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They Need to Keep Touching in This One

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Biological Sciences, Sixth Edition

Tangling and its Effects

“Tangling is the psychic and empathic connection which occurs when two people with matching TANG1e genomes make skin to skin contact. As a result of all the new mental and emotional stimuli, most Tangled matches experience feverish symptoms when separated from each other during the early stages of their connection.”

Hinata's POV

The first time I see Kageyama, I'm in middle school, and I’ve just puked my breakfast down the toilet drain.

My two closest friends are waiting for me off the court. I’m focused on my reflection in the bathroom mirror, mouthing the words—I will lead them to victory.

It doesn’t matter if all the guys around me are bigger and taller, or if they have full teams when all I have is a scraped together excuse for one. It doesn't matter because the only thing I want to do is get on the court and play. 

The bathroom door bursts open—whacked way too hard—and a boy looms in the entryway. Everything about him is crisp. The fit of his gym clothes. The smooth lay of his hair. The straight-backed, sharp-jawed sneer he’s giving me—as if I’ve somehow offended him by hunching over a sink for a private pep talk.

A shiver presses a cold slick up my spine. I grip the porcelain edges of the sink tighter and meet his glare head-on.

I didn’t know that was just how his face looked all the time (all hard lines leading down). Or that I’d be staring at it from across the net after I’d lost my last point, and I wanted to be swallowed by the court. All the while, his glare drilled into me—daring me to try climbing back up.

I cried at him on the entrance steps that day, swearing I’d defeat him. 

It was sort of perfect, though. I had someone to beat—my very own rival.

The first time I touch Kageyama, it's an accident. We run into each other racing for the gym door. 

The scratchy skin on his elbow jabs me in the arm like a shot from the doctor. The nasty kind that burns all the way down your bloodstream and gives you a rash that itches for days.

He should back off, apologize—that’s what people do! You can’t touch someone you just met. That sort of thing is personal, you know? It’s for, like, families and couples and… He should back off, but he doesn’t. So I don’t either. 

I jab him right back and muscle my way through the door even as he tries to yank me out of the way by my throat. I’m not backing down—matching challenge for challenge, matching shove for shove—and I don’t want it to be over, and I need to beat him into the gym because I can’t let him get away from me! 

I said Kageyama would be my rival—we don’t actually get to be rivals, though. Not how I was thinking. Daichi won’t hear of it. We keep fighting anyway, and as punishment, Kageyama and I have to team up and prove we can work together in a three-on-three match without bringing the rest of Karasuno down.

Only, the game isn’t going well. Kageyama won’t toss to me. He’s getting all dark and tight as if all those lines in him are drawing right up, and he’s gonna start crumpling in on himself. 

Tsukishima won’t stop bad-mouthing him for being a tyrant. I guess the guys in Kageyama’s middle school hung him out to dry in a match. He’s acting like all his biggest secrets are being blasted over the internet. I mean, I get what Tsukishima’s saying, Kageyama is a tyrant. But who cares? What does any of that matter if you get to hit his sets? It’s as if those middle school teammates of his didn’t even want to play volleyball. 

Kageyama’s all messed up over this. So we’re losing. We’re losing, and I haven’t even touched the ball once! It doesn’t matter to me what he did on his old team. He’s here now, and his tosses practically sing through the air. 

I need to hit one.

I jump as high as I can because Tsukishima is so tall and I want it so bad and I need to go further, do more, be better. I’m here, and I want the ball. I’m here. I’m here, I want the ball—and then the ball comes right towards me. I slam it down with a smack. 

The sting is still burning in my palm as Kageyama fists my shirt, dragging me up, snarling compliments at me. His ghosty, haunted house face is gone. His knuckles are digging into my collar, and he’s kind of spitting on my cheeks. I’m alive from my chest to my ankles.

That’s a quick—apparently—the technical word for it. It feels like fire.

I have to do it again. 

Kageyama tosses me another, then another and another, but I miss them all. I can feel everything around me when I surge into my jump. There’s too much information. Every single one of the fluorescent bulbs in the gym is glaring at me. The net seems twice as long as usual. I can practically sense where everyone is in the raised hair on the back of my neck—not just Tanaka and Kageyama, but also Tsukishima, Daichi, and Yamaguchi. I try to hit another ball, but my eyes cut to where I know Kageyama’s moving to receive, and Tsukishima blocks it. 

If I keep going like this, I’ll lose Kageyama’s tosses for good.

At the set break, Kageyama grabs me by my shoulders. “Hinata!” There’s something wild in his eyes. I think he has a plan. Or he might be getting ready to choke me. “Forget adjusting to the ball,” he says, smirking so wide... I’ve never seen this many of his teeth. “You don’t even need to see the ball.”

I gape at him. My head feels a lot like a TV screen on static. “Ha?”

“Just hit it with everything you have!”

I do. 

I do it all. Exactly how he said.

I don’t think... I shut my eyes. I jump.

I can feel the space out in front of me, under me, around me. But there’s less information this way. And I don’t need to take it all in anyhow. I know the ball will be there for me because Kageyama said it would be. So I reach out, and it is. Slamming it down is almost… easy. 

I hit the ground, and heat screams through me—a thrill. Kageyama’s the one gaping now, ranting about how insane I am. That he didn’t mean for me to close my eyes. That I shouldn’t trust that way.

All I know is, we’re going to win.

