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the tide is slow

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It goes without saying, but Tadashi has a nervous disposition. He’s fine being out of the spotlight, toiling just behind his teammates, and being a stable presence in the back of the group.

Thus, naturally, he is nowhere to be found in the gym the day the new first years are to be introduced.

Instead, he is crouching on the toilet cover of a stall in the boys’ bathroom and muttering reassurance to himself, counting down the minutes until Kei finds him and drags him out.

There’s a knock on the stall door, and he flinches.

Another knock. A hesitant, “Yamaguchi?”

“Y-yes?” Crap, this was awkward. He vaguely recognized the voice as a guy from his class. What was his name again? It hadn’t been that long since the school year started, but Tadashi should know the people in his class by now.

“Uh, there’s someone waiting for you outside. From the volleyball club, I think?”

He whimpers softly to himself. “Is he pissed?”

“He? It’s a girl.”

“Yachi,” Tadashi breathes when he emerges and spots her standing on the other side of the hall, relief swooping through him. “Where’s Tsukki?”

“He’s in the gym already,” Yachi says, pursing her lips. “Do you need stomach medicine?”

Tadashi lets out a defeated sigh and nods. “Thanks.”

She nods. “Yamaguchi-kun, are you nervous because of the first years?”

“Terrified.” He has no qualms admitting it to Yachi. They’re close enough at this point that she knows he threw up just last Wednesday when he heard there would be a pop quiz in Japanese History the next period. The only reason more people didn't know about it was because he was better at hiding it than Hinata.

“Why?” She tilts her head, handing him a little bottle of medicine from her school bag. “I think they’ll like you. You’re not as scary or weird as the other second years.”

He almost believes her. Yachi is good at observing people, and after spending a year with Kiyoko, Tadashi, and the team, she is familiar enough with them to speak her mind.

When he reaches the gym, freshly changed, most of the second and third years are already setting up the nets.

He gives a quick nod and apology to Ennoshita, who waves it off. “You’re right on time. Hinata’s still out somewhere puking his guts out.”

Tadashi winces.

There is an impressive number of first years, all milling about in the corner under Nishinoya and Tanaka’s combined piercing gaze until Ennoshita knocks them over the head and Yachi takes over. They stare at her reverently as she goes over the practice times and tournament schedules, and Tadashi is hit by a brief flash of déjà vu. Even without Kiyoko taking the reins, Yachi looks more than capable this year.

Ukai claps his hands and the entire group, including Yachi, jumps a little (okay, so maybe she’s still a little nervous).

“Alright, let’s line up!” their coach bellows, waving a clipboard as Takeda hovers behind him. “First years, standing on this side, everyone else over there!”

It takes a few moments for twenty-odd high school boys to line up, no matter how disciplined they are. Tadashi takes the time to slip in next to Kei, easily spotting the tall head of cropped light hair hovering above the rest.

“Hey, Tsukki,” he greets.

Kei nods.

They quiet down as the introductions start. One by one, the upperclassmen list name, year, and position, going in number order. Tadashi flinches when Nishinoya roars his number, baring his teeth as if to threaten anyone who even thought of taking it. There’s a significant amount of tittering when Kageyama and Hinata step up, especially when Hinata hops almost four feet off the ground in his excitement. Kei scoffs, and Tadashi holds back a laugh.

Tadashi is last, and the first years have begun to fidget by the time they get to him. He doesn’t really mind.

“Yamaguchi Tadashi, second year. I’m a middle blocker and a pinch server.” He mentally gives himself a pat on the back as he steps down without a single stutter.

Then first years go, shouting their names, middle schools, and preferred positions in shaky, too-loud voices.

Tadashi leans into Kei’s side as the last first year finishes, whispering into his ear, “Wanna get popsicles after practice?”

Kei blinks once, twice, turning to stare at him with half-lidded eyes.

Tadashi gives him a few moments to consider, but he doesn’t move. Ukai dismisses them to warm up, and the team disperses around them as Ennoshita tries to wrangle Nishinoya and Tanaka and shout instructions to the aimless first years at the same time.

“Tsukki?”

Kei blinks again.

“Sure,” he finally shrugs.

Tadashi frowns. Normally, it doesn’t take Kei more than two seconds to decide between Okay and No, that sounds like a drag. Before he can ask, though, they’re being hustled into a line to jog around the gym by a hassled-looking Ennoshita.

They stick with basic drills most of the time, in part to help the upperclassmen get back into the rhythm of playing together and in part to let the first years adjust to the pace of high school plays.

The first time Kageyama glares at someone for not playing all out, the poor boy nearly cries and Tanaka laughs himself silly. Ennoshita slaps both of them upside the head. Tadashi chuckles at that, nudging Kei, who rolls his eyes but huffs a snort all the same.

--

A hand lands on his shoulder as he hoists his bag. It’s Ennoshita, still in his sweaty practice gear with his kneepads pushed down to his ankles. No doubt, he had been instructing the first years on how to clean up, where to put the ball carts, and who to give the equipment shed keys to when they finished, even though Yamaguchi himself had already told them right after practice ended.

“Yamaguchi, can I talk to you? It’ll be quick.”

“Sure, Captain,” he says, a bit surprised. “Tsukki,” he calls, wiggling his foot into his shoes, “Wait for me outside?”

Kei nods, pushing his headphones over his ears before ambling out of the club room.

“You can stop with the whole Captain thing,” Ennoshita sighs, sitting on the bench and patting the seat next to him. Tadashi doesn’t miss the way he eases himself down slowly. He knows Ennoshita has been doing extra strength training since the third years left in an effort to emulate their previous captain’s lower-body stability and strength in defense. The combination of Daichi and Nishinoya in serve-receive had been one of their greatest and quietest strengths, one they could not afford to lose. “Everyone called Daichi-san by his name and I don’t think they’re going to change that starting with me.”

Tadashi laughs. “Okay, then, Ennoshita-san. What did you want to talk to me about?”

Ennoshita tilts his head to gaze at Tadashi, his lips pursed and eyes narrowed, almost as if he is appraising him. Tadashi fights not to shiver. “What do you think of our lineup this year?”

“Our lineup?” Tadashi repeats, taken aback for a moment. “We’ll be doing about the same thing as last year, right? Except with you in Daichi-san’s position and Kinoshita-san on the left. The new first years showed promise today, but they’re not good enough to be taking any of the starting positions yet.”

“Hm,” Ennoshita hums. “That’s what I thought, too.”

“But?”

Ennoshita shrugs. “No buts. I just wanted to hear your opinion on it.”

“Oh,” Tadashi says, bemused. “Okay?”

“I’ll get straight to the point.” Ennoshita stares him straight in the eye, face set. “I want you to be the captain next year, after me. I asked Ukai-san and he agrees with my decision.”

Tadashi’s eyes bug as he squeaks, his voice embarrassingly screechy, “What?”

“Well? What do you think?” Ennoshita is still staring at him, but his lips are quirked a little, as if amused. “I’ll train you well this year.”

“But—” Tadashi struggles with the words. “But why me?”

