Tobio is fifteen, almost sixteen, when he first meets Hoshiumi Kourai. When he first leaves Hinata Shouyou to do it.
“I’m going on ahead,” he’d said, grinning at Hinata that way only he could bring out of Tobio—sharp, competitive, smug. It’s not the expression he has for Tsukishima (aggravation, irritation, grudging acceptance. Reluctant teamwork) and it’s not the expression he has for Kindaichi or Kunimi (caught on what used to be; lost chances, some hurt, a lot of guilt; a drive to win, an ache because he was never meant to see them lose). It’s a brighter expression than that. When he says I’M GOING ON AHEAD to Hinata, there is a silent, implicit expectation: SO CATCH UP BEFORE I GET TOO FAR.
Now that he’s found Hinata Shouyou, never does he expect to lose him. He’s lost many things in his life—people, mostly, which are hard for him to let in, and even harder to hold onto—but he can’t fathom that with Hinata. It’s probably because he’s the most annoying person Tobio’s ever met—loud and orange and sucks at volleyball. At doing anything but being fast.
Maybe that’s it, though. Tobio’s always gone on too far ahead for people, like Kindaichi and Kunimi, or been left behind as they moved onto their next steps, like Oikawa and Iwaizumi. Miwa. His grandfather.
Hinata Shouyou, though. He’s his age, and he’s more determined than anyone Tobio’s ever met. He’s fast enough to keep up with Tobio, and dogged enough that he’s not going anywhere.
It’s not really faith. It’s more like how Hinata said, all that time ago to Azumane-san, that he trusted that the ball was going to be there. He just had to fly, and Tobio would make sure the ball was there.
Tobio just has to keep running, and Hinata Shouyou will make sure he gets there.
So he’d grinned at Hinata, a triumphant smirk, and left him in Miyagi to catch up while he went to meet the monsters who were meant to bring Japan its glory on the world stage.
(The media calls them monsters. Commentators too. Tobio just thinks they’re like him. People who love volleyball, who understand it more than they understand almost anything else. He’s never thought of himself as a genius. He just wants to be on the court, and wants to be the best so he can keep stepping out onto it again and again.
He looks at the rest of the National Youth Camp, looks at these so-called monsters, and figures they’re just the same as him.)
Hoshiumi Kourai is super fucking weird looking.
Tobio remembers Nishinoya-san’s reaction to his suggestion that girls don’t like him because he’s short, and he’s figured out that saying honest things about how people look isn’t always the right thing.
It’s not... a bad thing, though. Tobio thinks he looks like a bird, and thinks birds are pretty good animals to be, and that’s about the end of his thoughts on Hoshiumi Kourai.
Until he sees him jump. Then he thinks he’s found a good reference.
He looks at Hoshiumi, and he sees who Hinata could be one day.
He’s much better than Hinata. That much is clear from the outset. He can actually receive the ball, for starters, and he’s a decent setter. Hoshiumi Kourai can do pretty much anything, which is a laughable concept for Hinata.
But Hinata Shouyou is the plant that grew from a concrete garden. He’s the boy who couldn’t reach, so he learned to fly.
So. One day.
“Kageyama!” Hoshiumi barks, and Tobio blinks. Looks up.
“Hello, Hoshiumi-san,” he says, a far cry from the vague insults he had just been contributing to the Karasuno second years' group chat. (They were all chewing Hinata out for texting while biking. Tsukishima was by far the most successful at being rude. Yachi was the most effective, though, just telling Hinata she gets very worried every time he does that. Tobio feels like he can hear Hinata’s distressed squawks from here.)
“This year,” Hoshiumi says, pointing at Tobio’s chest grandly, that way he does sometimes, “we are going to beat you, just because, so you better make sure Hinata Shouyou doesn’t get a fever this time!!”
Tobio blinks. Beside him, Chigaya seems to be groaning quietly.
“Is he Shouyou-kun’s keeper?” Miya asks wryly, a volleyball in his hands.
“Depends,” Komori throws out cheekily, saving Tobio from having to respond. (No? He guesses? But. But.) “Is your brother yours?”
“Motoya-kun!” Miya squawks, successfully distracted, leaving Tobio and Hoshiumi alone to go banter (FLIRT, Chigaya says later to Tobio, which is maybe the most confusing thing he’s ever heard, but whatever. Miya-san is a very confusing person) with Komori.
Hoshiumi’s eyes, though, are still on Tobio. As intense as ever. They’re pretty similar to Hinata’s when he’s in the thick of a game, actually, except—Hinata’s eyes are always bright, whether he’s laughing or staring with an eerie focus. Hoshiumi’s are vivid, sharp. Unflinching in a less overly friendly way than Hinata’s, but no less warm. Tobio assumes this is what being hunted by a particularly loud bird would feel like.
“Okay,” he says simply. “We’ll see you at nationals.”
Hoshiumi grins at him, and it’s different to anyone else’s grin. It’s wild, intense, kind of like him. Brimming with something Tobio can’t identify. Excitement, maybe. Like he can’t wait.
“You’re on!” he shouts, leaping into the air to make his declaration. Miya chucks the volleyball at him, probably startled from the outburst of noise. Komori laughs; Chigaya groans lightly. Sakusa shakes his head, returning to filing his nails.
If it wasn’t for Hoshiumi, Sakusa would be Tobio’s favourite fellow trainee, he thinks. And he’s not sure he’d identify Hoshiumi as his favourite, exactly, but. There’s something about him that Tobio finds compelling.