And I'll jump off a tower for him if he’ll keep giving me sets like fire.

The first day I wake up feeling off, my skin’s warm, but I have chills up my arms and down my legs that make me want to scratch all over. There’s also this pressing on the inside of my head like it’s too big and heavy from all the noise around me. As if my brain has nowhere else to go than directly into the backs of my eyes. My ceiling fan won’t stop ticking, and Natsu is shuffling around like crazy downstairs. 

I chug a glass of water and get up anyway. I figure I’ll feel better after I get my hands on a ball. Kageyama’s supposed to practice our new quick with me, so I know I’ll get to handle the ball a lot. The way he tosses them, they’re gonna be good. I can already feel the firm press of pearly leather in my palms. I’m going to make him lose it like last time—gonna smack the ball so hard onto the other side, no one can stop me, and his mouth will fall open, and he’ll have to admit I’m good. That I’m a real challenge, and he can’t ignore me because if he stops paying attention, I’ll outdo him. 

I don’t want to miss that over some cold or itch or whatever. So I get dressed and shovel down some food at breakfast. Mom’s frowning a bit at me, but I tell her not to worry.

I lock my bike up in front of the school. Kageyama’s waiting for me at the entrance gate, and he shoulders me as we head into the gym for practice. Rude. I roll my eyes and shove him back, driving the flat of my hand into the side of his head to knock him off balance. I don’t really care. Kageyama’s rude all the time.

Inside, the sharp sting of Air Salonpas and the squeak of the floor under my sneakers fill me like oxygen pumped into a volleyball. I feel big and light and better. I knew I’d feel better after a little volleyball.

Morning never feels great after that. Too many headaches. Itchy, clammy skin. But practice clears me right up—every time.

Mom tries to talk to me at breakfast one day even after I tell her my head is pounding like one of Natsu’s toy drums. I have to cover my eyes with my hand to block out all the light while I eat.

She rests a palm over my arm. “Shouyou, you've been getting home so late. I'm worried about you biking over the mountain in the dark. I know you love volleyball, but there were times where you weren’t consumed by it completely . Look at what this is doing to you!”

I shake my head and swallow a mouth full of rice. "It's fine, I'll feel better when I get to practice."

She’s tapping the table anxiously. I wish she wouldn't, it's thumping in my head.

"Shouyou, I don't want you working yourself to the bone just to stay on the team. I know you were having trouble with that boy you hate–"

"I don't hate him," I say without thinking, only to realize that it's true. I don't . Huh. Not sure when that happened.

I drop my hand from over my eyes and give her my best reassuring smile.

Mom sighs. Something crosses over her face that I don't understand, but I don’t worry about it. It’s time to go to practice.

I dream about Kageyama's tosses a lot. In my dreams, I’m flying. My eyes are closed, but I can sense the whole court around me—a physical blueprint. The curve of the ball hugs my palm, and I know I can make it go anywhere I want if I tip my fingers right.

Sometimes I wake up and wonder why I never considered becoming a setter myself. It’s alright, though. To win, I need to understand all of the positions on the court. 

I’m wrestling Kageyama as we leave the gym. Daichi and Suga are brushing past us, chatting about their plans to hang out over the weekend. It’s night already. The street lights are blinking, so when Kageyama drops his chin, shading his face out with the hair falling over his eyes—he’s all ghosty, like the expression he had during our three-on-three with Tsukishima. 

I can tell he’s just waiting for us to turn on him the way his old teammates did. But worrying about that type of thing will do him in, we’ll never win if he can’t trust us. I want to grab his face and yell that he’s not alone. But that won’t work. He wouldn’t believe me.

Instead, I hook an arm around his neck and tow him by headlock over to my bike. “Alright,” I say, pushing up to stand on my pedals, so there’s room for him to sit. “Show me where your home is!” 

“Oi!” he says. “You can’t just invite yourself over!”

“C’mon.” I fire a thumbs up at him. “It’s fine. Get on!”

He pulls at his collar, grimacing as if I’m the biggest idiot he’s ever met, and he’d rather be anywhere else then right here, and also like he sorta might want to get on from how he keeps scowling at the bike seat.

Then he does , avoiding my eyes and shifting the strap across his chest, so his bag lays over his back. I wonder, as I kick off, if Kageyama has ever had someone over before.

When we have a practice match with Seijoh for the first time, my stomach declares war on me. I wobble to the bathroom in the school building before I have to load into the bus. I didn’t sleep that well, so my head is still cloudy, and the fit of my uniform is too tight in this heat.

My stomach is still a mess when I’m done in the bathroom, but I’m so empty I’m not in much danger anymore. 

Kageyama is waiting for me out in the hallway. He’s crouched against the tile wall, scowling at a bottle of water he’s holding. The lights in the school aren't on yet. It’s so early, it’s still dark out. He could pass for a gremlin all folded over in shadow with his knees pinned up. 

He takes one look at me—probably not a pretty sight at the moment—and throws something from his pocket at my head. I catch it before whatever it is hits me in the face. Then he’s pushing up off the wall, slamming his water bottle into my chest, and disappearing into the bathroom. The door swings behind him with a whoosh.

I’m left alone in the hall, staring down at my hands. It’s a foil strip of pills for diarrhea. Kageyama must have stomach trouble too.

