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since worse men are fools

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See, Tobio doesn't think he is a good volleyball player at first. He is just a player, a seven year old on the court for the first time, sliding off the benches, watching from the bleachers. This is where Tobio starts -- he does not need to tell himself that he plays for fun, because he does.

Then, he applies to Kitagawa Daiichi. The school is popularized for its volleyball team; some of the best young men in the prefecture have gone there. Tobio applies for fun.

He gets in.

***

Oikawa Tooru is the school's shining star this year. He is a setter, like Tobio.

Tobio doesn't think of setter as part of his identity, just his position on the volleyball court. Watching Oikawa play, he can see that setting is in Oikawa's identity. It is a big part of him.

"I'm Kageyama Tobio," Tobio says boldly, after practice.

Oikawa is walking home with his friend. He glances at Tobio, once, and then again.

"Yeah, I remember you from introductions," he says. "You're a first year?"

Tobio nods.

"Watch how your senpai plays, Tobio-chan," Oikawa says with a smile.

***

Oikawa has given Tobio a nickname, and they've barely spoken ten words to each other.

Tobio has never had a nickname before.

***

He obeys.

Oikawa's presence on the course is tremendous -- he is a service ace, he hears their teammates, coach yell. He is a calculated setter, his fingers and palms under perfect control against the volleyball. Tobio watches Oikawa's fingers, the way they curl and grasp the ball like it is mere putty in his hands.

Tobio obeys, seeing the way Oikawa plays. When Oikawa is in the back to serve, he turns -- his eyes meet Tobio's for a moment.

Oikawa is surprised. But he winks.

Tobio does not know how to wink. His heart flutters in his chest. He watches Oikawa's every movement.

***

"You're funny," Oikawa says, later.

He has asked Tobio to walk home with him today. Tobio usually walks home alone.

Oikawa makes him excited.

"Why am I funny, Oikawa-san?" Tobio asks.

"You just," Oikawa shakes his head. He looks like he wants to smile, but he's not smiling.

"Is this your first time on a volleyball team?" Oikawa asks.

Tobio shakes his head. "I was in the club in elementary school," he confesses. "I really like it."

"Me too," says Oikawa.

Tobio's house is first. Oikawa says goodbye, and tells Tobio that he has been playing volleyball since only his first year in middle school. So he is not Tobio's senior, as they have been playing for the same amount of time.

Tobio watches him go.

***

When Oikawa flubs his serve during their inter high match, Tobio's chest tightens.

Then he is asked to go out to the court.

He does not look at Oikawa as he accepts. Oikawa has his head bent down, towel over his head. Tobio is concerned; but Oikawa would want him to do well in his place. So Tobio does.

The set continues with Tobio as the setter. Oikawa is not here, so it is his responsibility to hold the team like Oikawa does.

He does not address the other third years the way Oikawa does. The wooden floor squeaks under his sneakers.

***

Oikawa does not talk to him for a long time. He does not ask Tobio to walk home with him after practices, and in the school hallways, he does not notice Tobio. He's probably busy with his schoolwork.

He is also busy with his volleyball. Tobio watches him stay after practice to work on his serves.

Oikawa's serves are big, beautiful.

"Can you teach me how to serve, Oikawa-san?" Tobio asks.

Oikawa turns on him. Tobio blinks -- for a second, Oikawa is so close.

Then his friend is there, holding him back.

"Oikawa," his friend says, in a controlled voice.

Oikawa's eyes are big. They kind of remind Tobio of his mother's, when he had told her that he had made a new friend and showed her the centipede in his hand, before she told him to take it outside and wash his hands.

Then Oikawa's face crumbles.

Now he looks like the girl in his elementary school class who had spilled water all over his front.

"Fuck," Oikawa says.

***

Oikawa wins the best setter award of their prefecture.

He is fourteen.

Tobio raises the bar.

***

In his second year, Oikawa and the rest of the third years leave.

Tobio knows what he has to do. Volleyball is fun -- Tobio already knows he is good. He had replaced a third year as a setter when he was a first year. He had helped them to victory. It was his fingers on the ball that had guided them toward that goal.

(His fingers in the place where Oikawa's had been.)

He can be the best. They can win the inter high and spring high, because they are Kitagawa Daiichi.

Maybe Oikawa will come and see how far Tobio has come. Has taken their team.

No -- his team, now.

***

He is good, so good, and the other two best second years on the team -- Kindaichi Yuutaro, Kunimi Akira -- they like him.

***

They respect him.

***

Tobio had always respected Oikawa because they had played for the same amount of time, but Kindaichi and Kunimi are newer, so he has no obligations.

***

But they are good -- Kindaichi is a strong spiker, and Kunimi is an excellent decoy.

***

And Tobio, he is the best setter.

***

On their team. In the school.

***

At his age, all over the country, probably.

***

They win the inter high, and the spring high this year.

