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[ 19:23 ] Me: hey what did you get for #55 on the math homework

[ 19:25 ] Unknown: What

[ 19:26 ] Me: #55

[ 19:26 ] Me: it looks like this

[ 19:27 ] Me: [picture]

[ 19:28 ] Unknown: I think you have the wrong number

[ 19:28 ] Me: oh shit i’m sorry

[ 19:28 ] Unknown: It’s ok

[ 19:29 ] Unknown: I can show you how to do it?? If you still want help

[ 19:29 ] Me: really? that would be great

[ 19:30 ] Unknown: Sure just give me a sec

[ 19:36 ] Unknown: [picture]

[ 19:37 ] Me: wow thank you so much

[ 19:37 ] Unknown: No problem

 

“You gave me the wrong number” is the first thing Kageyama says to Tsukishima on their first day as third years. It’s afternoon, they’re in the gym, and what they’re supposed to be doing is recruiting new students to the team.

What they’re actually doing is standing on the sidelines and waiting for the other third years to show up and recruit for them, because while they may be the first two here, they also happen to be the two least suitable for selling pitches to small and easily-impressionable underclassmen. Not that their present company — six boys, all of them new faces, scattered over the court and being responsibly ignored by both Kageyama and Tsukishima — would have come if they hadn’t already been interested in joining the volleyball club.

“My break was great, thanks for asking,” Tsukishima replies, which has absolutely nothing to do with anything, and Kageyama has to take a moment to remind himself that their potential newbies don’t need to start taking after an upperclassman who swears at his own teammates.

“I was trying to do the summer work,” he continues, maturely choosing not to acknowledge Tsukishima’s snark, “and I tried to text you for help, but it was a wrong number. You gave me a wrong number.”

“Hmm,” says Tsukishima, noncommittal. His has his eyes on the double doors, undoubtedly waiting for Yachi or Yamaguchi or someone who’s Neither Kageyama Nor Hinata to walk in and deal with the first years loitering around. “Are you sure you didn’t just make a mistake typing it in?”

“Yes,” Kageyama says, even though he isn’t. He’s reasonably certain he got Tsukishima’s number right, though, and reasonably is reason enough for him to press his case. Pulling out his phone, he says, “So can I re-add you, or—?”

Tsukishima finally tears his gaze from the door. “Fine,” he says with the long-suffering air of a martyr, “as long as you don’t message me too much.” He holds his hand out, and Kageyama passes him the phone.

He’s quiet for a moment, preoccupied by something on the screen, before looking up with the smirk that Kageyama’s come to detest so much.

“Seems to me like you don’t need my help anyway,” he says, holding up the screen for Kageyama to see. It’s the conversation from last week, the one with the unknown number; Kageyama recognizes the photo that they sent him, a close-up of a sheet of graph paper, the problem solved in step-by-step procedure.

He doesn’t recognize the latest text in the conversation, though, and as he leans closer to read the message — it’s from him, apparently — he realizes that he should not have trusted Tsukishima so blindly with his phone. A sense of growing horror dawns on him as he registers the words. 

[ 15:30 ] Me: hey how do you feel about tutoring me for the rest of the year i really need the help

“Give me that,” Kageyama snaps, snatching his phone away. Tsukishima relinquishes it easily, looking on in amusement as Kageyama types out a hasty apology.

[ 15:31 ] Me: sorry that was one of my teammates

“What’d you do that for?” he demands when he finishes, turning on Tsukishima with a scowl.

Tsukishima shrugs, the epitome of self-satisfaction. “That person was more willing to help you than I’ll ever be,” he says. “I was doing us both a favor.”

“You jerk—”

“What’s going on here?” Yamaguchi’s voice floats through the gym as he enters with Yachi and Hinata in tow.

“Nothing,” Kageyama says at the same time that Tsukishima says, “Kageyama’s finally found himself a tutor who isn’t me.”

Hinata, pausing in the doorway, puffs up with outrage. “Without me?” he exclaims, like the very notion offends his sensibilities. “C’mon, Kageyama, we were supposed to be in this together—”

“It’s not like that,” Kageyama interrupts with a(nother) glare in Tsukishima’s direction. “Tsukishima just gave me the wrong number before spring break, when I got my new phone. I texted it for help on the math homework and they showed me how to do it, that’s all.”

“Lucky thing, too,” says Tsukishima, “because if it had actually been me, I wouldn’t have helped.”

“Tsukki,” Yamaguchi says, tone chastising, and Tsukishima shrugs. It’s as close as he’ll get to an apology and Yamaguchi’s the only one who can elicit it, so Kageyama settles for what he gets.

“Guys,” says Yachi, hesitantly cutting into the conversation, “there are first years.”

There are indeed first years, still preoccupying themselves on the court with something that’s taken the shape of a haphazard practice match. At the sound of Yachi’s reminder, they glance over, letting the ball hit the ground forgotten; Kageyama, upon making eye contact with one of them, instantly averts his gaze to Yamaguchi, who suddenly looks more stressed than he did five seconds ago.

“Right,” Yamaguchi says, voice almost hushed, “first years. I can’t believe I almost forgot.”

Tsukishima scoffs. “How do you forget a whole group of people?”

“I didn’t see you trying to talk to them earlier,” Kageyama points out.

“Funny, I could say the same for you—”

“Guys,” Yachi says again, more urgently this time, “we’re setting a bad example for them.”

“You’re captain,” Tsukishima tells Yamaguchi. “You go ahead and we’ll follow.”

“I know, I know,” Yamaguchi says. There’s a faintly ill pallor to his face that reminds Kageyama of the paradoxically faint-hearted intensity Yamaguchi assumes every time he enters a game to pinch serve. “I’m just. Mentally preparing myself.”

“Why don’t you do it, Tsukishima?” Hinata asks. “You’re vice captain, anyway.”

“Yeah,” says Tsukishima, “vice captain. I’m just here for support. Like usual.”

You should talk to them if you’re so eager,” Kageyama says to Hinata. “Not like anyone else is volunteering.”

Hinata inflates, same as he always does when he thinks he’s being challenged. “Maybe I will.”

“All right, but do we really want Hinata to be the first years’ first impression of the volleyball club?” Tsukishima says, ever logical. “Just think about the reputation we’re trying to maintain here.”

“Well,” Yachi muses, “he is the team’s selling point— him and Kageyama, I mean. They’re the ones other teams have been watching since first year.”

“Don’t bring me into this,” Kageyama hisses. “I’m not going over there until someone else does.”

“No, no, it’s fine,” says Yamaguchi, a little more composed now, “I think I’ve got this. We’re just introducing the club. We’ve got nothing to lose, right?” He sounds like he’s trying to convince himself more than them.

“Sure we do,” says Yachi, ever earnest. “There’s the future success of the team, which hinges on the potential of the first years we bring in, which in turn depends on whether they even decide to join the club, and that relies on how good of an impression we make on them—”

“That didn’t help,” Yamaguchi says tragically, and Yachi has the decency to look ashamed as she lets her mouth snap shut.

“Just think of what Ennoshita would do,” Hinata says. “Or Tanaka and Nishinoya.”

“Somehow, I don’t think that would be a good idea,” says Tsukishima.

Hinata scowls. “I’m just saying— they would’ve made the first years feel welcome at this point already.” At Yamaguchi’s visible cringe, he hastily backtracks. “Which we’re about to do. Because we’re good senpais. We’ll be the best senpais ever.”

It’s more than a bit ridiculous, that they needed this conversation for that initial step into the roles they’ll be taking on this year. But Yamaguchi’s nodding and so is Yachi, Tsukishima letting up on the mockery for once — his version of agreement, if agreement can be used loosely — and Kageyama only wishes that he possessed half their confidence.

 

[ 17:11 ] Unknown: Sorry I was at practice

[ 17:11 ] Unknown: It’s ok though don’t worry about it

[ 17:13 ] Unknown: I can still help you if you want??

[ 17:26 ] Me: no no it’s fine really

[ 17:26 ] Me: i was at practice too my teammate had my phone

[ 17:27 ] Unknown: Teammate?? Are you on a sports team?

[ 17:28 ] Me: yeah i play volleyball

[ 17:28 ] Unknown: Hey same

[ 17:29 ] Unknown: How was your first day

[ 17:29 ] Unknown: (Today was your first day right)

[ 17:30 ] Me: yeah it was

[ 17:30 ] Me: and it could’ve gone worse i guess

[ 17:30 ] Me: could’ve gone a lot better too

[ 17:30 ] Unknown: Same

[ 17:31] Unknown: What happened?

[ 17:32 ] Me: none of us knew what we were doing, we improvised the whole thing, and i’m pretty sure the new team members hate me

[ 17:32 ] Me: what do you mean by same?

[ 17:32 ] Unknown: Well

[ 17:33 ] Unknown: It was our first day as third years so everyone was expecting us to be leaders or whatever

[ 17:33 ] Unknown: And I’m captain so I had to be extra leader-like????

[ 17:34 ] Unknown: Except I’m pretty sure I’ll never be a match for our former captain so

[ 17:34 ] Me: oh i’m a third year too

[ 17:34 ] Me: high school?

[ 17:35 ] Unknown: Yeah

[ 17:35 ] Me: me too

[ 17:35 ] Me: i’m not captain but i get what you mean

[ 17:35 ] Unknown: You said you thought the first years hated you?

[ 17:36 ] Me: i mean i didn’t really talk to them

[ 17:36 ] Me: i just get the feeling you know

[ 17:37 ] Unknown: Well you’ll never really know unless you actually have a convo with them right??

[ 17:37 ] Me: that’s easier said than done

[ 17:37 ] Unknown: Just try!

[ 17:38 ] Unknown: They’re younger than you they probably look up to you??

[ 17:38 ] Unknown: I used to pretty much worship my upperclassmen haha they probably won’t even notice any mistakes you make

{ 17:39 ] Me: ok same

[ 17:39 ] Me: you might be right

[ 17:39 ] Me: i might give it a shot idk

[ 17:40 ] Unknown: Let me know how it goes!!

[ 17:42 ] Me: sure thing

[ 17:42 ] Me: thanks

 

“Hey,” says Hinata, “who’re you talking to?”

It’s evening of the second day of school, after practice; the team split ways a while back but Hinata lives in the same direction as Kageyama does, and walking home together has been a tradition ever since they outgrew the old compulsion to race each other everywhere.

Kageyama looks up from his phone. “What?”

“I knew it!” Hinata says, miffed. “You haven’t been listening to me at all. You’re so busy texting that you forgot I even existed.”

Kageyama frowns defensively. “Did not.”

“Who’re you talking to?” Hinata repeats, sidling closer and making a valiant attempt to peer at the screen; Kageyama dutifully holds the phone above his head, where Hinata, even after two years of a sorry excuse for puberty, still can’t hope to reach.

“None of your business,” he says, and Hinata pouts.

“But we’re friends,” he stresses, bouncing in place for emphasis even as he walks along. “We’re supposed to tell each other everything, aren’t we?”

“No.”

“Show me!”

“No!”