By the time we’re all on the bus, the medicine has already started to kick in, and I’ve downed half of Kageyama’s water bottle, so my head is clearing up too. I think he’s fallen asleep. His eyes are closed, and his head is flopped over onto the back of my seat. There’s this humid spot on my shoulder from how he’s breathing all open-mouthed on me. So gross. I bet he drools too. 

I don’t bother pushing him off, though. I’ve never seen him this soft, all the jagged lines in him are droopy and noodly. Half the time, his eyebrows are pinched down by his nose in glare-spikes, but now they’re all flat with some of the hairs sticking up the wrong way. I kind of want to brush them back into place. I pick at the end of my team jacket with my chewed up fingernails.

He won’t care, right? Kageyama likes to be all groomed and stuff. I reach forward and run my thumb over the stray hairs to smooth them down. The sun is sneaking up outside, tinting his face pink like the chocolate on strawberry pocky, or those swirls on the inside of kamaboko fishcake.

As I pull my hand away, Kageyama scrunches up his nose for a second and wriggles his head back into my shoulder like he’s some sort of spoiled show dog readjusting on his cushion. 

Kageyama smells like fabric softener—the cotton breeze kind Mom says is too expensive—and it’s making me drowsy. I haven’t changed any clothes in my gym bag out in at least a week, but everything Kageyama wears is always straight from the laundry machine. Clean freak. I’m not even kidding.

The first time I notice Kageyama that way… he's sucking down a box of milk from a vending machine outside Seijoh’s gym.

His mouth is bunched up around the straw, so it’s this rumpled pinkish O. He must use lip balm or something cause they look soft. Maybe I should try to steal some off of him when he’s not looking. My lips are pretty chapped—I chew them when I get too excited at games.

Kageyama crushes his milk box and shoves two coins into the machine to grab another, sucking that one down too. 

It’s spitting hot outside. A bead of condensation on the carton drips over the tips of his fingers. (He files his nails for setting like it’s a religion.) Kageyama’s cheeks are hollowed out, and he’s glaring at the wall as if it takes tons of focus to drink all that milk, or maybe he’s mad at it and has to show it who’s boss. 

“That’s a whole lot of milk you’re taking down,” I tease, bouncing a volleyball against the cinderblock wall.

He narrows his eyes at me suspiciously, cause he’s insanely paranoid that way. “What’d you say to me?” 

“Isn’t it gonna—you know,” I wedge the ball under my arm, motioning at my stomach, “mess you up for the game?”

Kageyama looks utterly baffled for half a second, then he’s rolling his eyes so hard it’s almost scary to see so much white in them. “Nothing's wrong with my stomach, dumbass, those pills were for you.”

“For m-me…?” Heat prickles up the back of my neck.

“You shit your guts out before the last match...” He scratches his nose. It’s sort of flushed, pink lemonade-ish—just as sour too probably. I think Kageyama’s embarrassed to admit he was paying this much attention to me. Still, he can’t feel anywhere as embarrassed as I do, cause... Was he really paying me that much attention? 

“I figured you wouldn’t prepare,” he goes from mumbling to glaring, but it barely looks scary with how red his face is burning. And I guess that pisses him off cause he grabs me by the shirt, snarling through his teeth, “I’m not gonna lose to Oikawa because you had a stomach ache like a brat!”

It’s so obvious he’s freaking out since I noticed something nice he did, that I can’t help it—I laugh. He’s such an idiot. He can’t even handle trying to do me a favor. My laugh falls apart into giggles, I drop the ball, and I’m dizzy with giddiness. I can’t make myself care that I probably have a dopey smile on my face.

Kageyam’s bottom lip pushes up in the most dramatic frown I've ever seen. But it’s all wobbly, so I know he’s trying not to give up his bully act with a smile. 

I should pull at his cheeks and drag his mouth out of that frown so he can’t pretend to be such a tough guy. I should bite that look right off his face.

Kageyama growls at me, and shoves my head down, rubbing tangles into my hair in some weirdo mix of anger and broody-yama affection.

We wrestle, and I yank at the collar of his jersey as hard as I can, exposing the long stretch of his throat. A sheen of sweat flashes down at the hollow of his collarbone. I want, suddenly, to put my mouth on it. 

I swallow.  

Kageyama gets the upper hand cause I’m frozen, watching how his throat tightens as he barks at me. All I want to do is keep watching.

I think that’s not allowed, though—watching. I think that might mean something. So I shift my eyes away from his throat, only to spot the place his jersey is ridden up over the jut of his hip bone. He has a bruise there from the other day when I elbowed him. It’s right over the freckle—the tiny one that looks faded, not the brown one under his belly button that’s the exact shade of the caramel at the bottom of purin. 

Then Kageyama has me in a headlock, but that has nothing to do with how hard it is to breathe right now. I guess... I’ve been watching him for a long time.

I can’t do extra practice with Kageyama Friday night because Mom left me in charge of Natsu (she has to go out of town to visit her sister). It misty-drizzles outside as Kageyama follows me home up the mountain, and we take turns wheeling my bike along. The sky's as purple as taro Kit Kat bars. A raindrop is caught on Kageyama’s upper lip, where it’s puckered up into a pout. A damp mustache begging me to kiss it away.

Kageyama doesn’t know what to do with himself without volleyball. Maybe I don’t either because we end up playing ‘keep the ball in the air’ with Natsu in the living room (Gotta take advantage—Mom’s not here to scold us.) At one point, the rain outside picks up, pattering on the windows. This is the best rainy day I can remember. Natsu is actually straddling Kageyama like a donkey and ordering him to, “Giddy up!” 

