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we'd light up again

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Italy is different. Italy is big and grand in ways Miyagi wasn’t. In ways the entirety of Japan wasn’t.

The people, the language, the culture; how most of the people Tobio has met since he moved here are tactile and affectionate in ways that go beyond the touches Tobio has learned how to tolerate and welcome over the years.

He was used to the high fives Tanaka-san taught him, and the myriad of pats and hugs that Bokuto-san and Atsumu constantly pulled him into when the national team members were within the vicinity of each other.

The way Shouyou or Kourai would try to jump on his back after a hard-won match, thighs squeezing Tobio’s waist as they try to ruffle Tobio’s hair. The way Wakatoshi would place a hand on his shoulder, sometimes even giving a quick double-pat followed by a nod if he thinks Tobio's outdone himself.

The ways his ex teammates sought and gave comfort; how Tadashi’s hand, cold and sweaty, used to circle around Tobio’s wrist before their every match during the final year they carried Karasuno's name. The way Kei’s fingers would briefly curl around Tobio’s nape in the middle of the court, his palm warm and heavy against his skin, anchoring Tobio to the present and preventing him from spiraling away with his thoughts.

He grew used to Hitoka’s way of saying goodbye when the group parted during the nights they met after they graduated - her lips pressing against their cheeks before reaching up to pat them on the head with a ‘send a message in the chat when you’re home, ok?’ like she’s afraid they’ll get lost.

Italy is lovely and his new team is great and they’re welcoming and inviting and Tobio has never been touched this much before in all his life.

There are quick air-kisses on the cheeks when they say hello and when they say goodbye.

“Left first,” their libero, Samuele, instructs on the second night they manage to get Tobio to join them for after practice drinks. Samuele pulls Tobio closer and demonstrates how to greet with il bacetto properly. “Then right.”

The other starting members grin at Tobio’s shocked face, chortling at the bright red of his face after they too exchange hugs and air kisses with the others.

Two of the other imports that came before Tobio — an American wing spiker named Aaron, and a Filipino middle blocker named David — chortles loudly and pulls Tobio in.

“You’ll get used to it,” they say placatingly before moving towards Giovanni, their opposite hitter, and doing the same. “Bring our youngest home safely, Gio! Ciao!”

Tobio is wine-tipsy and leaning his weight on the opposite hitter he's just starting to get used to as they make their way to Gio's car.

The floaty way he's feeling reminds him of the the first time he got drunk. Sixteen, and they've just stolen a bottle of sake from Kei's older brother. Sixteen and blaming himself for the match they lost, effectively placing them on third place and ending their collective dream of becoming champions playing with thisteam next to these people.

He remembers the loudness of Shouyou’s laughter against his ribs as the four of them stumbled towards Tobio’s house. The way Tadashi hissed at them to keep their voices down as he tried to concentrate on sticking the keys he pried from Tobio’s pockets into the keyhole of Tobio’s big empty house in Miyagi. The way Kei raised both middle fingers up the air to the neighbour who peeked at them, deftly keeping Tobio up with an arm around his waist.

But Tobio isn't in Miyagi. He isn't in Japan.

Tobio is wine-tipsy in Italy and it isn't Kei's arm supporting him and there isn't a hint of Shouyou's laughter, nor is there a hiss from Tadashi, or a promise of paracetamol from Yachi the next day.

"Fuck," he whispers under his breath after Gio helps him slide down the passenger seat. Tobio squeezes his eyes shut and swallows the sudden lump in his throat as he leans against the cold surface of the window.

"What's that mean, Tobio?" Gio asks, shifting the gear to reverse and pulling them out from the parking space after Tobio typed his address on Gio's Waze app.

"Fuck," he repeats in English this time, drained of everything and suddenly too tired. "It means fuck."

Gio snorts quietly, his eyebrows raising in disbelief as he briefly tilts his head so he can face Tobio. "You shouldn't swear, mio caro."

"Mio caro?" Tobio asks after a moment, curious of the word he hasn't heard before. "Means?"

"My dear," Gio says before grinning at him conspiratorially. "And you can say che palle instead of fuck. Means—how they say—ugh! Like bad day and it sucks balls."

"Che palle." Tobio repeats and Gio gives him a thumbs up in approval accompanied by a pat on his shoulder.

They take a right on Via San Silverio and the Waze voice says 'Arrivati' just as Tobio motions for Gio to stop on the left by the small unassuming door of the complex.

He almost face-plants on the sidewalk as he steps out of the car and gestures to Gio in a way that he hopes conveys I'm okay, don't switch off the engine.

"Oyasumi," Gio says haltingly to the half-opened window a few seconds after Tobio manages to stand outside without needing to lean against Gio's car.

"Uh," Tobio says dumbly, his lips curls up in a surprised smile. "Buonasera."

He's still standing there like an idiot when he feels his phone buzz in his pocket. And when he taps the notification curiously, he finds that he's been added to the Ali Roma group chat, his new teammates bidding him goodnight.