“If not you, then who else?” Ennoshita tilts his head, as if saying, Think a little. Use your brain. I know you’re smarter than this. Tadashi isn’t sure he understands. “Hinata and Kageyama are idiots. There’s no way I’m entrusting the club to one of them, no matter how talented they are as players. Tsukishima is shrewd, which is good, but I don’t think he’s motivated or open enough to set a positive team atmosphere.”

Even as Tadashi opens his mouth automatically to defend Kei, he knows Ennoshita is right. There is no one else who can become the next captain, he’s saying, so it has to be you.

Ennoshita’s eyes soften a smidge. “I know it’s a big responsibility, but that’s why I wanted to tell you now. I was terrified the first time Daichi-san approached me about this in the middle of the season.” He claps Tadashi on the back, getting up from the bench with a quiet grunt. “I wanted to tell you early so you’d have time to think about it, okay?”

Hinata and Kageyama are waiting with Kei at the school gates when Tadashi walks out. The sky is alight with colors as evening sets in, not quite late enough for night yet. Tadashi waves, to which Hinata responds enthusiastically, even as he continues peppering Kageyama with one-sided conversation. Kei ignores both of them as he leans against the gate, scrolling through his phone.

“Yamaguchi, didn’t it feel good in practice today?” Hinata gushes as they fall into step. At this point, the walk back home in a group of four is subconscious. They trudge past the Sakanoshita Store, waving to Ukai as they pass by, sometimes dropping in for meat buns or popsicles, depending on their mood and the weather, and split up at the next fork in the road, Hinata and Kageyama going one way and Tadashi and Kei going the other.

“Did what feel good?” Tadashi indulges Hinata’s grin even as Kei scoffs and Kageyama pretends to ignore him. Over the last year, he and Hinata had grown a lot closer.

“Being called senpai,” Hinata sighs dreamily. “Did you hear them? They called me ‘Hinata-senpai’ and used formal speech and everything.”

Tadashi laughs, recalling the way the first years had whispered and gasped when Hinata and Kageyama ran their tempo quick during practice. Their combination was a big deal, these days, and it was even more impressive in person than on the TV broadcast of Nationals. “You sound like Tanaka-san last year, Shouyo.”

“Yeah, what’s the big deal,” Kageyama grumbles. “They’re just a bunch of stupid first years who joined the club because of our name. I bet they’ll all quit in a week.”

“Don’t be such a downer!” Hinata kicks him in the leg, scampering out of the way when Kageyama bristles. “We want them to stay! Besides, doesn’t it feel good to be recognized?”

Kei rolls his eyes when Kageyama grumps, and Tadashi hides a chuckle with his hand.

“Oh yeah, Tadashi, what did Ennoshita-san want to talk to you about?” Hinata turns his questioning gaze on Tadashi, curious and unblinking. Tadashi used to be unnerved by that look, especially when Hinata adopted it on the court, but now he’s used to it.

He shrugs, scuffing his feet. “He asked me to be the captain next year.” He glances up, realizing they’ve all stopped to stare at him, and rushes to amend, “Of course I know it’s supposed to be up to a vote by all of the second years! He’s probably just going to train me. So I can catch up to you guys or something.”

Kei looks away first. “I’d vote for you.”

“Wow, yeah!” Hinata pipes up, and Kageyama nods too. “I’d totally vote for you, Tadashi! Are you going to do, like, special training or something? Can I join?”

Kageyama frowns a little. “Dumbass, that’s stupid. They’re probably going to talk about strategy and stuff. Do you even understand that kind of thing?”

“I do!” Hinata shrieks, kicking him again.

Tadashi laughs along when Kageyama smacks Hinata for being too noisy, a bit relieved.

Later, after they’ve split, Tadashi walks the rest of the way just half a step behind Kei, just like old times. They stroll in silence, Kei strolling with his hands jammed in his pockets because back in elementary school, he thought it looked cool. And he is cool, even when he smirks and throws petty barbs at Hinata and Kageyama and Tanaka-san because to Tadashi, Kei is always cool. It lies in the long column of his neck, the soft twist of his cropped curls, the set of his square glasses, angular against the curve of his cheek. Sometimes, Tadashi thinks that maybe he doesn’t just think that Kei is cool and there’s something else, but he never lets himself think more, always looking away before he can properly sort out his thoughts.

“Thanks, Tsukki,” he says.

“For what?”

“For saying you’d vote for me.” Tadashi kicks a pebble, stepping forward a little so he’s abreast with Kei.

He shrugs. “I’d quit the club before letting Hinata or the King boss me around, and I don’t want to be captain. Who else but you?”

Tadashi smiles until his jaw aches. He’s still smiling later when they’re both in Tadashi’s room, Kei’s head on Tadashi’s thigh and lips slack with sleep.

--

Despite Hinata’s optimism, the ten first years have dwindled to six by the end of the week. There’s a bright-eyed but awkward middle just a few centimeters shy of 180 and a timid setter who jumps when Tanaka laughs too hard. There’s a sharp-eyed libero who stares at Nishinoya with hawk-like intensity, a rambunctious wing-spiker with a loud voice, and two more all-rounders whose athleticism and enthusiasm almost make up for their inexperience.

Overall, Tadashi thinks, it’s a good year, with enough variety to patch up the holes the third years would leave next season. He would have preferred getting another experienced wing spiker in the mix, too, but the two positionless boys are both strong enough to grow into the role.

He catches himself before he can get carried away. He hadn’t just been thinking as a member of the team; he’d been thinking like a captain.

They run through basic drills for the most part, like they’ve been doing all week. It’s not just for the benefit of the newcomers, but also to ease them back into the disciplined atmosphere of the regular season, where teamwork matters as much as technique in the game.

“Free serving!” Ennoshita calls at the end, when there’s only twenty minutes left. “Hisashi, you and Yamaguchi fix the first years’ form.”

Tadashi glances to the side, where Kageyama has already begun sniping at Hinata. Kei stands a little further to the side, practicing standing serves alone like he always does.

Kinoshita nods, quick and sharp, before turning to Tadashi. “I’ll take the two beginners for now. Can you teach the other four the float serve? Have them practice a few and then try a jump float or two if you think they’re ready.”

The first years look a lot less apprehensive than they had been at the beginning of the week, although Inoue is still standing as straight as a rod. The middle (Takahashi?) even smiles a little in greeting.

“Er,” Tadashi begins as four laser gazes focus on his. “Does anyone know what a float serve is and why it’s useful?”

After a moment of silence, the setter raises his hand, shaking a little.

“Ah, yes, what was your name again?” Tadashi calls before he can lower it.

“Ni-Nishimoto,” he says, voice barely above a whisper. “It’s a serve that doesn’t spin. It’s hard to receive because it moves around in the air a lot.”

“Yes, exactly.” Tadashi tries his best to smile reassuringly as Nishimoto jumps and the libero, Sato, continues to stare, unblinking. He digs around in his memory of Shimada’s lessons for the few words of advice that they seem to be expecting. “Although it’s often overlooked, the serve is the very first attack you use to disrupt the other side’s offense. If their receive is off, the other setter will have trouble running a quick attack, so it’s easier for our blockers to guess who will attack.”

Sato is still focused, but the other three have begun to develop glazed eyes at the sudden assault of game strategy.

“Never mind, you’ll learn more about that later,” Tadashi chuckles sheepishly, grabbing a ball. “How about I demonstrate one, and then you can try it out and see if we need to fix your form?”