And he listens! 

He’s got a gobliny scowl on his face, but there’s no way he’d do as she said if he hasn’t fallen head over steam bun for her. Grumbly fooling around is basically the only way he knows how to express himself. I could swear, there's a blink of the eye when she ruffles his hair for being such a good stud, that his face goes soft and he lets her smile at him. Natsu is magic. Creamsicle, sunshine magic.

It’s just that I want… I want so badly to be her right now. I should knock her onto the couch and grab onto Kageyama myself. I could. I might... if I can make myself believe he would ever be so soft with me. I don’t budge.

None of these feelings are right, anyway. Natsu's my baby sister, and she’s having a good time. It scares me what I’d be willing to do to make Kageyama give me that look.

At lunch one afternoon, me and Kageyama are huddled on the narrow balcony outside my classroom window. We’re leaning up against the side of the building, eyeing Mount Funagata. It’s a volcano. (I learned about it in class.) You wouldn't know just from looking at it, though. Funagata is covered in trees—exactly the shape of a giant fuzzy Bulbasaur.

I go to pop a sausage from my bento in my mouth (I cut it into strips on one side, so it flared out into tiny octopus tentacles when I fried it), and Kageyama snags my wrist. He drags it to his lips and eats my octopus sausage straight from my hand. For half a trembling second, the fire-wet of his tongue skims my fingertips. Alarm flares through me in one hot surge. If Funugata erupts today and scorches through Miyagi, I bet it would feel a lot like this.

Kageyama rolls his eyes at me and shoves a tamagoyaki roll from his bento in my face as if it should pacify me. He has no idea what’s going through my mind. Why would it occur to him? He’s never felt this way about me... I don’t think he ever will.

Kageyama says I can be great! That I have super fast reflexes and a power jump. He says it smack in the middle of training, and the whole team is there. He figures—since I can hit his monster sets—I’m gonna make a major difference in the outcome of our games… I’m buzzing all over. I’m ready. All I can focus on is, I’m not gonna get left behind, I’m gonna show him how hard I can fight, let’s do this! Let’s take on the world. Show me the tower—I’ll jump.

In our training camp practice match against Nekoma, I try it for the first time. I hit one of our quicks with my eyes open . I control the ball. It doesn’t happen right away. Hitting with my eyes open is just like the first time I tried to repeat a quick. The gym is twice as big, and twice as bright from in the air, and all the players drag at me for attention, needling over my skin like pins in a map. There’s too much to take in all at once, and before I know it I’ve missed the ball. 

I miss too many. But Kageyama keeps sending them to me anyway. He gets it. Nekoma is strong. We’ll lose if we don’t push with all we’ve got. I refuse to lose.

That’s when I finally hit one. The gym is still too big and bright, and everything is too much, but I don’t let my eyes leave the ball. Kageyama sends it arching through the air, floating for a pretty heartbeat right out in front of me. Flames lick over my skin. I shut all the rest out and reach.

It lands with a crack against the gym floor. 

In a second, Kageyama has his fist in my hair, roaring like Godzilla (good roaring). I can’t pull my eyes from my stinging hand. 

This isn’t ease. Not how it was before. This is power.

“You know…” Kenma says from across the net when our team has settled down. “You have to declare when you have a Tangled match in your lineup.”

I glance up, still tingling. 

Tanaka strays a look at where Suga’s pulled Dachi over to whisper something and shakes his head dismissively. “We thought that too, but they’re not Tangled at all.”

Kenma’s lips curve down at the edges. “That’s not–” 

“No, seriously!” Tanaka insists, throwing his hands up. “We did all the tests!”

We did. Suga laughed the whole time while Tanaka made him and Daichi press their foreheads together and work out how many fingers the other was holding up behind their back. It was hilarious and a total mess. They couldn’t guess any of each other's numbers right. Suga played along, but I could tell the whole thing irritated him.

“No...” Kenma tugs at a piece of hair falling over his eyes. I don’t think he appreciates both our teams zeroing in on him this way. “I meant Shouyou and Kageyama.”

“Ha?" I blurt out at the same time as Kageyama. He has this dumb look on his face as if someone said there won’t be any lunch today. 

"That guy?" I ask, pointing, and in a rush, “you must be joking,” only to realize Kageyama’s said the same thing. He’s gawking at me, eyes all wide. A charge zigzags down my spine. I twitch.

The gym is silent in a held breath. Now everyone’s zeroed in on us instead. 

“See,” Kenma says. “They're mirroring each other. And they’ve been playing without any signals this whole game.”

Suga rubs his chin. “But they've been doing that from the beginning.” 

A flood of gratitude runs through me for him.

Tanaka’s eyes dart from me with my brain on overdrive (I can’t help it. Nothing Kenma’s saying is making any sense) to Kageyama, who’s all taut and squid-eyed. Tanaka must also decide this makes no sense since he turns on Kenma, all wolfishly. “What’s going on here, are you trying to rub in the fact that we're losing?” 

Kenma slumps back with a worn-out huff. He’s not the type to be wrong much. He shrugs.

Then Daichi sweeps in to clear up the whole misunderstanding, and everyone else goes on like nothing happened. Only I can’t stop wondering why Kenma would assume we were Tangled. That’s… serious—real-world stuff that's ages from Volleyball games.