He’s not scared of anything. Neither is Sakusa, just disgusted by things like used baths and Komori’s taste in boys, but Hoshiumi is actively seeking everything he can, just so he can take it on. It’s a little like if someone mixed up Nishinoya, Hinata and some of Oikawa’s more grand-standing moments, and churned them out in the form of a very loud bird with Bokuto-san’s volume control and a bigger chip on his shoulder about his height than Tsukishima had all last year about... well, his entire life.
He texts all this to Yamaguchi, who lets the sort of insulting approach to describing Tsukishima slide in favour of telling Tobio that it sounds like an absurd combination. Which Tobio guesses that it is. But.
He sets to Hoshiumi for three days of the camp, and marvels at how he plays. He watches Hoshiumi jump, and he does not find Hinata in him.
Instead he just watches someone fly.
When he was fifteen, he left Hinata Shouyou and found Hoshiumi Kourai. When they’re nineteen, Hinata leaves him instead.
It’s temporary. Tobio knows it’s going to be okay. He’s going to be okay. They’re going to be okay. He’s had three years of Karasuno now, three years of Sugawara-san and Tanaka-san pressing teamwork into every inch of him, three years of his yearmates helping him unlearn the worst parts of The King from his bones, but creating strong enough boundaries that he can keep most of it, because they’re not afraid of him.
He knows how to listen now. So when Hinata says SEE YOU KAGEYAMA, he hears I’M COMING BACK SO YOU BETTER NOT FALL BEHIND.
And he doesn’t. He goes to Rio to serve for his country, the youngest member of the national team that year. He has already been scouted by the Adlers, the strongest team in the league, and shows Hinata’s selfie with Oikawa to Ushijima with a furrowed brow.
Hinata Shouyou goes to Brazil, and Tobio goes to Hoshiumi Kourai and the Schweiden Adlers.
He has a year there before Hinata leaves, but he doesn’t see him often. He is training with his teams, both Adlers and Japan, and Hinata is taking Washijou-sensei’s mantle seriously, and preparing hard.
He calls Hinata a lot, around the time differences, once he goes. All of Karasuno does, but he has one-on-one calls, longer than they ever used to talk when they were right beside each other. Maybe because they never needed words.
He sets to Hoshiumi a lot too, learns him as a player, as a person, as a friend. They talk about Hinata sometimes. Other times, they don’t talk about anything at all.
It’s a good existence Tobio has carved out for himself, where he gets to play on the court with giants, with these people the world calls monsters but he just knows as kids he used to want to beat.
Some he still wants to beat, he guesses, when he goes against the MSBY Black Jackals and competes against Miya Atsumu for service aces, or against EJP Raijins and Komori receives his serves with a smile.
He misses Tsukishima when he’s trying to help his blockers stop Suna Rintarou, and he misses Hinata when his hitters need to try get past Washio Tatsuki, but he has Japan’s Cannon and the Little Giant by his side, and he learns to cope.
Hoshiumi comes alive on the court, even more than he is off it—less manic, but more determined. Unflinching. During practices, he demands to be on receive practice against Ushijima’s spikes, demands to try counter Tobio’s serves. He demands to get better, be better, although he’s already the best player Tobio has ever met. Oikawa is still the player he respects most, wants to beat most (Iwaizumi-san is the person he respects most), but Tobio thinks if Hinata had to go to Brazil, Tobio still has someone he always wants to watch fly.
It’s a weird feeling, until it isn’t.
Hinata Shouyou comes back. Steps on the court, a bright smile on his face, and Tobio feels it settle into his chest. Like something he didn’t even know was missing came home.
Oh, he thinks, and remembers Hoshiumi challenging Hinata in the corridor. Remembers Hoshiumi challenging Hinata at the end of that game against Kamomedai, remembers him pledging to beat Karasuno again, a game which never happened because the Miya twins got there first. Remembers Hoshiumi pointing at him and telling him not to let Hinata fall again, already treating them like a unit, like partners, in a way that made even Atsumu, a twin, raise his eyebrows.
Oh, Tobio thinks, and looks at his best friend across the net. TOOK YOU LONG ENOUGH, he thinks. HAVE YOU CAUGHT UP YET? I HAVEN’T FALLEN BEHIND.
HOW MUCH DID YOU MEAN IT WHEN YOU SAID YOU’D COME BACK?
He looks at Hoshiumi, and thinks, WE CAN WIN. Thinks SPREAD YOUR WINGS. Thinks NOW’S YOUR CHANCE.
With a grin, Hoshiumi signals to him that he wants the next toss. Across the net, Hinata beams, then narrows his eyes: challenging, but happy. Volleyball is fun.
It’s not until the Tokyo Olympics that Tobio gets to step on the court with both of them on his side of the net.
“So, this is who you’ve always been scared of?” Hoshiumi asks with a scoff, staring at Oikawa. I WON’T BACK DOWN, Tobio hears.
“Like, the only thing. But the Grand King is really good!” Hinata says in response, from Tobio’s other side. I’VE SEEN YOU THROUGH THIS FAR, LET’S KEEP ON PLAYING, Tobio hears.
“Shut up,” Tobio grumbles, swatting both of them upside the head.
“Oi, Kageyama, don’t go hitting your spikers’ heads!” Iwaizumi calls out. “They need the brain cells.”
Hoshiumi squawks, Tobio grins, and Hinata laughs. Presses into Tobio’s side, just a little. Hoshiumi punches Tobio in the shoulder, which is a terrible form of showing affection, but way less embarrassing than the sappy look Tanaka gets whenever he looks at Sugawara, so Tobio will happily take it.
“You ready?” Hoshiumi asks.
Hinata studies Tobio’s face. “Yeah,” he says, smiling wider. “He’s ready.”
Tobio makes a tch! noise. “Just get ready to fly, both of you,” he says.
And they do, soaring all over the court around him, the way they’ve soared through his chest since they met.