Four nods.

“Alright, so the basic concept of the float serve is the same as a regular standing serve, but you have to make sure to contact the ball right in the middle with a stiff hand.” He holds the ball up in his left hand, touching the flat palm of his right to where the point of contact should be. “To make it float, you have to stop your hand after you hit the ball. No follow through.

“Like this.” He holds the ball to his chest, taking a deep breath and spinning it in his palm and taking his time with his pre-serve routine. Then, he tosses the ball up, the motion natural as breathing now, and serves it steady and deep to the corner of the other side of the court. He turns back to the wide-eyed first years with a smile. “Now you try.”

Nishimoto’s serve is the best, although he tends to contact the ball too low. After Tadashi tells him, though, his accuracy improves rapidly.

Sato and Inoue’s serves are average, although they still tends to spin. With more practice, they would improve over time.

Takahashi, though, struggles the most. The ball hits the net more often than not, swerving left and right as he hits. After a moment of studying his from, Tadashi taps him on the shoulder.

“You’re dropping your elbow before you hit the ball,” he explains, grabbing a ball from the cart and showing a starting position. “It’s not quite the same motion as spiking. You should look like this before you start to serve.” The ball lies in his outstretched left hand, level with his bellybutton, as his right hand rises behind his head in a perfect 90-degree angle. Then, he lowers his right elbow until his hand brushes his ear. “This is what you look like right now. When you swing up,” he does so, “it’s harder to hit the ball at the same spot every time.”

He monitors Takahashi as he tries a few more serves, correcting the angle of his right hand until he gets used to the position. After two serves in a row, he claps a bit, smiling. “There! Those were good. Keep doing it like that.”

“Thank you, Yamaguchi-senpai,” Takahashi breathes, his limbs poking out a bit. “You’re really good at explaining this.”

“Oh, thank you. You can drop the –senpai, Takahashi.” Tadashi’s face warms. He thinks he can understand why Hinata had been so excited to be idolized by the new first years. “I had a good teacher when I learned this last year.”

Later, as they are sitting in a circle stretching, Takahashi reaches out to brush Tadashi’s kneepad. “Yamaguchi-san, you’re a middle blocker, right?”

Tadashi starts a bit at the sudden question. It’s been a while since he thought of himself as a middle, but he replies, “Yes, why?”

“Do you have time after practice next Monday to teach me blocking? I’m having trouble with the footwork.”

Tadashi blinks. “I can,” he says slowly, “but Tsukki is a lot better of a blocker than I am. Why don’t you ask him?”

Takahashi ducks his head. “Tsukishima-san is kind of scary. Besides, I’m kind of slow at picking things up, but your explanations are really easy to follow.”

Tadashi tilts his head, biting back a laugh. “Okay, then, how about this? I’ll have Tsukki stay behind with me on Monday, and we can go over the footwork together.”

Takahashi’s eyes widen as he squawks, loud enough for the rest of the team to hear, “I can’t ask that of both of you!”

“Oh, what’s going on?” Tanaka interrupts. “Are you getting along with the first years, Yamaguchi?”

Takahashi colors as the conversations around the stretching circle die down. Tadashi takes pity on him and calls out, “I wanted to do extra blocking practice next Monday, and I asked Takahashi if he wanted to join.”

“Ooh, extra blocking,” Narita muses. “I could use that.”

“So could you.” Kageyama nudges Hinata, who splutters but agrees easily.

“Count me in too.” Tanaka puffs up as he thumps his chest. “I’ll hit for you if you call me Tanaka-senpai.”

Tadashi leans over to his other side to address Kei as Hinata and the first years begin a chorus of “-senpai”s and Tanaka’s ego swells. “Tsukki, how about you? You wanna come?”

Kei is sprawled with his back flat on the ground, raising his knee and twisting his hips to stretch out his back. He shrugs as best he can. “I guess.”

Tadashi smiles. “Okay then. We can walk home together afterwards.”

Kei just nods and flips to his other side.

--

Tadashi continues instructing the first years’ serves on Monday, this time including the two who had been learning the basics from Kinoshita, Ito and Kobayashi. Ennoshita jogs over to join him when Ukai calls a water break.

“How are they doing?”

Tadashi shrugs, pulling out the plastic mouthpiece of his water bottle. “They’re improving. Nishimoto’s got a good serve, and Sato and Inoue are okay. Takahashi was struggling on Friday, but he’s gotten a lot better. I’ve had the other two working on their basic serves for now.” He catches Ennoshita staring at him from the corner of his eye. “What’s wrong?”

Ennoshita shakes his head. “You’re doing well. Thanks for teaching them.”

“I think having Kageyama instruct them would be better,” Tadashi confesses. “He’s got that hard topspin, but mine’s just a jump float.”

“They’re not even at the level of jump serves yet,” Ennoshita frowns. “Do you really think it’s a good idea to set Kageyama on a bunch of shy first years? Besides, he’s terrible when it comes to explanations.” He throws an arm around Tadashi’s shoulders, making him stoop slightly. “Don’t sell yourself short, Yamaguchi. You’re a great teacher.”

The break ends when Ukai claps his hands. “Back to work, you lot! Get off your asses now so we can start with receives.” He’s met with a cheer from Nishinoya. “Middle blockers, go practice your blocking. Everyone else, come with me.”

Tadashi moves to follow Kei, but he’s stopped by Ukai calling, “Yamaguchi! You come here, too. I want you doing serve receives with this bunch.”

He pauses.

“Hurry up, we don’t have much time left,” Ukai waves, glancing at the clock.

Tadashi jogs over, tossing a reassuring smile at Takahashi and Hinata as he leaves, ignoring the uncomfortable roll of his gut. Kei doesn’t look back as he starts on his footwork.

Tadashi waits until after practice to approach Ukai.

“Uh, Coach?”

Ukai glances over at him, excusing himself from a conversation with Takeda. “Oh, Yamaguchi. What’s up?”

“I was just confused today,” he confesses. “You didn’t have me practice with the other middles.”

Ukai nods. “I wanted to talk about that with you, actually. I’m assuming Ennoshita already talked with you about the whole captain situation?”

Tadashi nods.

“You know the duties of a captain, right?” Ukai adjusts his headband. “More than skill, the qualities valued in a captain are strength of character and the ability to unite the team under pressure. I think Ennoshita chose well, in these points.”

Tadashi reddens, but Ukai continues, “However, these qualities are most needed on the court, where a captain needs to negotiate with the referee, bring the team together after every play, and give the right encouragement or criticism to each member. That is something that I cannot do as a coach, because I can only stand on the sidelines. I will need you to be on the court, Yamaguchi, but frankly, we can’t lose either Tsukishima’s block or Hinata’s attack, so if you continue to be a middle, you won’t start next year.”

Tadashi can feel his gut sinking even as Ukai speaks the next words. “I want you to consider switching positions this year to the right side as a wing spiker. What do you think?”

Tadashi can feel his lower lip begin to quiver, but he bites down. Ukai waits for him to speak, so he does so, saying the only words he can think of. “I don’t know.”