Kageyama has to slap me out of it, so we can throw up our best fight. 

We lose anyway. Nekoma’s team is an unbreakable unit. We’re all still figuring out how to work together.

I pull Kenma aside after the match. We’re both sticky with sweat, and he looks like a run over kitten with how his hair is drooping off of him. “Why did you say that before?” I ask in a hushed voice. I don’t want anyone overhearing us. This gym isn’t that big, and it’s packed between our two teams. (Way too many people for Kageyama to handle. He’s by the exit, glaring over at us.)

“Because it seemed obvious,” Kenma says.

“Obvious that we’re Tangled?” I echo back. Where would he even get an idea like that? Getting Tangled up with someone is about as likely as finding another person with your eye color—your exact eye color. That kind of compatibility— stupid levels of compatibility—there are only a couple cases in any town.

“Shouyou…” he slumps as if this is all too draining to bother with. “If you’re not Tangled, how are you and Kageyama able to play without any signals? He always knows where you’re about to go, and you can hit his tosses with your eyes closed… literally.” 

“I-I don’t know,” I say because I don’t . “I just jump, and I’m sure he’ll get me the ball. I can feel it coming at me once he's thrown it, you know?”

Kenma doesn’t, apparently. He has this wrinkle at the top of his nose, like how Mom sometimes gets when she’s worried about me.

I never used to care about Tangled matches. We learned about it in school. When I was a kid, we had this assembly with a cartoon video to teach us we should keep our hands to ourselves—no big deal. I’ve never actually thought all that Tangled stuff could apply to me.

I scratch my arm. The sweat on my skin is drying, and it’s starting to itch. It makes me want to shed it off. I need to go toss a few balls with Kageyama and work my body out.

But something is pasting me to my spot. This whole Tangled thing has my head all gummy. Maybe it’s just the dreams about setting or that I kinda like to watch Kageyama, and yeah sure, I’ve thought about maybe kissing him a couple of times and the way I feel like fire when we play, but… I’ve only ever felt those things with him . If there were a chance that we... “H-how could I tell, if-somehow-we were-maybe…”

Kenma’s pinning me with this squinty look, and there’s so much left-over game energy in my body I can’t stop shuffling from foot to foot. 

Finally, he says, “Tangled matches can read each other emotionally…”

I chew on my lip. “Okay, but how could you, like, test that?”

“I’m not sure.” He’s pulling on his team jacket. I don’t know how he can stand to wear more layers in this heat. “But they can’t go very far from each other for a while without getting sick. You’d have to touch a lot.”

“Oh!" I let out a breath, dismissing the idea with a wave. "Well, we don't do that.” 

Kenma blinks once, twice. As if he has no idea what I’m talking about. “He touched you at least two dozen times during our game, I thought…” There’s that worried wrinkle again. “Are you not dating him?”

My stomach swoops at the word—a rushing, dropping thud. Dating. Dating Kageyama! “No. No. No–definitely not!” I say, but I don’t think Kenma believes me for some reason. And Kuroo is prowling over now, even though I still have no idea what to do with all this. I should never have asked about any of it.

Kenma heaves his gym bag up and stuffs it into Kuroo’s arms with a nod. Kuroo seems to get whatever that means immediately, since he backs off without a word, giving us space. When Kenma turns back to me, he says, “There should also be a mental link… thought sharing. Or well, people don’t think in sentences usually, but Tangled matches can get into each other’s heads.”

Into each other’s heads.

I’m nodding, and fist-bumping him, and running back to where the rest of the team is because I have an idea... First, I just have to hit some singing tosses.

The sky is fish-egg orange as Suga locks the gym up. 

Kageyama is tucking a volleyball under his arm just for me. He said yes, by the way. We’re going to throw the ball around a little bit on the grass before we head home. “What was that about with their setter?” he grumbles, side-eyeing the shadowy part of the parking lot where Nekoma is loading onto their bus.

Tanaka slams him on Kageyama’s shoulders. “C’mon now, you can’t get jealous every time shorty makes a new friend!” 

Kageyama’s spine snaps pretzel-straight. And I laugh because Tanaka’s got it all wrong, and Kageyama’s twitching like I might dart away—I can’t believe he still thinks I’m going anywhere without his tosses, without him.

I corner Suga the next day in the clubroom when he’s shutting down for the night, flashing him a grin and a peace sign. “I need a favor!”

Suga’s face has this glowy thing it does when he smiles. The sharp clubroom lights bring out how pale his hair is against his skin. His teeth are really straight too. I see Daichi staring at them sometimes when Suga is talking to us about plays. I kinda also wish I had teeth that nice. 

“So, um,” I stutter. “Tomorrow, would you go ask Kageyama what he wants for a snack?”

Suga’s eyebrows go straight up, but it’s fine. I have a plan!

“Why would you want to know something like that?” 

I can hear the door to the gym clack closed. Everyone else has probably left for the night.

“It’s nothing,” I say quickly, strapping my bag over my shoulder in a rush. “I owe him some money, so I was gonna buy him something from Sakanoshita.” I jog a little in place, stamping a shush shush sound in the floor mat, and hit Suga with one more grin—I try to make it a good one, the kind of grin you wouldn’t mind repaying with favors. “So, will you do it?”

“Alright, alright.” He chuckles, nodding in defeat. “Sure.”