Hinata makes a grab for the phone. Kageyama lifts it higher; Hinata, undeterred, seizes the nearest support (Kageyama’s poor, protesting head) in an attempt to bring it down to his own level. When that fails, he scowls. “Come on,” he says, “what’re you trying to hide? Did you get a girlfriend? Is that why you won’t let me see?”

“What? No, I didn’t get a girlfriend,” says Kageyama. “I just don’t feel like showing it to you.”

Hinata fixes him with a suspicious stare. “Did you get… a boyfriend?” he asks, dropping his voice to a whisper as he utters the word boyfriend.

“What the hell?” Kageyama squawks, flushing in spite of himself. He doesn’t even like boys, or if he does, he doesn’t think he’s ever liked one before; it’s hard to find the time to worry about these things when there are always other, more pressing matters at hand. “No, I’m just texting the wrong number from the other day, where’d you even get that from?”

“A-ha,” says Hinata, drawing back at last. He looks far more smug than he rightfully ought to be. “Why’re you still texting them? What are you talking to them about?”

“That’s none of your business, either,” Kageyama informs him.

“But I already know who it is,” Hinata whines. “The least you can do is tell me what it is.”

“Actually,” says Kageyama, “the least I can do is tell you who it is, and I’ve already done that.”

Hinata peers up at him with hopeful brown eyes. “We’re friends? Pals? Buddies?” he tries, for the second time, to the same ineffectuality as before.

“This will never not be none of your business.”

Hinata gets the hint at last and deflates, gravitating back to a safe distance with a newly subdued air. They walk in silence for all of twenty seconds before the small, rejected hunch to Hinata’s shoulders makes Kageyama crack.

“I was talking to them about volleyball,” he says, taking a sudden interest in the road ahead of them.

A pause, and then a tangible renewal of life in the form beside him, the mood between them picking up with rejuvenated interest.

“Typical,” says Hinata, too cheerful for someone who was sulking literally less than ten seconds ago. “Do you even know how to talk about anything else, Kageyama?”

“What kind of question is that?” Kageyama snaps, mostly to cover up the fact that he isn’t really sure, but Hinata shoots him a knowing look anyway.

“Do you at least know if they're a boy or a girl?” he asks. “Or, like, a man or a woman? You could be talking to a fifty-year-old stalker.”

“No,” says Kageyama, “and I know they're not fifty, they told me they're also in high school.”

“That's what they all say,” Hinata says enigmatically. “They could be lying. You should ask them for their name.”

Listening to Hinata is the last thing Kageyama feels like doing right now, but he'd be lying if he said he wasn’t marginally curious as to the identity of this unknown number. “I was planning to do that anyway,” he says, and ignores Hinata’s subsequent look of skepticism.

So he takes out his phone and unlocks it because he wants to, not because of anything Hinata has said or ever will say. The conversation’s already pulled up, and Kageyama’s about to type his question when a sudden shock of orange hair gets all up in his face trying to read the messages.

[ 17:02 ] Me: so i tried to follow your advice

[ 17:05 ] Unknown: How’d it go?

[ 17:05 ] Me: the key word is tried

[ 17:05 ] Unknown: Did it not work out??

[ 17:07 ] Me: i smiled at one of them

[ 17:07 ] Me: he ran away

[ 17:08 ] Unknown: Aww I’m sure it wasn’t that bad

[ 17:09 ] Me: they’re not bad kids i guess

[ 17:09 ] Me: they’re nice enough

[ 17:09 ] Me: it was better once we actually got to practice together

[ 17:10 ] Me: i think i can tolerate them

[ 17:11 ] Unknown: I knew you’d come around :>

“Look at that emoji,” Hinata says, like they aren't already looking at it. “I trust that emoji. I trust this person.”

“You just accused them of being a fifty-year-old stalker,” Kageyama reminds him.

“I said they could be a fifty-year-old stalker,” Hinata corrects. “There’s a difference.” He shakes Kageyama’s arm; Kageyama nearly trips over a rock trying to get away. “Come on, come on— ask them what their name is!”

“Fine! Just stop— stop attacking me,” he says, and Hinata relinquishes the arm. “I'm trying to come up with a way to bring it up naturally. It’ll be awkward if I just straight-out ask them.”

Hinata makes a noise of astonishment. “Since when did you care about being awkward?”

Kageyama resists the urge to make a grab for him. You are not fifteen. You are more mature than this, he tells himself, repeating it like a mantra until Hinata’s loud voice interrupts him yet again.

“Well, are you gonna do it? Because I can, if you want.” It’s an honest offer, and Kageyama balks at the very notion of accepting it.

“No, I'll do it,” he says, returning his attention to his phone and typing out a message after another second of thought.

[ 17:14 ] Me: you knew that but you don’t know my name

“That is the opposite of natural,” Hinata says. “I’ve never seen anything more forced.”

“Look,” says Kageyama, “I tried, all right?”

“You didn’t even give them anything to reply to!”

Kageyama looks back down at his phone and realizes that Hinata, against all odds, is actually right. “Shit,” he says. “Quick, Hinata, help me come up with something else to say, I need a better way to ask—”

The phone buzzes. Hinata almost knocks his head into Kageyama’s as they both nearly give themselves whiplash looking at the new text.

[ 17:15 ] Unknown: You don’t know mine either

“Wow,” says Hinata, marveling. “They’re almost as bad as you.”

Shut it.”

Hinata ignores this request in favor of continuing his nagging. “They gave you something to go off! You can’t let go of this opportunity, Kageyama, go in for the kill.”

Kageyama goes in for the kill.

[ 17:16 ] Me: what is it?

[ 17:16 ] Me: your name i mean

[ 17:17 ] Unknown: You can call me Y

Kageyama blinks down at his phone.

“‘Y,’” Hinata reads. “That’s not their real name.”

“No shit,” Kageyama says. “What do I do now?”

“Tell them your name is,” Hinata pauses to think, “‘K.’”

“That isn’t any better.”

“Give them the same treatment they gave you! If they want your real name, they’ll have to give you theirs.”

Kageyama hesitates, then caves.

[ 17:18 ] Me: in that case you can call me k

[ 17:18 ] Unknown: Haha sorry I just wanted to be careful

[ 17:18 ] Unknown: We don’t really know anything about each other

[ 17:19 ] Me: you knew i’d come around

“You’re flirting,” Hinata crows. “Kageyama’s flirting! I never thought I’d see the d—”

Kageyama ends that train of thought with an elbow to the ribs, and Hinata shuts up.

[ 17:20 ] Unknown: I did

[ 17:20 ] Unknown: I don’t know much else though

[ 17:21 ] Me: if it helps i’m a guy??

[ 17:21 ] Me: i’m 17

[ 17:21 ] Unknown: Same

[ 17:21 ] Unknown: To both

“That’s too much of a coincidence to be true,” Hinata declares. “He’s fifty.”

“What happened to trusting the emoji?”

“I’m just trying to look out for you!”

Kageyama’s touched, he really is. He’s also getting tired of Hinata’s commentary, but this isn’t anything new. “Even if he’s not who he says he is, it’s not like he can find my address and track me down,” he says. “I think I’ll survive.”

They’ve reached the point where they part ways to return to their respective houses, and Hinata pauses before they split. “I mean it, you know,” he says, uncharacteristically sober. “Just be careful, okay?”

“Last I checked, you weren’t either of my parents,” says Kageyama, but he feels himself softening. “I’ll be fine. See you tomorrow.”

“Bye!” Hinata waves as he turns the corner, beginning the journey to his own house even as Kageyama’s phone buzzes again, reminding him that he never responded to the last message. He takes a moment to save Y’s number to his contacts, then reopens the conversation. 

[ 17:25 ] Y: What position do you play?

[ 17:25 ] Me: setter

[ 17:25 ] Me: you?

[ 17:25 ] Y: Nice!

[ 17:26 ] Y: I’m a middle blocker

[ 17:26 ] Y: I’ve always thought the setter position was really cool though

[ 17:26 ] Me: really?

[ 17:27 ] Me: lots of people think differently

[ 17:27 ] Y: A lot of the people I’ve admired are setters

[ 17:27 ] Me: yeah i’ve met a lot of good setters

[ 17:27 ] Me: who is it for you?

[ 17:28 ] Y: Mostly my former captains

[ 17:28 ] Y: Also a few others I guess

[ 17:28 ] Y: Some famous players

[ 17:29 ] Me: me too

[ 17:29 ] Me: i’ve always like the idea of being able to direct the flow of a game

[ 17:29 ] Y: It sounds nice

[ 17:30 ] Y: I wouldn’t trust myself with that responsibility but if there’s any one position that’s the most important, setter is probably it

[ 17:30 ] Me: that’s what i’ve always thought too

[ 17:30 ] Y: As long as they don’t abuse that power it’s good

[ 17:31 ] Me: yeah

[ 17:31 ] Me: i know how you feel

 

Third year begins quickly, if not entirely smoothly. Kageyama texts Y daily, mostly after practice and at home, an activity that Hinata takes an inordinate amount of entertainment in watching whenever possible. The other third years remain in the dark out of no small effort on Kageyama’s part. Yachi and Yamaguchi are trustworthy, but having Hinata know is already stressful enough because Hinata has a bigger mouth than Yachi and Yamaguchi combined, and the real person to worry about is Tsukishima. For obvious reasons— namely, that Kageyama enjoys conversing with Y, that Tsukishima enjoys ruining what other people enjoy, and that the two combined don’t bode well for Kageyama’s budding virtual friendship.

They practice for Inter High, same as they’ve done every year with the exception of the fact that they’re the ones in charge this time. There’s the ever-evolving quick that Kageyama’s constantly working to perfect with Hinata, and that’s Kageyama’s current focus, but there’s also Yamaguchi working on his pinch serves and Tsukishima working on his blocking and the first and second years following Coach Ukai’s suggestions with a near-religious fervor, and everything goes predictably until they enter the third week of school.

“So,” Ukai says after practice that day, “Takeda and I have scheduled a practice match against Aobajousai.”

“What,” says Kageyama, losing what little brain-to-mouth filter he owns.

“Aobajousai,” Ukai repeats. “Your first practice match of the year. Irihata was gracious enough to agree to let us use their gym. It’s next weekend.”

Audibility isn’t the problem here, though, because Kageyama heard Ukai just fine. The facts aren’t the problem, either, because Kageyama has always looked forward to practice matches against other schools and Aobajousai has always been a challenging rival to face.

The problem is the matter of who, exactly, they’ll be facing in Aobajousai. And who is the problem that Kageyama has butted up against ever since he entered Karasuno, because his high school volleyball career was doomed to overlap with that of Oikawa from the moment he chose Karasuno, and if it wasn’t Oikawa then it was Kindaichi and Kunimi. Aobajousai, when considered in terms of its individual members, seems to have been built to make Kageyama’s life a living hell.

“...going to have to practice hard,” Ukai’s saying when Kageyama shakes himself out of his former teammate-induced alarm. “Aobajousai gives a good fight; the third years can attest to that.”