Ukai sighs. “I know it’s hard to switch positions, especially from middle to something else, but I truly think the team needs you to be a wing spiker next year.” He gives a wry smile, laying a warm hand on Tadashi’s shoulder. “I wouldn’t be asking you if I didn’t believe you could do it. I’ve know quite a few middles who’ve switched to right side in their careers, so it’s not unheard of. Just think about it, alright?”

Tadashi nods, but his vision is already beginning to blur. He walks outside when Ukai is gone, squatting to with his back to the wall so he can bury his face in his knees.

He can hear Takahashi asking where he is from inside the gym. Soon, the pitter patter of quick feet reaches the gym doors. He looks up, dry-eyed, to see Shouyo standing with his back to the light, his eyes bright in the dim evening.

“Tadashi!” he calls, waving, but he stops when he sees his expression. He runs over, squatting next to him. “Tadashi, what’s wrong?”

He shrugs, staring at the ground. He’s not ready to say it. Not yet. “I’ll tell you later. Sorry.” He gets up, brushing the dirt off his clothes. The air is cool against his sweat-damp skin. “Have you started already?”

Hinata studies him with sharp eyes, and Tadashi feels as if he can see right into his heart. Then, the moment breaks and Hinata shakes his head. “Not yet. Tsukishima and Narita-san are still taking a break.”

The practice is simple, with two blockers at a time as Tanaka hits Kageyama’s sets from the left side. They practice variations on different types of footwork, with Tadashi explaining each one patiently to Takahashi as Kei demonstrates. They take a break when Tanaka splays out on the ground, pleading for water.

“Man,” he groans. “I have good stamina, but hitting this much is a lot, even for me.”

Kei smirks. “Tired already? Bokuto-san could hit for a lot longer last year when we practiced together at the training camp.”

“You fucker!” Tanaka shouts, but doesn’t rise to the bait.

“Why don’t we try blocking the right side for a while?” Tadashi suggests. “It’s good to practice footwork going both sides, and it’ll give Tanaka-san a chance to rest.”

“Then who’s going to hit?” Kageyama points out.

Tadashi pauses. “I can do it.”

Kageyama frowns. “Are you sure?”

Tadashi shrugs, pasting on a smile. “It’s good to practice all-round skills, right? Why not? We can switch after a few hits, and you can take a few swings from the right. We’ll turn just throwing you tosses.”

Kageyama nods. “Okay then. You know how to hit from the right?”

In theory, the arm swing for a spike from the right side is the same as that from the left and middle, but Tadashi hesitates. The angle at which the ball needs to connect his hand is strange to him, and it’s been a while since he spiked like that. He shrugs. “We’ll see.”

The first toss comes at just the right height and position, close to the antennae and just a little over a foot away from the net. Tadashi glances at the blockers—Kei and Narita—before stepping forward, swinging his arms back and up as he jumps and hits. The ball connects solidly with Kei’s palm, shooting straight down along with Tadashi’s gut.

“Nice swing,” Kageyama says, and Tadashi jolts.

Right. It’s blocking practice, so of course they have to block.

He doesn’t feel much better, though, as the ball continues to smash to the ground, never leaving his own side of the net.

At the end of practice, as they’re counting up the balls and taking down the net, Kageyama claps him on the back. “Nice hits today.”

They hadn’t felt like nice hits, but Tadashi lets himself give a half-hearted smile before he jogs off to where Kei is waiting under the tree by the school gate.

The walk home is quiet as Tadashi chews his lips and Kei waits for him to speak.

Finally, when they are past the halfway point between Kei’s home and the school, “Tsukki, I talked with Coach Ukai today.”

Kei glances at him, expression unreadable. That’s fine. This is how they’ve always been, and Tadashi can do with something familiar to ground him today. Kei slips the headphones onto his neck.

“Remember when I first started playing volleyball in elementary school with you? I told you I wanted to be a middle then, because I thought it was the coolest position.” Tadashi knows, even without looking, that Kei is still listening, waiting for the final word before he gives judgment, because that is a privilege that he awards to Tadashi and Tadashi alone. “I thought it was cool because you were cool and you were a middle, but now Coach Ukai and Ennoshita-san want me to be a right wing-spiker.”

“Do you want to be one?”

In the light of the moon, Kei’s eyes shine bright behind the frames of his glasses. He’s wearing his normal pair now, but Tadashi can still discern the indents on his face from his sports goggles, faint in the dark. They had looked so cool the first time he had seen them, but Tadashi’s breath had really been stolen away by the hunger behind the goggles back then. It had been the first time in so long that he had seen that drive, but now it never left Kei’s face.

“I don’t know,” Tadashi repeats, because he doesn’t. “It’s what’s best for the team, but I don’t think I can do it. I want to be useful.” His eyes prickle as he trails off, but Kei doesn’t give him an answer.

“Do you want to play on the right?”

The real question is, What do you want to do?

“I don’t know.” Even as he answers again, Tadashi knows. The answer is the same as when he had raised his voice to Kei for the first time in their friendship, that night that the moonlight seemed to emanate not from the sky but from Kei’s being, from his fingers, his hair, and his eyes, even as they did now, searching for an answer. The answer is the same as Suga’s when he had pushed Kageyama toward the court, toward the glory, toward their united goal, leaving himself behind because that was what he wanted more than anything else. The answer is the same as Tadashi’s own not even a year ago when he had first approached Shimada asking to learn how to float serve: he wants to win.

And to win, he would have to play the right wing spiker.

So he says, “I do,” even though he doesn’t really, because he wants the team to win, and because he wants Kei to win.

Kei holds him there a moment longer, pinned by that bright gaze, languid even as it bears into Tadashi’s chest and holds him there. It’s not quite disdainful, because Kei is never quite disdainful towards Tadashi, but it still leaves him breathless and vulnerable and raw although he had confessed none of the turmoil in his head.

“Okay.”

The moment is broken as Kei turns, but Tadashi can still see the way the moonlight spills over the curve of Kei’s cheeks, the gentle fan of his eyelashes, and the soft purse of his lips. He looks just as he had that night at training camp, when Tadashi had told him off. The moonlight had spilled over, bathing Kei in something beautiful as he had smiled, and Tadashi had felt his insides move in a way they’d never done before, in a way that was both familiar and frightening.

That night, Kei hadn’t been the only one to make a realization.

--

The difference is subtle, so Tadashi doesn’t notice at first.

Among the change that accompanies graduation and the new school year, new classes, and new faces in spring, Tadashi doesn’t quite have time to pay attention to small things, so he ignores them until one day, Hinata plants himself in front of his desk, hands on his hips. They’ve started eating together in Tadashi’s classroom during lunch, all five second years. Every day, Hinata drags Kageyama by the collar from 2-4 and Tadashi and Yachi wheedle Kei from 2-1 and they all crowd around Tadashi’s desk in 2-2 and eat and bicker and gossip over copies of monthly volleyball magazines.

Now, Tadashi sits with a piece of sausage stabbed onto his chopsticks lifted halfway to his mouth, feeling rather dumb as Hinata stands, chair clattering, and points an accusing finger with enough energy to fry the freckles off Tadashi’s nose. Yachi drops a piece of broccoli as she gapes.

“Dumbass, sit down,” Kageyama barks without slowing down as he inhales his bento.