Perfect. No one needs to know anything. I’m going to clear this whole thing up, then move on to more important things—like Nationals. And I still have to surpass Kageyama.

All morning as I bike up the mountain, I think really hard about melon buns. I race Kageyama from the school gate to practice, and as we change into our uniforms in the club room. I even try to, like, send him melon bun messages with my mind.

He eyes me as he pulls his shorts up his hips. He’s already sweating. A bit of skin on the inside of his thigh is shining. 

My tongue sticks dry to the roof of my mouth.

“Do you need to take a pill again or something?” he asks, aggravation is written all over his face—not much different than usual. 

I ignore him, thinking melon buns as loudly as I can, doing my best to not look anywhere near his legs.

Halfway through practice, when I’m catching my breath on the sidelines, Suga whispers to me that Kageyama says he wants a curry bun. It’s almost a relief. It is a relief, I tell myself. And I decide the case is settled, we’re definitely not… you know.  

Only...later, when Kageyama and I head home and buy our snacks at Sakanoshita, he steals a bite out of my melon bun (he calls it a bite even though half my bun is gone) (bun stealer).

Now I have half a bun with Kageyama’s teeth marks in it. I fit my own teeth against the imprints and cram the bun into my mouth.

I have half a bun and no idea what this means.

I try again. This time, I ask Kageyama what he wants to do over the weekend. I think arcade, arcade, arcade, arcade—pinball, claw machines, gachas, arcade !

He says he wants to practice receiving… which, sure, yeah, now I want to do that too. I can’t let him get one up on me.

Next, I have Suga tell Kageyama to meet me after his Biology test—which he definitely bombed because I know for a fact he didn’t do last week’s homework or bother to study how he was supposed to. Suga asks me where to send him, but I just grin and say, “He’ll know where.” He won’t, obviously. I want to see if he can read where I’ll be from my mind.

Like clockwork, after the fourth-period bell rings, Kageyama strolls up to me—all defeated—by the patch of grass at the corner of the school where we run through tosses when the gym is locked. 

“Y-you found me!” I say, excitement rising in my chest. 

“Yeah…” He glares. Graphite is smudged into the skin under his eyes in little arcs, making his eyes seem even bigger. He was probably rubbing there during the test with his fingers dirty from his pencil. He does that sometimes. “This is where you always are.”

He’s right, I realize. It sorta is.

This is so much harder than I thought.

Ukai herds us together on the gym floor for a team meeting on Saturday. My sweaty calves slide against the polished surface. Tsukishima takes one look at Kageyama and me and juts his chin out. “Do you have to be so disgusting in public?”

I feel a squeeze and stare down at where my hand is locked with Kageyama’s. My breath hitches in my throat, and I catch the panic icing over Kageyama’s face in the floor’s reflection just as he pulls away.

Looking back, Kenma was probably right about the touching thing. It’s hard not to notice all the casual skin contact we have now. We’re only ten minutes into stretching before team drills, and Kageyama’s already bumped shoulders with me, yanked on my hair when I took too long (according to his royal highness) tying my sneakers, and nudged me to drink before we started sweating. I might have, maybe, bumped him a few times too. It’s automatic, I don’t know how to stop. Half the time, I'm touching him before I've even considered it. The other half, I don't pick up on the contact until one of us is shifting away.

When we’re all on the floor by the net, trying to reach our toes, I say, “Hey, sleepy-yama, what’s my favorite color?” I’m definitely right that he can’t have slept well because all he does is stare blearily at me. I think, blue , and shove his leg with the toe of my sneaker. “Well?”

Kageyama folds over, so his nose is touching his knees, and his back flattens out completely as he exhales into the stretch. His fingers are so long (setting fingers), he can hold them three inches past his toes without any trouble. It’s not fair that he can bend like that. It makes me want to bend over him and–

“Blue, duh,” he says.

I choke on the saliva in my mouth, and cough into my fist, clocking Suga frowning out the corner of my eye.

Kageyama slaps me on the back until I can breathe again. It burns at my skin. It’s probably not good how much I like that. 

“Your bike is blue,” he says, pulling away too soon to stretch his arms across his chest. The synthetic fabric of his jersey strains from the curve of his bicep to his shoulder blade. He rolls his neck. “Plus, you always pick Sonic in Super Smash Bros.” 

Oh… That’s not how it’s supposed to work. He can’t use clues... Am I not thinking loudly enough? My body sags heavily as I try to fold over myself again, hiding my face against my legs. How can I still not know? I’m never going to figure this out...

I roll my ankle at practice. Roll is an exaggeration, actually. I barely tweaked it on an off landing. Not that you’d know it by Kageyama’s reaction.

He’s furious—glaring daggers at me as he binds it in ice at the end of our day. “You said you wanted to play in the Spring Tournament, right?” he demands. “How are you going to do that if you're not careful about injuries?” He says it like I was trying to get hurt, just to make his life more difficult. Like this is some personal slam against him. 

I could not be rolling my eyes any harder. Still, I let him keep icing it because that’s helping, and the pads of his fingers are warm and gentle as he tries to pinpoint any swelling. If I tell him my calves are sore too, I wonder if he’d rub them down. 

Kageyama doesn’t let me walk on my ankle at all... Which is how I end riding piggyback as he trudges home. My house is too far to go with an injury… At least according to him.