***

Oikawa does not come. Tobio looks for him in the bleachers after the spring high, but Oikawa is not there. He tries not to look too disappointed, but it must show on his face.

"Why do you always talk about him?" Kunimi says, rolling his eyes.

"He probably has better things to do," Kindaichi points out. "He's in high school, he doesn't have time to watch a middle school volleyball game."

"Yeah," Tobio says.

***

Then it is third year.

And Kindaichi and Kunimi are good, but Tobio feels that they have worsened. Is it possible to get worse at volleyball when you are older? Tobio sure hopes not.

He does not think that Oikawa has gotten worse. Oikawa is the best setter in the prefecture. He had gone to Aoba Johsai (Tobio knows, because even though Oikawa had gotten busy at the end of his third year, Tobio had asked around), which is one of the best volleyball schools in the prefecture. He's not in Shiratorizawa because Tobio knows that's where one of Oikawa's rivals goes.

Tobio thinks about Shiratorizawa. It would be nice to get in. Then he could be Oikawa's rival. Then they can face off on the court and Tobio can see how Oikawa has gotten better. Oikawa can say how Tobio has gotten better.

He dreams of Shiratorizawa.

***

He dreams of seeing Oikawa on the other side of the net.

***

And volleyball is good, but winning is even better, and Kindaichi and Kunimi are not Oikawa or Tobio, because they have gotten worse.

***

"Faster!" Tobio yells.

***

Kindaichi is so slow.

***

Kunimi does not even try.

***

Why don't they want to win?

***

"FASTER!"

***

They don't understand volleyball.

***

They don't understand winning.

***

They don't care, is the thing, and Tobio does not want to be held back by them.

***

He doesn't want to be held back by anyone.

***

He wants to see Oikawa on the other side of the court, gaze burning, calling him, "Tobio," again with a full smile teasing his lips.

***

Tobio does not remember what Oikawa's lips look like, so he goes to Aoba Johsai one day after practice.

Aoba Johsai's volleyball team is letting out, too. Oikawa is walking out with his team, and he wants to say hi.

He stops. It has been a long time. What if Oikawa doesn't recognize him?

But Oikawa's head turns.

His eyes lock with Tobio's, for a second.

There is a moment of recognition.

Tobio does not say anything. Oikawa holds his gaze, briefly, before he turns and continues on with his friends.

***

That night, Tobio does not dream of Shiratorizawa anymore. He dreams of Oikawa.

***

He and Oikawa are the same height. Tobio hadn't even realized how much he has grown.

***

They are the same height.

***

They have been playing for the same amount of time.

***

So Tobio is superior to Kindaichi and Kunimi, naturally, even if they are the same grade as him. Because Tobio has been playing as long as Oikawa.

***

And then --

***

No one is there.

***

"Bench, Kageyama," says the coach.

***

Tobio thinks he might know what Oikawa had felt like all those years ago.

***

They lose the inter high because Kindaichi and Kunimi were too fucking slow. Tobio imagines what Oikawa would say, taking Tobio's side, blaming them because Tobio is the setter and he knows what to do while his teammates are not nearly as experienced, as talented as Tobio is.

***

Kindaichi and Kunimi don't talk to him for the rest of the year.

***

None of his teammates can look him in the eye for the rest of the year.

***

Their game makes the fucking papers and Tobio is humiliated.

Oikawa probably reads it.

Tobio wants to bury himself underground.

***

He doesn't get into Shiratorizawa.

***

Everything feels like it's falling away, and all Tobio wants to do is see Oikawa again, ask if this is what he had gone through in his third year.

***

If this is why Oikawa had ignored him since Tobio had asked him to help him serve.

***

Because it all makes sense now, when Tobio hadn't been replaced by a first year, but Oikawa, the best setter in their prefecture at fourteen, saw Tobio on the court when he should've been on there.

***

Tobio wants to see Oikawa on the court.

***

He just wants to see Oikawa.

***

He goes to Aoba Johsai, on the last day of middle school. There is no volleyball practice today, so Tobio lurks outside the entrance.

He is as big as the other high schoolers. Sometimes, bigger. Tobio knows that he is tall; being a volleyball player is useless if you're not tall. This is why Oikawa is so good, maybe.

Maybe Tobio is not as good as Oikawa. Maybe Oikawa is better.

"Oikawa-san," Tobio says, when Oikawa comes out.

Oikawa looks at him. "Tobio-chan, what a surprise," he says.

Oikawa is alone today. Tobio does not know why, but does not want to ask why.

"I applied to Shiratorizawa," he says to Oikawa.

"I know," says Oikawa. "You didn't get in."

Tobio ducks his head. He nods.

"So?" Oikawa says. "Where are you going to play volleyball, now?"

Tobio is surprised. But Oikawa's gaze is fixated on him, like he does not expect any less of Tobio. Like he wants to see Tobio on the other side of the court, too.

He does not ask if Tobio has applied to Aoba Johsai. Maybe he knows.