“Shouyo, what’s wrong?” Tadashi puts down the sausage.

He’s starting to feel mildly concerned when Hinata shouts, “It’s not fair! The first years like you more!”

Tadashi blinks. “What?”

“Sit down,” Kei snipes. “Your voice is making the food taste bad.”

Hinata flops back down with a pout.

“Shouyo, I’m sure they don’t,” Yachi starts to comfort, but Hinata won’t have any of that.

“Takahashi always goes to you for help,” Hinata whines. “He doesn’t ever ask me questions about middle stuff.”

“It’s ‘cause you’re too dumb to give him proper advice, Shrimp,” Kei snorts into his bento.

“Well, what about you? He never asks you either,” Hinata shoots back.

“I don’t want to talk to them,” Kei grimaces, shuddering. “Just thinking about it is gross. They’re snotty brats.”

“They’re only a year younger than us,” Yachi points out.

“But I want Takahashi to call me senpai and ask me stuff,” Hinata whines, resting his forehead on his desk.

Tadashi holds his fluffy orange hair back so it won’t touch his rice. “I don’t think they talk to me more because they like me the most, though.”

Hinata sniffs, turning so he can eye Tadashi. “Then, why?”

“How do I put it,” Tadashi says, thoughtful. “I think they’re intimidated by you.” He taps at his lips with his chopsticks, turning absently to see that Kei is staring a little strangely. He starts, but Kei turns back to his food, nonchalant, and Tadashi wonders if he imagined it.

“Intimidated by me?” Hinata sounds honestly baffled. “Why?”

“’Cause you were on TV last year, dumbass,” Kageyama retorts. “Duh.”

“Yes, exactly.” Tadashi smiles. “They think you’re cool.”

He hadn’t noticed it at all, but now that Hinata brought it up, he starts to see when the first years come to him first.

That afternoon, during practice, he’s helping Kei count up the balls in the cart when Sato runs up to him, huffing to catch his breath even as he asks in his toneless voice, “Yamaguchi-senpai, will you help me work on my receives today after practice?”

“Drop the –senpai, please,” Tadashi says automatically before the request registers and he balks. “Me? Shouldn’t you be asking Noya-san for that?”

Sato blinks. “Noya-senpai never explains how he can do things. He’s hard to understand. Besides, your float serve is better for practice.”

“Uh, sure?” Tadashi scratches his head. “If you’re sure. Ask Noya-san if he wants to join, too.”

Sato nods, his movements sharp and quick, before he jogs off to find Nishinoya in the equipment shed.

Two weeks later, Nishimoto approaches him in the club room after the others have gone out. Tadashi is trying to button up his shirt as fast as he can because he had stayed behind to ask Ukai a question about the timing of his blocks and now Kei is waiting at the school gate already. Ennoshita is still talking with Ukai about their lineup and everyone else had left already, so they’re alone.

“Um, Y-Yamaguchi-san?” Nishimoto’s stutter punctures the silence. “Can I ask you a question?”

“Yes, of course,” Tadashi answers a bit absently, rolling up his socks.

“How do you confess to a guy?”

Tadashi chokes.

“I-I’m sorry!” Nishimoto yelps. “I didn’t mean to be nosy or anything, but there’s no one else I could think to ask and—”

“No, no, it’s fine,” Tadashi rushes to reassure the poor boy when he’s done coughing. “I was just a bit surprised. I’ll try my best to help, but why would you ask me?”

 “Well,” Nishimoto twiddles his thumbs, mumbling, “You and Tsukishima-san have a really nice relationship, and I just wanted to know how you confessed.” His eyes widen as a thought occurs. “Oh, unless it was Tsukishima-san who confessed first? He doesn’t seem like the type but—”

“We’re not dating,” Tadashi wheezes as he begins coughing again. He can feel his face light aflame as horror dawns on Nishimoto’s face.

“I’m not—I didn’t mean to—”

“I-It’s really okay,” Tadashi holds up a placating hand. “It’s just a simple misunderstanding.”

“I’m really sorry, senpai.” Nishimoto looks like he wants to cry, and Tadashi feels really bad. “I didn’t know who else to ask.”

“Nishimoto, do you like someone? I won’t judge you for it,” Tadashi promises.

Nishimoto nods tentatively.

“Is he on the team?”

Another nod.

“Are you planning on telling him?”

Nishimoto shrugs, eyes starting to glisten.

Ah, Tadashi thinks. That looks familiar. Then, What?

Fortunately, he is saved from thinking more along that line when the door bangs open and Hinata storms in, half-buttoned uniform flapping.

“Hi-Hinata-san!” Nishimoto squeaks.

“I lost my tie!” he wails, clutching at his orange hair and falling to his knees. Kageyama follows him in, noticeably pissed. “I thought I was wearing it today, so why?”

“I can’t believe you’re such a fucking dumbass!” he shouts as Hinata cowers. “You haven’t worn it all day! I swear you left it in my room this morning, but you won’t believe me!”

“Uh,” Tadashi catches Nishimoto’s attention again as Hinata whines something about Kageyama always harping on him these days. “I haven’t got any experience, but you could ask Kageyama for advice.”

“Huh?” Nishimoto frowns. “Did Kageyama-san confess to a guy?”

The bickering grinds to a halt. Both Kageyama and Hinata suddenly resemble tomatoes. If Tadashi were Tanaka or Nishinoya or even Kei he might have burst out laughing. Instead, he coughs.

“Yeah, to Shouyo.” He points. “They’re dating.”

Suddenly, there are three tomatoes.

“I have to go,” Tadashi mutters, picking up his bag. Even as he runs outside toward Kei’s figure leaning against the school gate, he feels something that is not quite nausea stir in the pit of his stomach. Nevertheless, the feeling is uncomfortable and foreign and Tadashi isn’t sure if he likes it.

--

There are a lot of parts to being a right wing spiker that Tadashi hadn’t even known about before. For one, it seems like he has to know how to do everything.

“A right side hitter has to be good at hitting sharp angles,” Ukai barks. “And you can’t slack off with the block, as you’ll be blocking the ace of the other team most of the time.”

He slogs his way through serve receive practice, shedding his horrendous inexperience with a few weeks of hellish drills and nonstop reps until he can pass for an adequate receiver.

He even has to learn how to set.

When he points out that Daichi and Ennoshita never had to know how to do it, Ukai just retorts with, “Well, they had Nishinoya to cover the set if Kageyama had to take the first touch. Next year, you’ll have a much less experienced libero, so I’m putting you in charge of setting the second ball.”

For the first few weeks, Tadashi improves quickly like most beginners who work hard tend to progress. Then, he hits the inevitable slump. Suddenly, it seems like he can’t receive for shit and every ball he touches goes flying straight into the block.

“Don’t mind,” Nishinoya says every time, clapping him on the back. “I’ll cover the block for you.” But Tadashi minds a lot, because he knows he should be pulling his own weight and making better use of his attacks.

Every time he comes close to giving up, he turns to see Kei staring at him, hard, sometimes with an eyebrow quirked up. He tries to ignore the nauseous sway in his stomach when he looks away.

It doesn’t get better with time. He can tell when his movements start getting sloppy with frustration, and he knows the team can tell, too. He wants to scream, but he knows losing control would be admitting defeat, so he gets up from the ground each time he falls.