A sage nod from Hinata and a wary smile from Yamaguchi. Tsukishima doesn’t give any sign that he’s heard or that he’s paying attention; Yachi is obscured from Kageyama’s line of vision by Ukai himself.

“I’ve been rewatching their matches over the past week,” Ukai continues, “focusing specifically on their new third years. I think I’ve got an idea of how they might play— we’ll go over strategy tomorrow. It’s hard to say how they’ll change this year or if they’ve already changed, but that’s what this match is for. We want to be ready when we play them at Inter High. We will be ready.”

A collective cheer from the team. Kageyama doesn’t join in, partly because he’s not the type to do group cheers, partly because he absolutely does not want to face Aobajousai’s new third years. He hasn’t seen Kindaichi or Kunimi since Spring High, and even that was from a distance; both Karasuno and Aobajousai were eliminated before getting to play each other, sheer bad luck. Still, regardless of when he last bumped into them, really got to face them or talk to them, Kageyama doubts that their relationship has done anything but stagnate.

Funny, how one game can ruin these things beyond repair.

 

[ 21:39 ] Me: i need help

[ 21:39 ] Me: or advice

[ 21:39 ] Me: maybe both

[ 21:40 ] Me: probably both

[ 21:40 ] Y: ?

[ 21:41 ] Y: What is it?

[ 21:42 ] Me: hypothetically speaking

[ 21:42 ] Me: if you were to run into an old friend

[ 21:43 ] Me: and say your friendship ended on bad terms

[ 21:43 ] Me: what would you do

[ 21:43 ] Y: Did something happen??

[ 21:43 ] Me: no

[ 21:44 ] Me: not yet anyway

[ 21:44 ] Me: but for future reference

[ 21:44 ] Y: Um

[ 21:45 ] Y: Well I think it depends on exactly why your friendship ended

[ 21:45 ] Y: And whether it’s still possible to repair it

[ 21:45 ] Me: what do you mean?

[ 21:46 ] Y: If this is an ex-friend we’re talking about and you don’t like each other anymore

[ 21:46 ] Y: Isn’t it best to see if you can fix your relationship first??

[ 21:46 ] Me: ok say it’s irreparable

[ 21:46 ] Me: like you fucked up so bad there’s no going back

[ 21:47 ] Me: what do you do then

[ 21:47 ] Y: Oh if that’s the case then I guess there’s nothing you can really do about it

[ 21:47 ] Y: Just try to avoid them if you can

[ 21:47 ] Me: that’s what i’ve been trying to do

[ 21:48 ] Me: it’s not going to work forever though

[ 21:48 ] Y: If you can’t avoid a confrontation then at least try to be civil I guess?

[ 21:48 ] Y: Sorry that probably wasn’t helpful

[ 21:49 ] Y: I’m not really sure what I’d do either

 

Aobajousai wins the practice match.

They win by a narrow margin, but they win nonetheless, and Kageyama tries not to feel as disappointed as he is.

“It was just a practice match,” Yamaguchi says reasonably, once they’re done listening to Coach Irihata’s advice for them. On the opposite of the gym, Aobajousai is also reconvening, having finished receiving Ukai’s comments. “There’s still time for things to turn around between now and Inter High. Remember first year?”

“Yeah,” says Tsukishima. “We won the practice match, and then we lost Inter High.”

“And then,” Yamaguchi says, shooting him a pointed look, “we won Spring High and went to nationals. Right, Hinata? Kageyama? Yachi?” He glances to each of them in clear supplication. It’s a valiant attempt to encourage the first years, but all Kageyama can think is that the game was underwhelming.

Kindaichi leads an adequate team, to be sure, and Kunimi’s perpetual languor has evolved into a quiet sort of support for the underclassmen. They’re far from incompetent, as solid as they’ve ever been. But nothing can quite replace Oikawa’s brilliance or Kyoutani’s audacity or even Iwaizumi’s morale-bolstering dependability, and the absence shows.

Before, losing had been a matter of fighting tooth and nail to pull ahead those crucial two points after the set point. Fighting tooth and nail had entailed on-the-fly tactics, strategic thinking that encompassed the entirety of the game out of necessity, risky predictions that could mean the difference between a win and a loss, risky moves that would absolutely mean the difference between a win and a loss.

“...of the match?”

Today, losing had been…

“Kageyama.”

Losing hadn’t really been anything.

“Kageyama!” It’s Hinata, waving a hand in front of Kageyama’s face. Kageyama blinks at the hand, and then at Hinata. Typical.

“What?” he says, not bothering to conceal his irritability.

Hinata frowns at him. “Don’t be such a grouch all the time,” he chides. “I was just asking what you thought of the match.”

Kageyama shrugs. “Dunno,” he says. “It was okay. Could’ve been better.”

Hinata gapes at him in blatant incredulity. “‘Okay?’” he echoes. “That’s it? No ‘I’m going to be the best setter ever?’ No ‘I’m going to crush them at Inter High?’”

“It wasn’t much of anything,” Kageyama says, for lack of a better way to put it. Hinata’s confusion is practically palpable by now, so he tries to elaborate. “I mean, we lost, but like. We’ve just got to practice more, get used to the new team. None of their players are outstanding or anything— not like they were last year or the year before.”

“Someone’s jaded,” Tsukishima remarks.

“I’m just saying—”

“Hey.”

Kageyama turns around to find himself face-to-face with Kindaichi. It’s instinct to step back, distance himself, and he feels guilty immediately afterward, but if Kindaichi sees — and he definitely does — he doesn’t mention it.

“Hey,” says Kageyama, like this isn’t the closest they’ve been since, like, Inter High of last year, or that this isn’t the most they’ve exchanged in over twelve months. Out of the corner of his eye, he can see the rest of the team dispersing, casually drawing back to leave him (read: abandon him) with one of his two ex-friends.

“I just,” Kindaichi starts, shifting awkwardly from foot to foot, before clearing his throat and trying again. “I just came over because I wanted to say good game to you guys.” He’s looking at a point somewhere beyond Kageyama’s left shoulder, either at aforementioned team’s retreating forms or because he doesn’t want to meet Kageyama’s gaze. Potentially both? Probably both. “Looks like they all left, though.”

“Yeah,” says Kageyama, sparing a glance behind him and catching the eyes of Yachi, who gives him an apologetic smile, “looks like they did. I can tell them later, if you want.”

“Later,” Kindaichi echoes. “That would, uh. That would be great. If you could. It would be great if you could, I mean.”

“Sure, no problem,” says Kageyama. He’s never wanted a conversation to end this badly, and if Kindaichi’s pinched expression is anything to judge by, neither has he.

Kindaichi’s half-turned away, body angled like it’s caught between Kageyama and Aobajousai’s team— like he wants to flee, basically. Kageyama can sympathize, and he kind of hopes Kindaichi leaves soon because he doesn’t have much else to say to him, but Kindaichi stays in spite of the strong mental vibes Kageyama’s trying to send his way.

“So,” he says in introduction to the most stilted topic change ever, “how’ve you been lately?”

Some of the Karasuno second years have gone to mingle with their own kind from Aobajousai, and Kageyama has to tear his gaze away from the sight before answering. “Pretty good, I guess,” he says. Then, because he figures he’s supposed to return the favor, “What about you?”

“Good,” Kindaichi says stiffly. “Being captain’s more stressful than I thought it’d be.”

Kageyama isn’t surprised; Oikawa has this way of acting like everything’s effortless even if it isn’t and Yahaba, as far as Kageyama can tell, kept an iron fist of control over the team’s antics.

“Sounds like it would be,” he says. “Stressful, I mean.”

Kindaichi bobs his head in a semblance of a nod. “Yeah.”

“Yeah.”

“Kunimi probably could’ve handled it better than I could.” Kindaichi looks back at Aobajousai’s team. They’re still clustered on the other side of the court, but several of Karasuno’s members have already integrated themselves within the group, Hinata among them. They’re talking and chatting, getting along better than Kageyama would have expected them to, and it would be heart-warming if Kageyama weren’t in the most awkward situation of his life right now.

“You think so?” he says, picking out Kunimi from the rest. As he watches, Kunimi speaks quietly with someone from his own team — one of the benchwarmers, most likely, because Kageyama doesn’t recall seeing the boy in the game — and smiles briefly at something the kid says. Kunimi, as if feeling the weight of Kageyama’s stare, chooses that instant to glance up, and Kageyama looks away hastily before they can make eye contact.

“He’s good with the underclassmen,” Kindaichi says, bringing Kageyama’s attention back to his current problem. “Better than me, I think.”

“Is that so?”

Kindaichi nods. “Definitely,” he says. “I try, but they’re always more willing to listen to him. I don’t know. I guess he, like, inspires them to impress him. To want to impress him.”

Kageyama can kind of relate; it’s the same way on Karasuno with Yamaguchi and Yachi— even Hinata. He doesn’t say that, though, doesn’t bring his own team into the conversation. There’s no telling why Kindaichi’s chosen now of all times to talk to him when he and Kunimi have had the past two or three years to make amends. Y just said to be civil, and Kageyama’s been perfectly civil so far; his work, as far as he’s concerned, is done.

“That’s good,” he says. “Congratulations on making captain, by the way.”

“Thanks.”

They stand in silence for a few seconds, and Kageyama weighs his options. He could excuse himself, make up something about how he needs to talk to Ukai. He could be forthright, tell Kindaichi goodbye and end this conversation without any pretenses. He could flee the scene, hope that he can run fast enough to avoid being caught by Kindaichi or anyone else, and pray that he never sees Kindaichi or Kunimi again— maybe book a one-way plane ticket to South America just to be sure.

It’s a tough call, but Kageyama’s saved when Kindaichi speaks again.

“Well,” he says, “see you around, then.”

“Yeah,” says Kageyama, trying to keep the relief out of his voice. “See you around.”

  

[ 16:27 ] Y: So you know how you were asking me about what to do if you ran into an old friend

[ 16:30 ] Me: yeah why?

[ 16:30 ] Y: I did today

[ 16:30 ] Me: how did it go??

[ 16:31 ] Y: Idk

[ 16:31 ] Y: I tried to start a conversation

[ 16:31 ] Y: Thought I’d try to make amends or something idk

[ 16:32 ] Me: did it work?

[ 16:32 ] Y: I don’t think so haha

[ 16:32 ] Y: I’m not the best with people

[ 16:33 ] Me: neither am i

[ 16:33 ] Me: i also ran into someone i knew today

[ 16:33 ] Y: How’d that go??

[ 16:34 ] Me: not good

[ 16:34 ] Me: it was so forced

[ 16:34 ] Me: i tried to keep in mind what you said though

[ 16:34 ] Me: the thing about being civil

[ 16:35 ] Y: As long as you weren’t rude haha

[ 16:35 ] Y: Why’d you stop being friends with them?

[ 16:35 ] Me: too many differences i think

[ 16:36 ] Me: i’m not sure i was ever really friends with them

[ 16:36 ] Y: I know how that feels

[ 16:36 ] Me: we had a pretty bad fight and it just ended after that

[ 16:36 ] Y: Same for me

[ 16:37 ] Y: Seems like lots of friendships end the same way :(

[ 16:37 ] Me: yeah

[ 16:37 ] Y: Would you forgive them?