“I don't even have anything with me,” I say, eyeing a pigeon on a phone line, backlit by the sun hanging low. I’m trying not to think too hard about all the places my body is touching his right now. 

“Stupid,” he huffs. This has got to be a workout, even for him. “Just use mine. We still have that toothbrush you left last time.”

He kept that? My toothbrush—a permanent item on his bathroom sink. It’s cool and muggy outside, but I’m warm all over.

Kageyama’s bedroom is spotless. It’s not natural. My bedroom floor is covered in clothes and Volleyball magazines and… I’m not sure, to be honest. But, it’s small and cramped—totally different. 

Kageyama has all his books neatly stacked at the foot of his bed (which is made!), and he has nothing on his desk. There's all this space to lay out—that’s what we're doing right now.

We’re watching an old recording of an Olympic volleyball match on his laptop, sprawled out on the green checkered futon I use whenever I stay over. “Did you see that?” I ask, glancing at him. “That was just like the one serve you did the other day!”

I’m not sure when it got so late. The only light in the room is the blueish glare from Kageyama’s laptop. It’s throwing stripy shadows over his chin as he rubs it on the back of his hand, not smiling. 

He’s a thousand kilometers away. 

“What's with that face?” I have to nudge him with my shoulder three times before he answers.

“I was thinking,” he sighs, eyes pinned down on the futon. “I don’t get why you... trust me.”

Still, after all this time, he can’t let go of this. I want to reach over and drag him to me. To hold him tight enough that he’ll stop believing he’s alone. I can’t, of course. He would know everything then. But the thing is, trusting him isn’t complicated for me. So I say straight out, “I trust you because you’re the best. If your tosses are hard to hit it’s because you only give me ones that can break through blockers.” I grin. If I grin wide enough, maybe he’ll catch it. “And one day,” I say. “We’re going to get so good, we’re gonna fight together on the world stage!”

Kageyama’s eyes widen, some of their far off dimness falling away. His mouth twitches up in a smile. It counts! Even if it looks crazy, covered in dramatic shadows as he tries to cover it with his hand. 

“You have to promise!” I say, spitting into my hand and offering it up. This is the best I can come up with, the most I can give that he might accept.

And he does. He spits into his without a question—It’s the least clean thing I’ve ever seen him do—and takes mine. “To the Olympics?”

I’m lit from the inside as I throw a thumbs up at him. “To the Olympics!”

Later, I fall asleep wrapped in the futon, smelling of cotton breeze.

Daichi stops Kageyama and me at the entrance to the gym the next morning. He says we have to go see the guidance counselor. He already spoke to her, so she’ll be expecting us.

Suga must have told him. Which means Suga worked out what I was doing, and now Kageyama will know too. He'll freak out, and he’ll never speak to me again, or throw me any tosses. And we’ll never take on the world together. I feel as if my bones are liquifying down to my knees as we walk. 

Kageyama grunts beside me, arms tucking in at his sides. “I don’t get why they’re buying into this. Is it some sick joke?”

Never mind. He’s too dense to get it. 

Hopefully.

The guidance counselor, Miss Shibata, is sitting at a metal teacher's desk, and we’re set up across from her in two folding chairs. There are stacks of file boxes everywhere, and the overstuffed bookshelves lining the walls feel as if they might collapse in on me at any moment. I’m just waiting for her to say something like, your Volleyball Captain mentioned Hinata suspects you two may be Tangled, and Kageyama will know everything. Instead, she asks, “What do you two know about Tangled matches?”

“Um…” Kageyama says, and I swear he’s holding back a yawn. He definitely hasn’t spent a single minute wondering about this. Lucky. “When you touch your match, you synch up and stuff.” He scratches at the corner of his mouth. “At least, I think that’s how it works. I had a test in bio about it... Pretty sure I got most of the questions wrong, though.”

Miss Shibata has black hair that she has clipped to the sides of her head. It makes her forehead look huge as she ogles Kageyama with this amused tilt to her head. “No, no, that’s good. And you?” She holds her hand out to me in an invitation.

I squirm in my seat. “About the same, I guess. The synching. Like emotions.” 

She nods, but stops when I say, “And you can read each other’s thoughts, yeah?”

“Not exactly.” She smiles apologetically as if it’s her fault I don't understand. “But close enough for now.” She pulls two packets out of her desk drawer and holds them up. “I have some questions I’ve already sent out to your Captain and your families, but you two will need to fill them out as well.” 

She sent something home . I’m going to have to come up with some excuse for Mom. 

The packet takes about an hour to fill out. We scratch in our answers with pencils she gives us. Kageyama’s right next to me the whole time. There are questions about how I’ve been feeling physically, if I get headaches or if I feel as if I might be getting a rash ever, and then how frequently. I’m worried that a lot of my bubbles are ending up closer to the ‘all the time’ end of the range than the ‘never’ end. 

At one point, I accidentally peek over at Kageyama, but he’s already squinting at me, lines all drawn up on his face… He darts his eyes away.

When we’ve handed in our packets, and Miss Shibata finally lets us go, I’m empty and exhausted.

He brushes my elbow, but I’m scared to see what kind of face he’s making. I shrug his hand away.

The worst happens in our battle against Seijoh at the interhigh tournament. Oikawa turns every scenario in the third set into an advantage with an airtight offense, and full-service aces. He shoots lidded smirks at Kageyama, mocking him with a waving finger, chanting his name, Tobio, Tobio, little Tobio. I’m never gonna get the chance to use that name... To taste those Os, rounding on my tongue.