Of all people, the next one to tap on his shoulder and ask for a talk is Narita. The worst part is Tadashi knows why.

“I really want to be a right side, Narita-san,” Tadashi says, his voice hushed in the club room, yet bordering on desperate. If Ennoshita decides that Tadashi can’t even do this, he won’t ever be of real use to the team. The win will never be truly his. “I really do.”

“No, you don’t.” The words are solid and calm, just like everything else Narita ever says, but they hold a sharp edge as well. “You don’t want switch to the right side, but you have to do it, because you want us to win, right?”

Tadashi hangs his head.

“That’s not a bad thing, Yamaguchi. You’re doing it for the sake of the team, right?”

“I feel like I can’t do it, Narita-san,” he confesses. His eyes sting. “I hate this. I miss playing middle.” He knows this. He knew this.

Somewhere in the back of his mind, Tadashi had always known. Volleyball hadn’t been about winning, or being cool, or hitting, or blocking, or even serving. It had always been about Kei.

It’s the best thing in the world, Yamaguchi, he had said once, just once, in elementary school, eyes shining. Getting a block is the best feeling.

And so Tadashi had chased that elusive, far-away feeling, because he had wanted to stand where Kei stood and even now, years later, he hasn’t reached the spot that Kei had reached that moment in elementary school. The tears begin to drip down his cheeks. Narita ruffles his hair and he can’t help but lean into the touch.

“You know,” he says thoughtfully as Tadashi hiccups, “Chikara, Hisashi, and I talked about this last year, too.”

“What?” Tadashi’s voice is watery as he looks up, surprised.

“Chikara was definitely the captain. We had all decided on that ages ago, but he and Ukai-san were having trouble picking a vice-captain between me and Hisashi,” Narita sighs. “None of us had been starters last year, but neither of us had the confidence to be the kind of support from the bench that Suga-san was, so Ukai-san gave us a choice: learn to be starters and support the team from the court, or choose to be a silent, unrecognized pillar for another year.

“I’m sure you know how it played out.” He gives Tadashi a wry smile. “Hisashi was used to pinch serving and I was used to being the third middle. He chose to rise to the challenge and fill Asahi-san’s spot, while I refused to change positions and decided I would be a back-up for the rest of high school. I know that I contribute to the team, but I also know that I cannot give the kind of support on the court that Karasuno and Chikara need from a vice-captain.”

 “Maybe I’m not fit to be captain, then,” Tadashi whispers, insecurity leaking into his voice. “I don’t know if I made the right choice, Narita-san.”

“Did I ever say that we were the same person, Yamaguchi?” Narita demands. “There are other people out there who had to make the same choice, you know, and everyone chose something different. Look at Watari from Seijou and Koganegawa from Datekou! They each switched to positions that they weren’t comfortable with at first, but each had his own reason. They each had personal motivation as to why they wanted to switch. Do you?”

“I don’t know,” Tadashi answers, a bit helpless. “Everyone says that all I ever do is follow around Tsukki. I’m not even a proper middle, yet I miss the position anyway. The closest descriptor for my role right now is pinch server, but even that’s not a proper position.”

“Following around Tsukishima?” Narita raises an eyebrow. “I know you’re capable of much more than that, Yamaguchi.”

“That doesn’t matter. When it really boils down to what I do best,” he spits, letting the bitter words spill out for once, “it’s following Tsukki.”

“Yamaguchi, no.” Narita’s face softens, but his tone is firm. “This is more than switching positions. If that were true, Chikara never would have picked you to be the next captain. What will you do when Tsukishima has to follow you?”

--

Tadashi loses his cool two weeks from Interhigh. He knows he won’t play, but he can see the tournaments looming like one deadline after another as he continues to mess up passes and spike straight into the block.

He’s standing in serve receive, sweat dripping down his chin, with Nishinoya and Tanaka during a particularly hellish drill where the rest of the team has to run every time the receivers can’t make a pass. It’s supposed to simulate the pressure of a real game and Tadashi knows no one resents him for shanking the ball over and over, but he can’t stand to watch the poor first years panting and red-faced because of his incompetence.

“Ten perfect passes in a row and you’ll be done,” Ukai yells, reminding them, before sending another ball over the net.

Tadashi squares up and catches the ball too far up on his forearms. It goes up much too far from the net.

The team sprints from one endline to the other for what seems like the eightieth time.

The next ball is short on the net and Tadashi dives for it, only to miss as it falls a foot too far in front of him.

Before anyone can take a step, Tadashi pounds a fist onto the floorboards and shouts, “FUCK!”

The gym stills as Tadashi pushes himself onto his forearms, then to his feet. He takes the towel off the net to wipe his sweat off the floor, wordless, as they stare.

They’d never heard Tadashi raise his voice so loudly in frustration, much less swear, and Nishimoto looks downright terrified. Hinata has a crease on his forehead and Kei stares at him, the slightest troubled look marring his expressionless face.

“Another one, please,” he directs at Ukai, too tense to be calm.

After practice, Nishinoya approaches him warily, resting a hand on his back.

“You okay, Yamaguchi?”

Tadashi stares moodily down at his water bottle and finally shakes his head. “I can’t get my receives right, Noya-san. I don’t think I can get to Ennoshita-san and Daichi-san’s level by this time next year.”

Nishinoya regards him for a long moment before turning to call across the gym, hands on his hips, “Kageyama! Got a moment after practice?”

Kageyama looks up from where he is sitting with Hinata, heads bent together, and nods.

“Wanna practice your serves against me and Yamaguchi?”

Kageyama nods again.

“There you go,” Nishinoya says simply as he turns back to Tadashi. He stares down at him, head cocked sharply to the side. “I’ll beat you into shape if you think you’re not good enough yet.”

Tadashi feels a small smile break onto his face despite the knot of frustration in his chest. “Thank you, Noya-san.”

Nishinoya grins back, clapping him on the back. “That’s more like it.”

That night, he sleeps at Kei’s house after being pummeled with unrelenting serves and feeling much worse for wear. They study for a while, then Tadashi borrows a set of worn middle school sweats to sleep.

As always, he starts on the futon on the floor that Kei’s mother still lays out for him because sometimes Kei sleeps badly and grinds his teeth in Tadashi’s ear.

Tonight, though, he is quick to rise and lift up Kei’s sheets. When he settles on the pillow, he finds Kei staring back at him, eyes bright and piercing. He doesn’t speak and Tadashi gets the feeling that he is waiting for something.

Does he want a question? An answer? Tadashi knows neither.

Finally, he mouths in the near dark, What?

Slowly, Kei lets his eyes blink closed. He sinks further into the pillow, limbs stilling with sleep. Tadashi waits for his breath to even out before he closes his eyes too, the ghost of Kei’s gaze still brushing against his skin.

--

Kei is injured in their fourth round. It’s their second day at Interhigh and they’re playing Seijou, their first difficult opponent so far. After last year’s Spring High finish, their seeding is the most advantageous in the tournament, guiding them through the first few games with weaker opponents.