[ 16:39 ] Me: i’m not sure?

[ 16:39 ] Me: if they forgave me i would

[ 16:39 ] Me: i was the one who ruined things

[ 16:40 ] Y: I’m sure you weren’t

[ 16:40 ] Y: And even if you were they wouldn’t be totally blameless

[ 16:40 ] Y: No one is, in any situation

[ 16:40 ] Me: yeah you’re right

[ 16:41 ] Me: i’m just not sure they see it that way

[ 16:41 ] Me: they were pretty fed up with me by the time that fight happened

[ 16:42 ] Y: Well if they can’t accept their share of the blame they weren’t worth your time in the first place

[ 16:42 ] Y: It’s only the mature thing to do

[ 16:42 ] Me: you think so?

[ 16:43 ] Y: Sure

[ 16:43 ] Y: It took a while for me to come around but I’ve forgiven him

[ 16:43 ] Y: It’s just that I’m not sure how to tell him in person

 

The gym at Tokai University has to be at least ten times the size of the one at Karasuno.

Granted, Kageyama’s opinion might be a little skewed by the sheer awe factor he’s feeling toward the school as a whole, but he can’t help it; the campus is bigger than anything he’s ever seen back in Torono Town. Karasuno resides on a decently sized campus, but it pales in comparison with Tokai.

“What are you trying to do, mop the floor with your jaw?” Tsukishima says as he brushes past Kageyama.

Kageyama registers it as he would through a dream, hearing but not listening. By the time he notices the insult, Tsukishima’s long gone, making his way up the bleachers with Yamaguchi as they all leave Kageyama to stand alone in the entrance to the gym.

Well, not entirely alone.

“Holy crap, this place is so big,” Hinata whisper-yells, hovering somewhere around Kageyama’s elbow. “You could fit ten volleyball teams in here!”

“Don’t be stupid,” Kageyama tells him, like he wasn’t just thinking along the same lines. “There’s no reason for them to do that here.”

“I’m just saying you could if you wanted to.”

“And why would they ever want to do that?”

“I’m just saying! Why do you have to nitpick at everything I do?”

They’ve begun to make their way to where Yamaguchi and Tsukishima are seated, about midway up the rows upon rows of bleachers that line the court. Only because the place is filling up with people does Kageyama wisely elect to bite his tongue before he can get carried away with all the ways in which Hinata is so ridiculously easy to nitpick at.

“—won the Intercollegiate Volleyball Championship five times,” Yamaguchi’s saying when Kageyama and Hinata rejoin them. “Just watch that number go up once he becomes captain.”

“No offense, but I couldn’t care less about him if I tried,” says Tsukishima, examining his nails more for appearances than out of any actual care for his cuticles. “Give me another year, maybe. When we’re, you know, actually in college.”

Hinata flops into the seat beside Yamaguchi and inserts himself into the conversation with approximately the same level of grace. “You’re talking about the Grand King, aren’t you?”

“I can’t believe you still call him that,” Tsukishima says, and then, “Wait. Actually, I can.”

Hinata ignores that comment. “I bet he’s gotten even better,” he says, and it’s with consternation that Kageyama notes the admiration in his voice. “Have you seen what his serve looks like now? I’ve only heard rumors, but they say he’s unstoppable.”

Kageyama retorts on instinct. “No one’s unstoppable.”

Hinata ignores that comment, too. “I’d come to Tokai just to play on his team,” he proclaims. “Wait, no, I’d go somewhere else just to play against his team.”

Before Kageyama can find the words to express his horror at the concept of anyone basing their life decisions on Oikawa, period, the whistle blows and the teams line up. It’s Tokai vs. Hosei, but Kageyama finds himself almost exclusively scanning Tokai’s blue-uniformed lineup for a familiar head of brown hair.

“I see him,” Hinata whispers, leaning over to breathe it into Kageyama’s ear, and Kageyama resists the instinct to push him off even as he spots Oikawa, too.

The immediate difference, aside from the contrast between Tokai’s blue and Aobajousai’s aquamarine, is the number. Kageyama’s always associated the #1 with Oikawa— logically, too, because Oikawa’s been captain in the two years that Kageyama’s played with him in person, in middle school and in high school. Other than that, though—

“He looks the same,” he says.

Tsukishima scoffs. “Well, yeah, what did you expect? It’s been less than two years.”

“A lot can change in two years, Tsukki, don’t be so close-minded,” Yamaguchi puts in supportively, and Kageyama shoots him an appreciative glance. Really, he’s too nice for his own good sometimes. It’s no wonder he’s captain; the team would fall apart without a mediator, and while Yachi does her best, there’s only so much influence a manager can wield.

“Quiet,” says Hinata, voice still hushed (Kageyama deliberates the value in pointing out the irony of Hinata telling anyone to be quiet, but ultimately decides against it), “the game’s about to start.”

The game starts.

It’s typical fare as far as volleyball matches go. More intense than the ones played in high school, that’s for sure — the serves are stronger, the spikes faster, the blocks higher, the saves closer — but Kageyama isn’t much surprised by anything he sees.

An elbow in his rib draws his attention about ten minutes in.

Hinata — of course it’s Hinata, why is Kageyama even bothering to check — says, unnecessarily, “Look, Kageyama, it’s the Grand King’s turn to serve.”

It is indeed Oikawa’s turn to serve. Hinata strains forward, barely contained in his seat; farther down, Yamaguchi does the same, albeit with his enthusiasm better concealed. Kageyama hasn’t been keeping up with any college games, hasn’t seen Oikawa played since their last match together at Spring High, but he’s familiar enough with Oikawa’s style of play to know what to expect. The other team’s on guard, but that’s never been anything new.

By now, the serve is ritual. Kageyama watches as Oikawa tosses the ball up, watches as he runs forward, watches him rise to meet it midair—

—blinks as it hits the ground before Kageyama even registers the sound of the contact between palm and rubber.

The crowd cheers. Tsukishima says, “Service ace,” in too-deliberate monotone.

“He’s insane,” Yamaguchi says, half-admiring and half-envious.

“That’s what we’re going to be up against in college,” Hinata tells them all.

Kageyama doesn’t say anything, just leans forward and props his elbows on his knees to keep a closer eye on the next serve. He’d expected something like this — everyone’s been working hard to improve, and the past couple years alone have seen extraordinary growth among the four of them here — but it’s jarring nevertheless, watching what’s become of his former upperclassman.

They’re close enough to the court for Kageyama to notice the sweat already gleaming on Oikawa’s skin, the disheveled quality to his painstakingly-crafted hairstyle— and, as he goes for another serve, the strain of his muscles, the lean line of his form when it’s suspended for that split-second in the air.

He frowns to himself. Since when has he paid attention to these things?

Hosei’s libero receives the serve by the skin of his teeth this time, sends the ball spinning to one of his teammates, and the game continues as it was before.

Now that Kageyama’s done it once, though, it’s hard not to keep paying attention. He knows his eyes shouldn’t keep gravitating back toward Oikawa, knows he shouldn’t be picking out details like the sharpness of Oikawa’s jaw or the way his shirt rides up over his stomach as he wipes at his face, but he does, and he can’t stop.

He’s kind of appalled at himself, to be honest.

Tokai wins the game with Kageyama wondering what went wrong. It’s mid-afternoon and they should be heading home soon, but as they exit the gym, Kageyama takes one last chance to look back at Tokai’s team.

They’re standing in a circle, talking and laughing and clapping each other on the backs. He isn’t surprised to see Oikawa at the center of it all, not in the middle of the circle but in the middle of the conversation, and something hot and jealous shoots through his stomach. Kageyama may be the prodigy setter, but Oikawa’s always had a way of drawing attention to himself, regardless of physical placement.

“What are you doing?”

It’s Tsukishima, halfway through the door but turned back to address Kageyama; beyond him, Yamaguchi and Hinata hover expectantly.

“Nothing,” Kageyama says, and makes to follow him through, but Tsukishima doesn’t move. He traces Kageyama’s line of sight down to the court, where Tokai is still celebrating, and a knowing smirk crawls across his mouth.

Kageyama thinks, Don’t say anything don’t say anything please don’t say anything—

Tsukishima, naturally, says something. “Your Grand King’s pretty impressive, huh?” he says. “Want to go down and get his autograph? Maybe he’ll sign your forehead if you ask nicely enough.”

“I’m not part of his fanclub,” Kageyama says, trying to brush it off, but the words come out too defensive and Tsukishima’s smile only widens.

“Not yet, maybe,” he says, “but I’m sure the girls will let you join if you suck up a bit.”

Kageyama amends his previous statement. “I don’t want to be part of his fanclub, either.”

“What are you guys talking about?” Yamaguchi calls, involuntarily saving Kageyama from more of Tsukishima’s brand of torment. “The next train to Sendai is leaving in ten minutes, unless you guys want to keep touring the campus.”

“It’s nothing,” says Tsukishima, finally passing through the door. Kageyama follows suit with the feeling that he’s just been let off the hook. “Kageyama just seems to like Tokai a lot.”

  

[ 15:14 ] Me: so i’m not sure how weird this will be

[ 15:14 ] Me: but i think i’ve realized something about myself

[ 15:18 ] Y: Yeah?

[ 15:18 ] Y: What is it?

[ 15:19 ] Me: you probably won’t care anyway

[ 15:19 ] Me: i just need to get it off my chest somehow and i can’t tell anyone i know irl

[ 15:19 ] Y: Well now I’m curious haha

[ 15:19 ] Y: Is something wrong??

[ 15:20 ] Me: not really

[ 15:20 ] Me: wait actually yeah

[ 15:20 ] Me: that’s one way of putting it

[ 15:20 ] Y: I’m listening

[ 15:21 ] Me: it’s just personal is all

[ 15:21 ] Y: You don’t have to be self-conscious if that’s what you’re worried about

[ 15:21 ] Y: Why can’t you tell anyone you know irl??

[ 15:22 ] Me: i don’t think i’d be able to face them ever again if i told them

[ 15:22 ] Me: the only reason i’m able to tell you is that we’re probably never gonna meet

[ 15:22 ] Y: Whenever you’re ready

[ 15:24 ] Me: so i was visiting a college earlier today and i saw one of my former senpais play a match

[ 15:24 ] Y: Volleyball?

[ 15:24 ] Me: yeah

[ 15:25 ] Me: it’s stupid when i write it out but it kind of made me have an epiphany

[ 15:25 ] Me: because this guy treated me like shit back in middle school and i still hero-worshipped him

[ 15:26 ] Me: it got better as i grew older because i realized it wasn’t worth it, he had such an awful personality

[ 15:26 ] Me: but i still admired him a crazy amount???

[ 15:27 ] Me: anyway i saw him play a match at his college today and i’m starting to think the reason i kept tagging after him was that i liked him

[ 15:29 ] Y: Wait

[ 15:29 ] Y: Is that it??