Maybe he wants it the same way Tobio does.

"Karasuno," Tobio answers.

***

And then Tobio meets his new team.

It is -- new, because they are broken, flightless. There is the kid in his grade who he had played at his first inter high game last year. There is the kid who says that there's no use in taking volleyball seriously.

Tobio kind of wants to punch him.

And there is the third year setter, and their genius libero, and the second years.

There are new people.

***

Tobio tries not to see Kindaichi or Kunimi in any of them.

***

And that is easy, because they trust him. Because they call him a genius, and he is mainlined while the third year setter is benched.

It's kind of overwhelming.

Tobio tells this to Sugawara. Last year Tobio was a third year -- today, he is a first year.

Sugawara says it's okay.

He says that they need to do what's the best for the team, not what's best for him.

***

He reminds Tobio of Oikawa.

***

Except he doesn't, because Oikawa is in a different school, and he and Tobio are nearly the same height, and thinking of Oikawa makes Tobio's stomach flare in excitement.

***

Their advisor rushes into the gym saying that he has secured a practice match. "Aoba Johsai," he says.

"They'll only play if Kageyama is the setter," he says.

***

And then Tobio is on the court with Oikawa again.

***

It is fire, electricity, licking up Tobio's bare ankles and fizzling when their eyes meet on the other side of the court.

Oikawa smirks like it has been a long time.

It has not been a long time, but Tobio doesn't say so.

Oikawa had been late, but his service ace nearly blows them out of the water. Tobio needs to remind himself not to stare at Oikawa too long, because volleyball is not about who your opponents are. Not about Oikawa.

It is about his team.

But it is so, so hard, when Oikawa is a burst of talent on the other side of the net.

***

They win, but only barely.

***

Oikawa promises to defeat them next time.

***

Tobio practices with his team. He practices until the sun has dipped low in the sky, washing the world into purples and oranges.

He thinks of Oikawa less while he practices, but more at night.

More of Oikawa's steady gaze burning into his.

Oikawa a thousand watts along his body.

Oikawa is tall because of his legs, and Tobio likes to look at him. It makes his chest knot, even when it's Oikawa's visage on a television screen, or 2D and smirking from a magazine.

Tobio likes looking at him.

He likes thinking about looking at Oikawa.

***

At the inter high in June, they defeat the first team in two sets.

They defeat Datekou in three.

***

Then it is Aoba Johsai.

***

The blood pumps through Tobio's veins like a fucking army.

***

Oikawa is there on the other side of the court, and every nerve ending in Tobio's body is ready for this.

***

This is what he is made for.

***

Oikawa is better than Tobio has ever imagined and it's electrifying.

***

It is a detonation.

***

Karasuno loses.

***

Aoba Johsai wins, but it is not just Oikawa's win. Tobio watches them from the other side of the court -- the fluidity in exchange, motion, something Oikawa has spent the last three years cultivating that they don't need to utter trust, because they know, and he knows.

For a moment Tobio thinks it is too late. Then he remembers that he is a first year, and he will be attending Karasuno for the next three years.

Oikawa's gaze meets his on the other side of the court.

***

Tobio keeps up with the news. Aoba Johsai loses against Shiratorizawa. Summer is coming -- they will all be attending their respective training camps soon.

The third years have to leave so they can focus on university and graduate.

Tobio comes to Aoba Johsai again. When Oikawa finds him, he does not look surprised.

"You guys lost," Tobio says.

Oikawa's smile is thin. "Thank you, Tobio," he says. "I wasn't aware."

"Are you quitting after this semester?"

Oikawa scoffs. "What kind of person do you think I am?" he says. "We've known each other for four years, and you think I'm going to quit because Ushiwaka beat us?"

"It wasn't just him," says Tobio. "It was his team."

Oikawa's smile grows into something bigger. "You're right," he says. "No, I'm not quitting the team after this semester. Thank you for your concern."

He moves, like he is going to leave.

"Good," Tobio says. "I like playing against you."

Oikawa turns around.

"I want to defeat you," Tobio says.

***

Oikawa quirks an eyebrow.

***

"Oh, really?"

***

Then he is walking, closer to Tobio.

***

He is so close.

***

Tobio doesn't quite know how it happens, but then Oikawa's teeth are against his, clacking terribly and loudly and wet.

***

"I'm going to dethrone you," Tobio mumbles into him.

***

Oikawa laughs.

***

"Oh, really?"

***

And he is close, so close, and his fingers are sliding up the hem of Tobio's shirt.

He is hot, fingertips enough to scorch Tobio's flesh, and Tobio breathes. They are the same height and the angle is not perfect and Oikawa sucks on his bottom lip like they are dying.

Behind them, the sky is streaked with golds and oranges.

***

"You're not going to defeat me," Oikawa breathes, "if I don't defeat you first."

***

Tobio smiles against Oikawa's lips.

***

"I'd like to see you try."