And then, midway through the second set, after narrowly losing the first, Kei jumps for a block and comes down in a sickening tangle of limbs. The whistle blows frantically as the ball thumps to the ground, and Tadashi’s vision nearly goes white as his mind screams, Kei, Kei, Kei, Kei

He’s fine. His ankle is rolled bad enough to take him out for a week, but that’s nothing in the grand scheme of ankle injuries. He grits his teeth, spitting out curses under his breath so the referees can’t hear him, and manages to limp to the bench with minimal help from Kinoshita.

And then Ukai turns towards the bench, and Tadashi can feel the panic welling up for another reason. Their eyes meet for a moment, and Tadashi thinks, No no no no even as he realizes he’s already been subbed in to serve for Hinata and couldn’t possibly go in for a different position.

Then Ukai turns away and barks, “Narita!” and Narita steps forward, eyes hard and blazing even as Tadashi spots his fingers trembling.

He nudges Tadashi right before jogging onto the court, fixing him with a bright, familiar gaze. It’s the same focused stare that Hinata and Kageyama and Kei get when they stand on the court to fight. There are no words, but Tadashi hears the message anyway: Watch me. On this court, I will rise from the concrete to fight.

Ukai doesn’t look back again, but Tadashi curls in on himself in shame.

It’s a near win in the second set, despite the hiccup in Karasuno’s lineup.

Tadashi serves three more aces, a decent performance but not up to his usual standards. When he passes the bench on his way back after his last serve, a miss, Kei grasps his wrists for the briefest moment. Even when he’s half-sitting, half-lying across three chairs, his foot swollen like a grapefruit and propped up and wrapped in ice, he notices that Tadashi is in a funk. Tadashi can feel his throat closing up, but he swallows his tears and yells as loud as he can, burning the look of the five on Narita’s back into his eyes.

Narita plays unlike how Tadashi has ever seen him play before. He’s stiff in the beginning, but at one point, he turns back and roars after a stuff block, his clenched fists passionate and desperate and proud, and an aching longing in Tadashi’s chest stirs and itches.

The captains meet at the net, adrenaline and pulsing nerves barely contained under calm facades, and then Ukai is announcing the lineup for the third set. Tadashi feels sick at the prickle of relief when Hinata and Narita are called as the middles.

He’s turning back to stand with the rest of the bench when Ukai calls, “Yamaguchi! Come sit next to me.”

He gulps and complies, settling with tight fists on his kneepads. Takeda sits to his left, and then a few seats down Kei stares, tight-lipped and sharp-eyed, as the game starts.

“I know that you’re mature enough as a player that you know what your strengths and weaknesses are,” Ukai starts. “I just want you to watch, though. This seat is a lot closer to the players, and I want you to see them up close, alright? Watch your teammates.” He claps Tadashi on the back.

It’s different, Tadashi knows, but he is still blown away as the points tick by. Ukai jostles him when it’s time to go in to serve, and he enters with pinpoint focus. It’s not for himself (not yet), but for the third years, he can go back and pretend he knows he will succeed.

“What do you want, Yamaguchi?” Ukai murmurs at one point. “What is it you want to accomplish on the court?”

Tadashi watches until the last point. He watches the team pile up and sits on the bench with Kei until they bring the mass of tears and sweat and tangled limbs to the sidelines to engulf the last two victims, crying and laughing and ruffling Kei’s irritated head.

--

They win Interhigh. They go home toting a proud trophy, all bright smiles and tired eyes and happy tears.

The third years cry. Nishinoya and Tanaka cry the most, and even Ennoshita sheds a few tears. They’ll be staying for Nationals, but Tadashi can feel the looming chasm of next year yawning up to swallow him as Ennoshita claps him on the back.

Narita is standing right behind him, surging up to embrace Tadashi as he leaves.

“I saw you, Narita-san,” Tadashi sniffs, voice wet. I saw you play, and you fit so well under the lights overhead.

“Do you know what you want to do, Yamaguchi?”

“Yes,” he says. “Yes, I do. I want to win.”

Narita’s face breaks out into a smile, complete with shiny cheeks and teary grimace. “Good answer.”

“Yamaguchi,” Ukai calls amidst the celebration, gesturing. “A quick word.”

They stand in an emptier hallway, away from the shouts of elation, away from the cries of disappointment, away from the smack of balls and the squeak of shoes on the waxed gym floor.

“What did you think?” Ukai crosses his arms.

“I want to win,” Tadashi says. “I want to stand on the court next year and win.”

Ukai studies him for a moment, and then his face breaks out into a satisfied grin. “Good. That’s a good look on your face, kid.” He steps forward, clapping a hand onto Tadashi’s shoulder, and lowers his voice. “Let me ask you something. Do you know how much time a server gets to take between the whistle and the serve?”

Tadashi frowns. “Isn’t it five seconds?”

“That’s right,” Ukai nods. “It doesn’t seem that long, but in a game as fast as volleyball, it’s a lot of time. You get five whole seconds to collect yourself. You can walk back as slow as you want, and breathe as deep as you need before you serve. It’s the only move in volleyball that allows for that kind of luxury.”

He pauses for a moment, collecting the rest of his thoughts. “You’ve got a great serve, Yamaguchi. You’re excellent at going back to the end-line alone, collecting your thoughts, going through the same precise pre-serve routine every time, and smashing a hell of a serve.

“What I’m saying, kid, is that you shouldn’t compare yourself to the other second years. You’re not Hinata, and you’re not Kageyama, and you’re not Tsukishima, and you don’t need to be any of them. You’re steady, and you make slow, but good progress. This team needs you as a captain, not because you’re the only choice left, but because you’re you.”

When Tadashi joins the team again later, he has wet cheeks to match the rest of them.

--

They get a break for the week after Interhigh.

On the second day after the tournament, the second years take their vote and it becomes official: Karasuno’s new captain will be Yamaguchi. He puffs his chest as best he can with the phantom weight of the future number one pulling down on his back.

During that week, Tadashi makes two decisions, with the help of Ennoshita and Ukai. On Thursday, he approaches Kageyama at lunch with two propositions.

“Kageyama, can we talk outside?” he asks, heart hammering in his throat. He ignores Hinata’s curious glances between the two of them.

“Sure, Captain,” Kageyama grunts, a bit baffled but unsuspecting.

Tadashi grimaces. “Please don’t do that. I’m not even captain yet.”

Kageyama shrugs, but he also smirks a little, and Tadashi recalls that he had called Daichi Captain in their first year. The strict hierarchy of a large team at Kitagawa Daiichi had been thoroughly ingrained in its members, and old habits die hard. Tadashi doesn’t think he’s ready for people to call him by a title just yet.

They stand in the hallway a bit awkwardly, not quite face to face as Tadashi’s eyes slide off Kageyama’s face.

“What did you want to talk about?”

“So, our starting lineup will be down four members when the second years are gone next year,” Tadashi starts, licking his lips. “And I wanted to talk to you about their replacements.”

“Well, you’ll be playing in Ennoshita-san’s place, of course.”

Tadashi’s heart jumps. Of course. He can feel his face growing warm.

Kageyama chews his lip, distracted as he thinks. “We have Sato to fill in for Nishinoya-san and Inoue will be one of the wing spikers. They’ll be pretty good by the time they graduate. I guess either Ito or Kobayashi will be the other wing spiker? Kobayashi, probably. Ito’s got more power, but Kobayashi has better control.” He frowns a little. “Hmm. We’ll have to work on them.”