[ 15:29 ] Me: yeah pretty much

[ 15:30 ] Me: why

[ 15:30 ] Y: Didn’t you say you didn’t like him earlier

[ 15:30 ] Y: I’m confused

[ 15:31 ] Me: yeah no i definitely don’t like him

[ 15:31 ] Me: when i said i liked him i meant /like/ like

[ 15:31 ] Y: You mean you had a crush on him???????

[ 15:32 ] Me: i was trying not to call it that

[ 15:32 ] Me: and i’m not sure that’s what it was

[ 15:32 ] Me: i’m still trying to figure everything out

[ 15:33 ] Y: Ok I think I understand now

[ 15:33 ] Y: You saw this guy play volleyball and it induced a sexuality crisis

[ 15:33 ] Me: it sounds even worse when you put it like that

[ 15:34 ] Me: but yeah that’s basically what happened

[ 15:34 ] Y: Oh my god

[ 15:34 ] Me: listen he looked really good

[ 15:34 ] Me: wow i can’t believe i just said that

[ 15:35 ] Me: this is really weird isn’t it

[ 15:35 ] Me: i’m sorry i shouldn’t have told you

[ 15:36 ] Y: No no no that’s not it

[ 15:36 ] Y: It’s not weird at all I’m just trying to process

[ 15:36 ] Me: there’s not much to it

[ 15:37 ] Me: i just wanted to get it off my chest we can forget this convo ever happened

[ 15:37 ] Y: Wait no I want to talk about it

[ 15:37 ] Y: I know how you feel???

[ 15:38 ] Me: what

[ 15:38 ] Y: I mean I’ve known for a while

[ 15:38 ] Y: Probably everyone else knew too

[ 15:39 ] Me: are you saying what i think you’re saying

[ 15:40 ] Y: I had the biggest crush on one of my former senpais back in first year

[ 15:40 ] Y: He’s a couple grades up so we only played together one year in high school

[ 15:41 ] Y: (We were also on the same team for one year in middle school but I was too young then to realize)

[ 15:41 ] Y: But yeah I realized pretty early on why I always felt so eager to impress him

[ 15:42 ] Me: all right i have a question

[ 15:42 ] Y: What is it?

[ 15:43 ] Me: this might sound really bad but

[ 15:43 ] Me: are you gay?

[ 15:44 ] Y: Idk

[ 15:44 ] Y: Possibly

[ 15:44 ] Y: The only two people I’ve had real crushes on are guys so

[ 15:44 ] Me: two???

[ 15:45 ] Y: The second crush is more recent

[ 15:45 ] Me: who is it? if you don’t mind my asking

[ 15:45 ] Y: No it’s fine

[ 15:46 ] Y: I’m starting to get what you meant earlier when you said I was the only person you could talk to about these things haha I doubt I could ever admit any of this to my irl friends

[ 15:47 ] Y: But the second/current crush is the guy I told you about a while back, the ex-friend I mentioned in that one conversation

[ 15:47 ] Y: I never stood a chance with either of them haha

[ 15:48 ] Me: omg

[ 15:48 ] Me: what made you change your mind about him

[ 15:49 ] Y: ?? Nothing????

[ 15:49 ] Y: That’s the thing

[ 15:49 ] Y: My opinion hasn’t really changed it’s just like I see him in a new light now

[ 15:49 ] Y: It’s possible I always liked him?? I just didn’t realize until more recently

[ 15:50 ] Y: After the first guy left for college and I thought things through

[ 15:50 ] Y: Emotions and all that crap you know

[ 15:50 ] Me: wow

[ 15:50 ] Me: do you think he could ever like you back?

[ 15:51 ] Y: Ehh

[ 15:51 ] Y: I don’t know if he’s even into guys

[ 15:51 ] Y: Or into anything but volleyball

[ 15:51 ] Me: you should try anyway

[ 15:52 ] Me: do you have any way to get in contact??

[ 15:52 ] Y: No :/

[ 15:52 ] Y: None of us had phones back in middle school and by the time we got them the friendship was over

[ 15:53 ] Y: I doubt he’d listen to a thing I said anyway

[ 15:53 ] Y: I don’t blame him either, he has good reason to hate me

[ 15:53 ] Me: sounds like a jerk to me

[ 15:53 ] Me: if you were really friends he should listen to what you have to say

[ 15:54 ] Y: Haha I wish it were that simple

[ 15:54 ] Y: Life would be so much easier

 

Inter High approaches like a train: entirely faster than expected, and with the sense of impending doom.

Yamaguchi goes into full-fledged captain mode, Yachi into full-fledged manager mode, and as mild-mannered as they may be under ordinary circumstances, they're a downright fearsome duo to contend with— not so much because they might cause you to cry but rather because they might start crying if you don’t improve, and nobody wants that to happen.

Kageyama throws himself into training with the same fervor he usually does, staying late to practice, sometimes with Hinata, sometimes without.

His texts with Y slow to a crawl out of necessity on both Y’s part and his.

  

[ 20:37 ] Y: Sorry I haven’t been responding much this past week

[ 20:37 ] Y: We’ve got a big match coming up on Saturday

[ 20:44 ] Me: don’t worry about it we have one too

[ 20:44 ] Me: we’ve also been practicing a lot lately

[ 20:46 ] Y: Oh man you too?

[ 20:46 ] Me: yeah

[ 20:46 ] Y: I’m feeling the pressure haha

[ 20:46 ] Y: I really want my team to win

[ 20:46 ] Y: I feel like if we don’t do well it’ll be my fault as captain??

[ 20:47 ] Y: I just don’t want to disappoint them

[ 20:47 ] Me: no i get what you mean

[ 20:47 ] Me: i’m not captain but i definitely don't want to let down my team

[ 20:48 ] Me: and i know our captain's feeling the pressure too

[ 20:48 ] Y: So you get how i feel lol

[ 20:48 ] Me: how's practice going for you guys?

[ 20:49 ] Y: Not bad

[ 20:49 ] Y: We're just polishing up some plays

[ 20:49 ] Y: Our kouhai are talented

[ 20:49 ] Me: ours too

[ 20:50 ] Me: reminds me of me when i was a first year

[ 20:50 ] Y: Haha same

[ 20:50 ] Y: Makes me feel old

[ 20:52 ] Me: lol try not to strain anything during the game

[ 20:53 ] Y: I’ll do my best!

 

The training pays off.

Karasuno advances through the initial phases of Inter High with relative ease. It helps that they've made a name for themselves, because morale is as large a part of the game as the plays themselves, and it's harder to play against a team that everyone's come to be wary of.

They run up against Aobajousai in the semifinal round.

“We’ve got this,” Yamaguchi tells them as they go in for a team huddle. “Remember the practice match.”

“We lost the practice match,” Tsukishima points out.

“Remember what we learned from the practice match,” Yamaguchi amends. “We’ve won against them before. It isn’t impossible.”

Kageyama doesn't miss the omission of the fact that they've only won against Aobajousai once, first year, but he doesn't bring it up, either; the underclassmen look nervous enough, and Tsukishima's casual reminder of the practice match didn't help matters.

"We'll crush them," Hinata declares, and Kageyama nods along in vague encouragement.

"Remember the new strategies," Coach Ukai says.

They spend the next minute reviewing said new strategies, and then the referee blows the whistle and they take their places on the court.

The game begins, a close match from the start. Kageyama does what he does best and immerses himself into the flow of play, tunes out the rest of the world as he focuses on his role. Years of practice have not been for nothing, and he has always been ever so slightly better than the rest; it isn't difficult to send the ball where it needs to go, when it needs to get there.

There's just one problem.

"Hey," says Akiyama, a second year, during one of their rotations, "is it me, or does Kindaichi keep staring in this direction?"

"What?"

"The captain," Akiyama says. "Kindaichi."

"No, I heard you," Kageyama says. "I don't know. He's a middle blocker. They have to look at the opponent, right?"

"Sure," Akiyama says, but he sounds unconvinced.

And, well. Like all things, it’s impossible not to notice once it’s pointed out. Kageyama feels Kindaichi's eyes on him as he sets the ball to Hinata, as he dives in for a last-second save, as he performs a dump shot over the net— even as he steps up to serve.

He ignores it, for the most part. The key to volleyball is a keen awareness of one's surroundings, as is the key to most sports, but Kageyama knows how to block out the aspects he doesn't need, and Kindaichi's stare is a distraction that he definitely does not need.

And so the game progresses.

If Karasuno's improved during these past several weeks, so has Aobajousai, and it shows. It's impossible for one team to pull ahead by more than a couple points before the other catches up, and they don't reach the end of the first set until the score's 30-28 to Karasuno.

"Keep it up," Ukai tells them when they go in for a huddle. "One more set, and you've got this in the bag. Just keep doing what you're doing. Hinata, about Kindaichi..."

About Kindaichi. Kageyama's attention drifts inadvertently to the other side of the court, where Aobajousai is having its own team meeting. It's similar now as it was first year, with the coaches sitting off to the side as the players handle their own tactics and affairs; as Kageyama looks on, Kunimi says something that the entire team leans in to hear, expressions solemn and focused.

"—looking at?"

Someone snaps their fingers in front of Kageyama's eyes, and he snaps his gaze back to his own team.

"Pay attention," Hinata says. "You could've missed something important without even realizing."

"I was paying attention," Kageyama lies.

Hinata raises his eyebrows, unconvinced. "Sure. Well, Coach Ukai wants to swap you out—"

"What?"

"Kidding, kidding! See, I knew you weren't listening."

"Don't do that," Kageyama says with a scowl. "It isn't funny."

"I wasn't trying to be funny," says Hinata. "I was testing you. And you failed."

"Children, please," Tsukishima says, bumping none too gently into Kageyama as he passes them on the way back to the court. "Don't fight in public, it makes the rest of us look bad."

"Wasn't fighting," Kageyama mutters in unison with Hinata, and they glare at each other for a brief while before Ukai shoos them away.

The second set starts off like the first one does, neck and neck. It's tough, but as Yamaguchi said earlier, it isn't impossible, and Kageyama quickly falls back into the rhythm of the game.

It isn't until the end of the set that anything out of the ordinary happens. Kageyama sets the ball to Inoue, who spikes it over the net, and he doesn't realize something's wrong until Kindaichi's on the ground and the referee's blowing the whistle.

In an instant, Aobajousai's team members are flocking around their fallen captain, and Coach Irihata is making his way over.

"What happened?" Kageyama calls to Yamaguchi over the commotion.

Yamaguchi mouths something back at him, but Kageyama doesn't hear at first, and it takes Yamaguchi three tries before he manages to raise his voice over the clamor in the gymnasium. "Kindaichi got hit in the face!" he says, inciting Kageyama to give himself whiplash rubbernecking at the scene.

Hit in the face. Kageyama’s torn between concern for Kindaichi’s well-being and astonishment at how anyone could be so negligent.

"Do you think he'll be all right?" he says to the nearest person — currently, Akiyama — and Akiyama shrugs.

"Dunno," he says. "Worst comes to worst, they have to sub someone else in and play without their captain."

