’t do this for my birthday.”

Tadashi giggles. “What can I say, Tsukki, I’m super lovable,” he jokes, placing his chin in his hands as a display of cuteness. “And besides, would you have wanted them to?”

Tsukishima shakes his head, and as Tadashi lowers his hands from his face, Tsukishima takes one of them in his own, then letting their clasp hands swing between them. A small grin pulls at Tadashi’s lips as he notices the pale blush on Tsukishima’s cheeks. Some things never get old.

“Say, when we started at Karasuno, did you ever expect it to turn out like this?” Tadashi inquires, watching as Hinata bumps shoulders with Kageyama in front of them. Yachi chatters cheerfully with the both of them.

“‘Like this’?” Tsukishima questions.

“Oh, you know. Like, everything.”

Tsukishima snorts. “That does not clear it up.”

Tadashi laughs, too. “Like, going to nationals, me being captain, studying volleyball footage on the weekends…”

Tsukishima thinks for a moment before he answers, “Yeah, I didn’t expect it.”

After nodding, Tadashi says, “Me neither. I mean, a lot has happened over the years, don’t you think?”

“You’re talking like we’re elderly,” Tsukishima deadpans, to which Tadashi chuckles.

“I suppose you’re right.”

“But I’m glad, anyway,” Tsukishima says. Tadashi tilts his head curiously, and Tsukishima elaborates, “That everything happened the way it did. I’m glad.”

The smile that spreads across Tadashi’s face is so big he feels he might split.

“I’m glad, too, Tsukki.”