Tadashi sighs. “That’s the thing. I want to make sure we can have a solid lineup by Interhigh next year, even if Sato and Ito aren’t ready.”

Kageyama nods. “I agree. What do you want to do?”

“Well, we have other skilled first years who haven’t been mentioned yet,” Tadashi points out.

“Takahashi?” Kageyama frowns.

Tadashi shakes his head. “No, Takahashi’s not ready, and we’ve got two middles. I was thinking about Nishimoto.”

“Nishimoto’s a setter, though.” Kageyama trails off as a crease appears on his brow. “He’s not going to be a wing spiker, unless you ask him to switch positions.”

“No, I won’t do that. This team needs a setter after you graduate, and this is only a temporary solution until either Ito or Kobayashi get good enough to play on the wings.” Tadashi takes a deep breath. “I want you to be the right wing spiker when you’re in the front row.”

He winces at the incredulous look on Kageyama’s face. “I’ll be temporarily playing on the left side, until we can get someone else there.”

They’d done this their first year, but it hadn’t been a regular thing, a secret play of sorts, only for when they were really in a pinch. A few points in key moments of a match here and there are nothing compared to cutting down his setting time by one half. Tadashi fully expects Kageyama to protest (something along the lines of, No! I don’t want to hit! I only want to set!) but he just looks resigned.

“Fine.”

“’Fine?’” Tadashi gapes. “You’re okay with it?”

“Well, I don’t like not setting, but I see your point,” Kageyama huffs. “Besides, Nishimoto’s a good kid. He has good game sense.”

Tadashi thinks he could cry. Or laugh. Or both.

“Thank you, Kageyama. Thank you so much.”

“Why?” Kageyama looks troubled now. “You’re going to be in an uncomfortable position too. It’s for the team, right?”

“Yeah,” Tadashi nods, fake-solemn. “You’ve gotten a lot more mature, Kageyama. Last year, you never would have played anything but setter.”

Kageyama scowls.

“Which brings me to my second point,” Tadashi continues with a faint smile. He knows Kageyama didn’t put any heat behind the words. “Will you be my vice-captain?”

This time, it’s Kageyama’s turn to gawk. “What? Wouldn’t it make more sense if you picked Hinata or,” he grimaces, “Tsukishima?”

“Tsukki isn’t exactly good with the underclassmen,” Tadashi points out. Before Kageyama can cut in, he says, “I know Hinata is friendlier than you, but I want your game experience as a setter, Kageyama. Both Hinata and Tsukki are middles, and extremely specialized at that. I need to know that if something happens and I need to leave the court, I’ll have someone else to step up as floor captain and rally the team.”

Kageyama just looks at him for a long time, gaze razor-sharp. Tadashi fights the urge to squirm. He gets the sense that Kageyama is studying him, picking apart his best and worst traits and weighing them one by one.

“Kageyama?”

“I was thinking,” he starts, still staring. “You’re going to be a good captain.”

Tadashi flushes down to his roots, grinning. “So is that a yes?”

Kageyama cracks a smile too, small but genuine. “Yeah.”

--

“I heard that you asked Kageyama to be vice-captain next year,” Kei says on the way home.

It’s just the two of them today, ambling home in the gray not-yet-sunset time of day. Kageyama and Hinata have some kind of date or something, and they had skipped out the moment practice ended.

“Yeah, I did.” Tadashi looks up at Kei from the corner of his eye. His expression is as neutral as always.

“You didn’t tell me,” Kei says, and now there’s a small cleft starting to form between his eyebrows.

Tadashi swallows. “Did you want to be vice-captain?”

Kei doesn’t answer for a while, contemplating. “No. I just wanted to hear the news from you.”

“Oh,” Tadashi breathes, relief coloring his voice. “I’m sorry, Tsukki. I had just finished talking about it with Ukai-san and Ennoshita-san.”

Kei shrugs.

“You’ll still be my best friend,” Tadashi continues. He’s feeling bold today, a little drunk on success and validation. “Even if Kageyama is the vice-captain.”

“I know that, Yamaguchi,” Kei snorts. “Don’t be stupid.”

Another gulp. “We’ve been friends for so long, Tsukki. Why do you still call me by my surname?”

Kei doesn’t answer.

Tadashi frowns. “Tsukki?”

“I’m not going to call you some dumb nickname, Yamaguchi,” Kei mutters, cutting his eyes away.

“I know that, Tsukki,” Tadashi forces a laugh, stomach sinking. It had been a bad idea after all, but now that his mouth has started talking, it won’t stop. “What about Tadashi though? You could call me Tadashi.”

Kei bites his lip.

“You know, I talked with Narita-san right before Spring High,” Tadashi says, voice quiet. “About switching positions and being captain next year and everything.”

Kei waits for him to finish. Kei always waits for him to finish.

“I told him I didn’t think I was fit to be captain, because all I’ve ever done is follow you.”

Kei doesn’t say anything, but the cleft has grown deeper.

“You know what he said afterwards?” Tadashi tips his head back to watch the sunset, suspended in a slow inch of pink dye across the sky. “’What will you do when Tsukishima has to follow you?’ That’s what he told me.”

There’s a sharp inhale at this. Tadashi stops walking, and Kei only takes two more steps before he notices and turns back to face him.

Tadashi takes a deep breath. “I didn’t know the answer, so I wanted to ask you. What will you do when you have to follow me? What type of captain do you think I should be?”

It’s a question, and a clear one at that. Kei looks up, eyes searching, and Tadashi gazes back, waiting.

“If I had to listen to anyone in the world,” Kei finally says. “I would choose you, Tadashi.”

Tadashi blinks and reddens. “Tsukki, that’s not fair. You can’t wait so long after I—”

Kei steps forward in one swift motion, arms slightly jerky as he brings his palms up to Tadashi’s cheeks. Up close, Tadashi can see how his eyes are shaking and his brow is furrowed with concentration.

He’s nervous, Tadashi thinks, dazed. He barks out a short laugh, shot with nerves.

“What?” Kei asks, irritated.

“Nothing,” Tadashi shakes his head. “I’ll yell at you if you don’t sprint during drills.”

Kei’s expression morphs from incomprehension to surprise to disgust. He drops his hand, stuffing it back into his trouser pocket. “Fine.”

Tadashi laughs again, leaning forward to land a peck on Kei’s lips. His chin bumps against Kei’s headphones as he draws back. He watches with delight as Kei jerks back, shocked, his ears furiously red.

“I’ll be the best at serve-receive next year,” Tadashi tells him later on. “I’ll be so cool, the new first years will be scared of me too.”

If they brush shoulders more than usual, Kei doesn’t say anything.

Before parting, Tadashi receives exactly ten seconds of direct skin-to-skin contact when Kei’s fingers thread through his, pressing together their sweaty palms and sending thrills racing up Tadashi’s spine.

At the end, Kei, leans his face all the way in and draws back at the last moment, biting his lip with uncharacteristic hesitance. Tadashi isn’t even disappointed at being deprived of a kiss. As he watches Kei’s retreating back, he thinks maybe taking things slowly suits him better.