"I'm getting déjà vu," Hinata announces, loudly, and Kageyama is abruptly brought back to a similar situation from first year.

Daichi'd had to be taken out of the game, though, and as the Aobajousai team members begin to step away from Kindaichi, Kageyama can see Kindaichi unfurl into a standing position, nose bloody but otherwise no worse for the wear.

"I think it's all good," he says to Akiyama.

"Yeah," says Akiyama, "guess so. Kind of a shame."

Kageyama does a double take. "What? Why?"

"I mean, it's shitty of me to say, but if Kindaichi’d had to be taken out at this point in the game, it would've been pretty disappointing for Aobajousai. Which could've worked out for us."

It is shitty of him to say, but Kageyama refrains from stating so. Aobajousai's side of the court reorganizes itself, Irihata and the referee retreating to the sidelines as the players resume their positions, Kindaichi taking his place directly opposite Kageyama once more.

Without really thinking about what he's doing, Kageyama tries to catch his eye, but if Kindaichi was unreasonably fixated on him before, he more than compensates now by avoiding Kageyama's gaze at all cost.

At the blow of the whistle, the second set picks up again, and, regardless of Akiyama’s belief concerning captains and chances, turns in Karasuno's favor.

They win the second set 25 to 23, and that's the end of that.

 

[ 19:27 ] Me: how did your game go?

[ 19:39 ] Y: We lost

[ 19:39 ] Y: You?

[ 19:42 ] Me: oh i’m sorry :/

[ 19:42 ] Me: we won, but barely

[ 19:43 ] Y: Congrats! :D

[ 19:43 ] Y: You deserved it

[ 19:43 ] Me: thanks!

[ 19:43 ] Me: i’m sure you guys will do better next time

[ 19:43 ] Y: Hopefully

[ 19:44 ] Y: It’s my fault we lost in the first place

[ 19:44 ] Me: what how??

[ 19:44 ] Y: It’s really embarrassing but

[ 19:45 ] Y: I got distracted

[ 19:45 ] Y: Remember the ex-friend I told you about?

[ 19:45 ] Me: the one you ran into a couple months ago?

[ 19:46 ] Me: and the one you like?

[ 19:46 ] Y: Yeah

[ 19:46 ] Y: He was on the other team

[ 19:47 ] Me: how was he distracting?

[ 19:47 ] Y: Well there’s the fact that I’ve been thinking a lot about fixing things with him lately

[ 19:47 ] Y: But there’s also the thing about me liking him

[ 19:47 ] Y: It complicates things haha

[ 19:48 ] Me: what happened?

[ 19:49 ] Y: Well I got hit in the face because I was staring at him too hard to notice the ball

Kageyama’s about to type out a reply when his fingers freeze in place, hovering over the keyboard of his phone as he processes this latest message. Hit in the face. The image of Kindaichi at Inter High flashes across his mind, the sound of rubber hitting flesh with a resounding smack, the ensuing crash and chaos.

[ 19:51 ] Me: hit in the face??

[ 19:51 ] Y: Yeah it was so embarrassing

[ 19:51 ] Y: The worst part is he caught me staring too

[ 19:52 ] Y: He probably knows how I got distracted

It’s Kindaichi. It’s impossible, but it’s Kindaichi, it has to be, the pieces are falling into place. Third year volleyball captain, practicing at the same time as Kageyama for the same game as Kageyama. Class 5, smart; good enough at math to help him with his homework in that first conversation. He takes it in slowly, comes to terms with the fact that he’s been messaging his ex-friend for months. That he’s spilled things he wouldn’t tell anyone he knew in real life for the simple reason that he knows them in real life.

Kageyama thinks, Well, there’s no way I can face him now. He’s confessed too many things, under the impression that they’d never see the light of day, under the impression that they’d remain stowed safely away in the messages on a stranger’s phone— secrets and insecurities, how much he regrets that third and final year at Kitagawa Daiichi and how much he wants to fix things, even the fucking gay panic he’d had over fucking Oikawa Tooru, Jesus.

Then he thinks, Wait. Humiliation isn’t usually a two-way street, but Kindaichi’s confessed things too, things about Kageyama.

[ 19:52 ] Y: He probably knows how I got distracted

Yeah, Kageyama knows. He is, laughably, the ex-friend Kindaichi has a crush on.

He’s so screwed.

 

He spends the rest of the night and most of the rest of the week trying to figure out how to proceed from here.

The simplest, most obvious course of action is to come clean. Gather his courage and stop avoiding the messaging app, tell Y — Kindaichi — who he really is. It isn’t like he’d be able to bring himself to continue the charade, like they’re total strangers who will never meet, because now that Kageyama knows, he can’t forget it.

What he can do is ignore it, though, and that’s the second course of action, the one he opts to take. Not out of any reason or logic of his own, but because he’s a coward when it comes to what he has with Kindaichi and Kunimi, always has been, when it comes down to it. As easy as it sounds in theory to open his messages, type out an explanation-apology, and hit the send button, it gets quite a bit harder when it comes to the practical application of said theory, because there’s the matter of the consequences.

Kageyama can’t lie, can’t pretend to be someone he’s not to someone who has no clue who he is. Yet Kindaichi won’t want to have anything to do with him if he finds out that Kageyama’s been on the other end of the line this entire time. It’s an awful coincidence, awful and unforgivable and cruel. They’re stuck at an impasse, and only one of them is even aware of it.

 

In the end, Kageyama asks for help.

Friday evening, he waits around as the first and second years slowly filter out of the locker room, leaving only him, Hinata, Yamaguchi, and Tsukishima. Yachi's gone home and it's a shame that he'll be missing out on her input, but this is the best he can do without attracting the attention of the rest of the team, and the less people who know about his dilemma, the better.

"So this is something I've been hiding for a while," he says before Tsukishima can walk out the door with his bag, "but I kind of need advice right now and I was hoping you guys would have some."

Tsukishima stops in the doorway, which is touching because Tsukishima rarely stops for anybody, right up until he opens his mouth. "Let me guess," he says, "you've been failing English since school began and need us to save your grade? First year all over again?"

"Don't be like that, Tsukki," Yamaguchi says. "It doesn't have to be English, necessarily. It could be history, or maybe math—"

"I got him a math tutor at the beginning of the year, remember? First day of school," Tsukishima says dismissively, and Kageyama flinches because that's it, Tsukishima's hit the nail on the fucking head without even realizing it, how does he even remember the wrong number, Kageyama hasn't mentioned it ever since.

Hinata, who's just finished zipping up his bag, casts Kageyama a knowing look from the lockers. Kageyama ignores it in favor of focusing on the sole friendly party here.

"It's not about school," he tells Yamaguchi. "I mean, I am failing English, sort of, but it's fine, I've got it covered. It's—"

"—it's Y, isn't it?" Hinata says, an unwelcome intrusion into the delicate introduction Kageyama was aiming for. It doesn't help that delicate doesn't seem to be in Hinata's vocabulary, or that he's always been loud by nature.

"Well, yeah, but the thing is," Kageyama begins, attempting some form of damage control before this situation can get too out of hand, but it's too late because Tsukshima's eyebrows are creeping toward his hairline and Yamaguchi's already asking questions.

"Who's Y?" he says. "That's not their real name, is it?"

"No, he just gave Kageyama a nickname to call him by, so Kageyama goes by 'K' to him," Hinata says, and if Kageyama had arms long enough to reach the lockers and Hinata's mouth from where he was standing, he'd use them.

He settles for glaring in Hinata's direction, but the damage has been done. Tsukishima's actually retreated a few steps back inside, which is ominous to say the least, and Yamaguchi's expression of confusion has only become more pronounced.

"It's the wrong number," Kageyama says, which was definitely not how he'd wanted to introduce Y, "from the beginning of the year."

Tsukishima laughs. It's a horrible sound. "Are you kidding?" he says. "You're still in contact with them?"

"You're the one who called him a math tutor!"

"I wasn't serious," Tsukishima says. "He's actually tutoring you now? Did I actually get you a math tutor?" He's laughing harder than Kageyama's ever seen him laugh, looks like he might start crying if he laughs any harder, and Kageyama takes a necessary second to breathe before he does anything rash.

"He helps me with homework sometimes," he says, trying to pretend he isn't dying of embarrassment, "but he's not a—a math tutor. We're friends. We talk."

"Are you sure he is who he says he is?" Yamaguchi asks. "If you've never met him in real life..."

"Yeah," says Kageyama, thinking oh god here we go, "uh. The thing is, I'm like ninety-nine percent sure it's actually Kindaichi. So we have met in real life."

A crash resounds beside the lockers— Hinata, dropping his duffel bag. "Kindaichi?" he squawks. "You mean Turnip Head? From Aobajousai?"

"Yeah. It's... yeah."

"Wait, I'm not sure I understand," Yamaguchi says. "This wrong number, ‘Y’, this math tutor—"

"Oh my god," says Tsukishima, sounding like his day's just been made, "Kageyama's been texting Kindaichi Yuutarou this entire time."

Yamaguchi's horror mirrors what Kageyama feels must be the expression on his own face right now. "That's awful," he says. "I'm sorry, Kageyama."

"I take everything back," Hinata says solemnly. "You should never have trusted him. This is my fault. I'm sorry too."

"This isn't anyone's fault," Kageyama snaps before they can pity him further. "It was my choice to keep texting him. Or technically it was Tsukishima's, but—"

"I'm not apologizing, if that's what you want," Tsukishima says, removing his glasses to wipe at his eyes and then at his lenses, the bastard. "This is just too good."

"I don't want anyone's apology, least of all yours," Kageyama tells him. "The thing I had to tell you guys was that he doesn't know it's me."

Hinata chokes. Yamaguchi pales. Tsukishima pauses mid-wipe.

"It's pretty bad," Kageyama admits when no one else says anything. "I found out last Sunday, after Inter High."

"That's... that's awful," Yamaguchi says for the second time, with twice as much feeling. "What are you going to do about it?"

"That's why I'm here asking," says Kageyama. "I have no idea what I should do. He's been waiting around five days for a reply."

"Five days!" Hinata says. "He probably thinks you're mad at him."

"I know. It took me a while to come up with the idea to ask you guys."

"Just tell him who you are," Tsukishima says. "It doesn't have to be as hard as you're making it out to be."

Kageyama nods, and then he blinks, because—

"Are you... helping me?"

Tsukishima rolls his eyes. "No," he says, "I just want to go home. Now are we done here or what?"

"Wait!" Hinata exclaims. "You can't just tell him who you are, he'll hate you forever. And maybe stop texting you. And cut you permanently out of his life."

"That's what I was afraid of," Kageyama says. "Also, it's embarrassing enough for me to know who he is. I was thinking I could, like, spare him the humiliation of knowing."

"I'm not sure that would be the best thing to do," says Yamaguchi. "You'd pretty much be lying to him."

"But does he want Kindaichi to know it's him?" Hinata argues.

"Not really," Kageyama says. "But I don't want to be hiding anything from him, either."

"What if he decides he doesn't want to talk to you anymore?" Hinata protests. "What if you run into him in real life? How would you even face him?"

"I'm sure Kageyama's already asked himself all those questions," Yamaguchi says placatingly.

"Tell him who you are," Tsukishima says again. "If he can't handle it, then that's his problem. You can keep arguing if you want to, but I'm out."

He leaves the locker room with that, leaving Kageyama, Hinata, and Yamaguchi standing around a bench.

"It's up to you to decide what to do in the end," Yamaguchi says, "but I'd just keep in mind both sides of the argument. Which do you value more: your virtual friendship or your actual one?"

One beat. Two.

"That was deep," Hinata says, voice hushed. "Kageyama, I—"

Kageyama beats him to the chase. "Well, when you put it like that," he says, "there isn't much of a choice."

 

[ 17:48 ] Me: sorry it took me so long to respond

[ 17:48 ] Me: there’s something i need to tell you

[ 18:14 ] Y: What is it?

There is no nice way to break this kindly to Kindaichi, but Kageyama does his best.

[ 18:20 ] Me: y stands for yuutarou doesn’t it

A typing bubble pops up and Kageyama waits for the next text with bated breath, but it doesn’t come immediately. The bubble disappears, then appears again, only to repeat the process twice more before finally resolving into a message.

[ 18:23 ] Y: How do you know my name

Kageyama wills his pulse to slow down. It could be worse, he tells himself; Kindaichi could have exploded at him, or he could have chosen not to respond, or he could have reacted in any number of ways to tell Kageyama that this — this fantastically fucked up situation — is not something that can be forgiven easily, if at all.

[ 18:25 ] Me: it’s kageyama

He keeps his phone open for the next thirty minutes in anticipation of the reply, but Kindaichi does not respond.

 

Kindaichi doesn’t respond in the hour, or for the rest of the night, and after three, four, five days pass with nothing but radio silence, Kageyama accepts the inevitable. Kindaichi isn’t interested if it’s Kageyama. Their friendship is over.

It isn’t the first time, but it hurts just the same.

 

“This is an intervention,” Hinata announces when he corners Kageyama during lunch. At his side is, of all people, Yachi, wearing an apology on Hinata's behalf as they approach Kageyama at the vending machine.

Kageyama stoops over to retrieve his milk from the deposit box before straightening and turning to face them. "For what?"

"This entire week," Hinata says.

"What."

"Um," says Yachi, "I think what Hinata means is that you... haven't been yourself lately? Like, during practice, sometimes you'll stop paying attention? And start staring into space?" Her voice inches higher with every statement-question; clearly, Hinata didn't succeed entirely in recruiting her to his cause.

"Yeah," he says with unnecessary melodrama, "you've been off your game since Monday, and I think I know why."

Kageyama pokes his straw through the milk carton's hole and takes a sip. "Don't act so self-satisfied," he says. "It shouldn't be hard to guess why I've 'been off my game.'"

"Did Kindaichi not react well?" Yachi asks, and Kageyama's halfway through a nod before something occurs to him and he chokes.

"Wait," he says, coughing and trying to talk understandably through the milk in his nose, "how do you know what's going on?"

"I told her," says Hinata.

Of course. Kageyama shouldn't be surprised. He shouldn't be surprised, and he isn't, but he is pissed.

"Why?" he hisses, balling his hands into fists before he can give in to the age-old urge to grab Hinata by the collar of his shirt. "It's not your information to—to hand out like nothing."

"Hinata just wanted to help," Yachi says in a small voice. "I won't tell anyone."

Deep breaths, Kageyama tells himself. Deep breaths. You've come too far to go to jail for strangling a teammate.

"Okay," he says, "okay. Kindaichi stopped responding to me after I told him the truth, and it's been bothering me ever since. That's all there is to it. I'll be fine, I just need, I don't know, time. To get over it."

"I don't believe you," Hinata declares.

"Quiet! Do you want the whole courtyard to hear?"

Hinata drops his volume. "I don't believe you," he whispers, near-fervent. "If he won't reply to your messages, you have to find a way to talk to him in real life. It's pretty obvious that you won't stop moping if you don't work out your problems."

"I'm not moping."

"Are too."

"Am not."

"Are t—"

"The point is," Yachi says, wisely interrupting a quarrel in the making, "we just want what's best for you and the team. And if that means you working out whatever you've got going with Kindaichi, then so be it."

"It's not that easy," says Kageyama. "Even if I wanted to talk to him in person, I don't have any way to reach him. Since he's ignoring my texts and all."

"Well, you've got to do it," Hinata says. "Figure it out somehow. For the team."

"Okay," says Kageyama, unimpressed and unconvinced. "I've just got to figure out how to get in touch with Kindaichi, without using his number and without knowing the numbers of anyone close to him. No big deal."

"I'm sure you'll be able to do it," Yachi says encouragingly. "Just talk to him somehow. It can't be that bad."

Actually, it can, Kageyama thinks, but he holds his tongue, partially because Yachi doesn't deserve that kind of attitude and partially because he wants this conversation to end. "Yeah, sure," he lies, "I'll try."

 

[ 20:19 ] Unknown: tobio-chaaaaaaan

[ 20:20 ] Unknown: how do you feel about meeting up?

[ 20:43 ] Me: who is this

[ 20:50 ] Unknown: oikawa

[ 20:50 ] Unknown: who else??

[ 20:51 ] Me: how did you get this number

[ 20:51 ] Me: since when did you suddenly start wanting to see me

[ 20:52 ] Unknown: is it a crime to want to catch up with your single most brilliant kouhai??? i’m wounded

[ 20:53 ] Unknown: and to answer your first question, i have my ways (´꒳`)

[ 20:53 ] Unknown: so? how about it?

[ 20:58 ] Me: fine

[ 21:00 ] Unknown: wait what

[ 21:00 ] Me: i’m saying we can meet up?

[ 21:01 ] Unknown: oh no i got that!!

[ 21:01 ] Unknown: that’s great tobio-chan!!!

[ 21:01 ] Unknown: let’s meet this saturday at doutor

[ 21:01 ] Unknown: does 3 pm work for you?

[ 21:03 ] Me: yeah sure

[ 21:05 ] Unknown: great!!

[ 21:05 ] Unknown: better be on time tobio-chan

[ 21:05 ] Unknown: i’ll be expecting you o(〃^▽^〃)o

 

In retrospect, Kageyama should have known better.

There were warning signs, of course, things that were just plain wrong about that conversation — when did Oikawa Tooru get his number, how did Oikawa Tooru get his number, why could Oikawa Tooru possibly want to see the underclassman he’s hated since middle school — and Kageyama had chosen, at his own risk, to ignore them.

So naturally, they come back to bite him in the ass.

What happens is this: He walks into Doutor Coffee on Saturday at 3 o’clock on the dot, just as Oikawa told him to do. Contrary to the contents of that last text (which Kageyama reread for a good five minutes trying to decide whether he should respond, and if he should, how) Oikawa is not expecting him. Having arrived with the expectation that he would be waiting on Oikawa to show up, however, he finds a table by the door and takes a seat. Figuring that he ought to refrain from ordering until Oikawa arrives, he does not purchase anything just yet.

At four minutes past three, the door swings open. Kindaichi Yuutarou walks in, sees Kageyama, and walks back out.

Kageyama starts in his chair. “Hey—!”

He’s out of his seat and through the door before he can even fully register what happened; Kindaichi may be the last person Kageyama thought he’d run into, but Kageyama recognizes an opportunity when he sees one. And after two weeks of radio silence on Y’s end with no means of contacting him any other way, he’s not about to let this particular opportunity slip through his fingers.

Patronage be damned, Kageyama’s outside in a second and scanning the area for a telltale spiked-up hairstyle.

There— Kindaichi’s speed-walking down the sidewalk across the street. Kageyama doesn’t stop, doesn’t think; he darts over the asphalt, dodges two or three oncoming cars, and weaves his way through the other pedestrians milling about.

Kindaichi, probably alerted by the sound of footsteps, turns his head as Kageyama draws near. Kageyama has time to catch a glimpse of a singularly terrified expression before Kindaichi’s full-out sprinting as well, running past storefronts like his life depends on it.

“Kindaichi, wait!” Kageyama calls, and nearly trips on the wheels of a baby stroller. The woman pushing it shoots him a milk-curdling glare. Mumbling a hasty apology, he narrowly avoids bowling over an elderly man and runs faster, too intent on reaching Kindaichi’s bobbing head to care much about the casualties of his haste.

Volleyball trains for speed more than agility, and so Kageyama catches up with Kindaichi on an empty stretch of sidewalk. Reaching out for something to grab, he snags onto Kindaichi’s shirt.

Instantly, Kindaichi tries to shake him off. “Let go of me!”

“Not until you stop trying to run away!”

They’ve both stopped moving, but they’re trapped in a deadlock, because Kageyama’s trying to hold Kindaichi still and Kindaichi is straining against Kageyama’s grip and neither of them can afford to give.

“We need to talk,” Kageyama adds, like that’ll help anything.

“There’s nothing to talk about,” says Kindaichi, struggling even harder.

“That’s not what you told me when I asked you,” Kageyama grits out, fumbling to keep both his balance and his hold on Kindaichi. And suddenly, it isn’t hard; at the reference to their text conversations, Kindaichi freezes. “What happened to trying to fix the friendship?”

“That was before we knew who we were talking to.”

“That shouldn’t change anything.”

“What if I don’t want to talk?” Kindaichi tries.

“You can’t just keep avoiding the issue,” Kageyama says. “It’d be hypocritical of you.”

He feels it when Kindaichi caves; Kindaichi grapples with him some more, and then he finally stops pulling, and Kageyama lets go.

“Nothing’s changed. I still don’t have anything to say to you,” Kindaichi says, resolutely avoiding Kageyama’s eyes.“

It’s a lie, and they both know it.

“You had plenty to say to me when we were messaging each other,” says Kageyama, pulling the texting card for the second time in as many minutes. Kindaichi grimaces; Kageyama notes that the tips of his ears have begun to turn red, an observation only made possible by the fact that Kindaichi’s face is currently angled away from him.

“I wouldn’t have said any of it if I’d been aware that it was you.”

“Do you regret it?”

Kindaichi hesitates, and when the pause drags on for a few seconds too long, Kageyama goes and answers the question himself.

“Because I don’t,” he says. “You told me you wanted to be friends again. I would never have guessed if you hadn’t done that.”

“Yeah, well, this is less awkward for you than it is for me,” Kindaichi says.

He doesn’t need to specify for Kageyama to understand what he’s talking about, but Kageyama asks anyway— not because he wants to humiliate Kindaichi further or because he wants to confirm that he interpreted Kindaichi’s (admittedly indirect) confession correctly, but because he needs to hear it again for himself. For his own reasons. “Why is that?”

Kindaichi, forgetting his resolution to avoid Kageyama’s gaze at all cost, looks at Kageyama for the first time since their encounter, incredulous. “You know exactly why.”

“Clarify for me,” says Kageyama, and Kindaichi’s expression twists.

“You just want me to humiliate myself again,” he says. “You told me you wanted to talk things through, but really, you just wanted to watch me make an idiot of myself, right? Is that what you were hoping to get out of this?”

“No, that’s not—” Kageyama starts, but Kindaichi powers on through.

“I’ll do it if that’s what you chased me all this way for,” he says. “I’m sorry for what happened in middle school. Kunimi is, too, even if he’d never say it to your face. You were being a dick at the time, but we’re the ones who turned our backs on you during that game. I’ve been thinking about it ever since the first practice match we ever had, and I really am sorry.”

“I would’ve forgiven you if you’d told me,” Kageyama says. “I would’ve tried to be a better teammate, too, if you guys had told me before it was too late.”

“Too bad it’s too late, then, huh?” Kindaichi’s mouth quirks up into a humorless smile. “But you wanted to hear me confess again, didn’t you? You’re waiting for me to tell you I’ve had a crush on you since middle school. Since third year of middle school.”

Kageyama licks his lips, mouth suddenly dry. “That long?” he asks.

“That long,” Kindaichi confirms. “I didn’t realize until afterward, but I realized around last year that that’s what I felt toward you. That that’s what I’ve felt toward you since Kitagawa Daiichi, before that game ever happened. God knows why, probably I just admired your skills. I still do.”

Kageyama swallows. This isn’t going where he’d wanted it to go, but his grip on this situation is far too unsteady; there’s no way he has control of the wheel now. “And your first, uh, crush—?”

“Iwaizumi,” Kindaichi says tonelessly. “You could call it a puppy crush. It helped me realize I liked boys at all.” A pause, and then, “Wait, were you— was the person you—”

“Yeah,” says Kageyama, because there’s no use in hiding it anyway, “it was Oikawa. ‘s why I kept following him around, even though anyone else could’ve taught me to serve. I bet everyone figured it out except me.”

“I didn’t figure it out,” Kindaichi says, a genuine attempt to be helpful. It isn’t very comforting; Kindaichi’s perceptiveness is on about the same level as Kageyama’s, which is to say, pretty fucking low.

“Well, now you know,” says Kageyama. “And just for the record, I’m sorry too. For everything— being a shit teammate, waiting to tell you who I was, chasing you down the sidewalk.” It’s hard to hold Kindaichi’s gaze when he’s basically slicing himself open to expose himself like this, so he stuffs his hands into his pockets, tries to act casual.

Kindaichi shrugs. “It’s over now,” he says, and Kageyama nods. They stand in silence for a few moments, neither quite sure of where to go with the new air between them, before Kindaichi adds, after a beat, “So… are we done here? I was supposed to meet Oikawa at Doutor. He’s probably wondering why I haven’t shown up yet.”

No, Kageyama thinks, I still have to talk to you something, everything, but Kindaichi’s getting restless and Kageyama isn’t good enough with words to figure out how to express himself as non-mortifyingly as possible. He says, “No, yeah, you should probably get goi—”

Kindaichi’s words sink in, and something clicks.

“Wait,” Kageyama says slowly, “did you just say Oikawa? At Doutor?”

Kindaichi looks at him funny. “Yeah, he messaged me earlier this week, wanted to catch up over the holidays or something.”

“He won’t be there,” Kageyama says. “That’s why I was at Doutor, too.”

A stare of disbelief. “He wanted to meet both of us? What do you mean, he won’t be there?”

“He probably set us up to run into each other,” says Kageyama, and the words make sense as they roll off his tongue. “I doubt he actually came.”

Kindaichi looks utterly betrayed. Kageyama can sympathize too much to be offended.

“What I’d like to know is how he found out about this whole thing,” he continues, thinking aloud, before focusing his attention on Kindaichi. “You didn’t tell him about it, did you?”

“No! Of course I didn’t,” Kindaichi says defensively. “All I did was tell—tell—” He breaks off mid-sentence, eyes widening in the universal code for shit I fucked up.

“What is it?” Kageyama demands. “Who did you tell?”

“Iwaizumi.”

Kageyama’s jaw drops. “You idiot,” he says, “that’s the same thing as telling Oikawa, you know they’re best friends, they’re basically one person—”

“I didn’t have anyone else to go to!” Kindaichi snaps back. “I had to get it off my chest and Kunimi wouldn’t have understood, he still hasn’t come around to the idea of apologizing, and I didn’t want to go to Oikawa for obvious reasons—”

“Okay, okay,” Kageyama relents, because it’s clear that Kindaichi didn’t have the same support network that Kageyama did. If Hinata and Yachi’s well-intentioned advice, Tsukishima’s unhelpful commentary, and Yamaguchi’s obligatory peacemaking count as a support network. “How much did you tell him, exactly?”

“Um,” Kindaichi says, “everything?”

“Oh my god,” says Kageyama, “you told him everything.”

“I didn’t think he’d pass it on to Oikawa! And I didn’t tell him the part about the upperclassman thing.”

“Oh my god,” says Kageyama, “Oikawa knows everything.”

“Look, I already told you, it’s not as bad for you as it is for me,” Kindaichi says. “You’re not the one with the—with the—you’re not the one who basically confessed. Do you have any idea how embarrassing it was to admit that to Iwaizumi?”

“No one was asking you to admit it to him!”

“He wasn’t even surprised,” Kindaichi says, barreling on. “He was just like, ‘you should try to work it out with him, Kindaichi, good luck.’ As if it were that easy. I bet he’s never had to deal with—with anything unrequited like that. We haven’t even worked anything out.”

Unrequited doesn’t sound right to Kageyama’s ears and he’s still trying to find a way to express it aloud, but it’s hard when he isn’t even sure of his own feelings anymore. “Then let’s work it out,” he says instead. “Once and for all.”

“I already said I was sorry.”

“I know,” says Kageyama, “but you have to, I don’t know. Show it.”

“Show that I’m sorry,” Kindaichi repeats, disbelieving.

“Yeah, like, actions speak louder than words, right?”

“What do you even want from me?”

What does Kageyama want? When he was eleven, he wanted his cool upperclassman to teach him how to serve. When he was twelve, he wanted to win tournament finals with his two best friends. When he was fourteen, he wanted his best friends back. None of that ended up happening, but when he was fifteen, he wanted to go to nationals and win nationals and show everyone what he could do, and when he succeeded, he learned that unachievable things aren’t always correctly categorized.

He's seventeen now, with a team and a reputation and friends, and there isn't much that he'd ask for. He's done a lot of things, realized the goals he set for himself first year at Karasuno, and that's pretty satisfying in and of itself. He’s earned Oikawa's recognition, he's gone to nationals and won it, he's made friends in people like Hinata and Yachi and Yamaguchi (he doesn't count Tsukishima, but he thinks it, anyway). All that's left, really, is—

"I want to be friends again," he says, because for all that he’s found these past two-and-something years, none of it can quite replace what he’s lost.

Kindaichi stares, intense to the point where Kageyama wonders if there's something on his face. "Friends," he echoes, like he's never heard of them before.

"Yeah," says Kageyama, subtly wiping at his nose. "Like, you and me and Kunimi. The way we were before... everything."

"You and me and Kunimi."

A pause. Kageyama waits for Kindaichi to say more, and when it becomes clear that Kindaichi’s current capacities do not extend beyond parroting, he continues. "Only if you're up for it, I mean," he says. "I just thought, since it's been nearly three years, that maybe—maybe we could try to start again."

Kindaichi, who still has the expression of utmost shock on his face, doesn't respond immediately, and Kageyama begins to question if he's missing something here. Maybe Kindaichi isn't interested in repairing their friendship, not if it's Kageyama they're talking about. Maybe he thinks Kunimi wouldn't be interested, because it doesn’t take a genius to figure out that Kunimi probably comes before Kageyama. Maybe they were never friends in the first place, and everything they shared those first couple years in middle school was a lie, and it was all in Kageyama's head. Maybe, Kageyama thinks, feeling panic start to rise in his throat with each second of silence on Kindaichi's end, they were only ever teammates to begin with.

"It's fine if you don't want to," he blurts. "I was just—it was hopeful thinking on my part. I thought you might want to be friends again, but it's fine if you don't. Totally cool."

Kindaichi snaps out of his apparent trance with a start. "No, yeah, I do!" he says quickly. "I do. I don't know about Kunimi yet, but I... I'd be, uh, interested. In being friends."

"Oh," Kageyama says. "Cool." Then he kicks himself mentally, because what kind of response is oh cool?

"Yeah," says Kindaichi, eloquently. "So that's that." They stand in awkward silence for a few more seconds before Kindaichi ventures, "What now?"

"Do you still want to go to Doutor?"

Kindaichi wrinkles his nose. "No, I don't like coffee," he says, and Kageyama sighs in relief.

"I was hoping you'd say that," he says. "I don't either."

"You... you don't suppose there's an off chance that Oikawa’s really waiting for us, do you?"

"Highly doubt it." Kageyama uses the chance to remove his eyes from Kindaichi's face and take a proper assessment of their surroundings for the first time since they stopped here. His eyes land on one building in particular. "How do you feel about ice cream?"

Kindaichi follows his gaze. "Vanilla's my favorite flavor," he says, and then, before Kageyama can suggest it himself, "Wanna get some?"

"Vanilla's boring," Kageyama says, but he starts walking anyway, and Kindaichi falls into step beside him. "I've got money, if you want me to pay."

"I'm not a girl," Kindaichi retorts. "You don't have to pay for my food like this is some—some date."

In another world — a world where Kageyama doesn't stumble over his words when he's excited or nervous or uncertain, maybe, a world where he knows what to say and when to say it — he might use this statement as an opportunity, say something smooth, like It's only a date if you want it to be or I'd pay for your food regardless of whether this was a date, because both are true and the concepts are queued up in his mind, ready to be voiced.

But because this is not that world and because Kageyama is only beginning to explore these recently respun ropes of friendship and because he still doesn’t know how to tell Kindaichi that he’d be willing to test the un in unrequited, he keeps his mouth shut. That can wait for another day. Right now, he will settle for Kindaichi with his awkward sentences and fumbling humor, limbs that aren’t clothed in school uniform and a face that isn’t criss-crossed by the lines of a net, and it will be more than enough.

"I bet two thousand yen that you can't eat a large cone as quickly as I can," Kageyama says.

Kindaichi's more than willing to rise to the challenge. “Hope you have extra cash on you,” he says as they reach the ice cream parlor, and he pulls the door open for them.

 

[ 15:28 ] Oikawa: so

[ 15:28 ] Oikawa: are you having quality bonding time with kindaichi-kun??

[ 15:37 ] Oikawa: hey

[ 15:59 ] Oikawa: tobio-chan are you ignoring me

[ 16:04 ] Oikawa: tobio-chan??????

[ 16:04 ] Oikawa: i'm the one who set you two up for your information

[ 16:04 ] Oikawa: you shouldn't treat your matchmaker this way

[ 16:04 ] Oikawa: i'm expecting full credit at the wedding ceremony

  

[ 16:18 ] Kindaichi: Are you free next weekend?

[ 16:20 ] Me: sure

[ 16:20 ] Me: what do you have in mind?