The whole team has marked me. I hurl myself into a broad jump so hard, I crash on my landing, but the ball is still up, the rally is still on, so I jerk myself back up in a flip to keep going. I don’t care how many times I have to sprint the length of the court to get around blockers, how bad my thighs scream, or how hot my head throbs because I haven't touched Kageyama at all today—I won’t stop until we win. 

Seijoh makes it to match point first, and Kageyama is setting to Tanaka. Only, Iwaizumi is there, and Tanaka is about to be put down.

But I’m here. I’m ready and flying, I’m here, I’m here, I’m here, trust me—and Kageyama is switching his set in mid-air, like a mad supervillain, impossibly setting with one hand. The ball comes to me as if I’ve seduced it by sheer hunger. Suddenly I’m sure, past any doubt, that Kageyama feels me here, that he sensed me... heard me. 

I hit with everything I am. Everything. And a three-blocker wall shuts me down.

The ball drops. 

We lose. Seijo goes on to the quarter-finals, and we’re done. I’m done. I asked Kageyama to trust me, and it cost us... 

I’m sorry, I think. I’m so sorry. If he looks my way, I’ll know things will be okay. 

He doesn’t.

I asked him to trust me, and he did. He got me the ball against what should have been possible. This feeling, is it love? Is this the cost of my love? If so, I don’t blame him for turning away. 

At the Tokyo training camp, Daichi says Kageyama and I can't stay in the same room. “It’s only to be safe,” he assures us. 

To be safe and avoid a scandal, he doesn’t say. Most Tangled matches end up together after all. Together, together. We’re obviously not going to be that kind of match (whenever we finally get our test results). Still, if the school found out we were a suspected Tangled match sleeping in the same room...

I crash with Nekoma. Kageyama could have been the one to move, but he’d have nowhere to go without friends outside our team. I don’t need to give him another reason to resent me right now.

My futon is next to Kenma’s, which is nice because he hangs back as much as possible to play on his PSP. I can hide away with him, lying around sick—rolling nauseous, feverish sick. Kageyama and I haven't touched in three days. He won’t let me near him... He must hate this thing between us. Does he hate me?

After a loss on the fourth day of training camp, I’m out by the faucets on the side of the gym with Kageyama. At least he still lets me have this much.

It’s so hot, the stuttery screech of cicadas mating almost sounds like the moisture in the air boiling away in the heat.

Shadows from a clump of trees by us are casting a leafy pattern over Kageyama. He has a wet towel draped over his head, and he’s hunched over. We’ve been running laps out in the sun these past few days, but he hasn’t tanned at all. His skin is an even starker white than usual against the reaper black hair at the nape of his neck. It’s okay to look now because he can’t see me. I think. 

But then he does see. He glares so sharply at me, he may as well shank my eyes with a box cutter—that’s why they’re tearing right now. That’s what I’ll tell him if he asks. 

He doesn’t. 

We lose all our matches for the rest of the day. 

I dream of flying. Of fire. Of touching.

When I jerk awake, my head is aching like someone’s wrapping it in a belt and tightening it down as far as they can. My stomach ripples in a swell of nausea, and I can’t see past spots for a terrifying moment.

Our whole team is out on the court except for Kageyama and me. Neither of us is in any shape to play. We’re stooped three meters apart against the gym wall. The second he catches me spying, his shoulders slump in, and he slides down against the wall, curling his arms around his middle. Since when does he need to protect himself from me?

I don’t know why I bothered showing up for practice. But the idea of losing volleyball now, even if I’m too sick to hit the ball, even if Kageyama will probably never tell me that I can be great again…Well, losing volleyball would be worse than losing myself.

When a student runs into the gym and up to Ukai with a letter, I know everyone else is thinking what I am—that he’s holding our results—since they’re rubber-necking just as hard as me, watching Ukai tear it open. He’s wearing that headband to hold back all his hair. I’ve always thought his hair looks a lot like pickled radish with how yellow it is. Not his eyebrows (those are dark). They’re arching so high now, they’re almost touching his headband. “Yeah…” he says. “We’re gonna have to register you two.” 

I already knew, didn't I? There is no reason for the stab of fear knifing through me. There is no reason for the hunk of lead in my stomach.

Everyone is staring at us, horror dawning on their faces. 

Tsukishima—the creep he is—is cackling in the corner. “How dumb are you two? How did you both not know?”

Kageyama growls at him in full-on grizzly mode, snatching me by the collar and dragging me up to snarl in my face. 

He doesn’t get to do that. It’s not as if I asked for this. I growl right back and lunge at him.

“This is why you’re in my head all the time!” His breath is hot against my cheeks, but his knuckles dig into my chest, sending a cool shiver up my shoulders. “You're like one of those yellow weeds!” He throws me up against the back of the gym with a spike of heat, this is the best I’ve felt in days. 

“A dandelion,” Tsukishima calls out unhelpfully.

“You’re all loud and orange—” 

“Dandelions are yellow,” Tsukishima cuts in again.

“Whatever!” Kageyama’s spit lands on my chin. “You’re in my head all the time, and every time I try to rip you out, you creep back into everything.”

“Well, excuse me.” I can feel the manic sneer slashing over my face. He’s doing this all out in front of our teammates. As if it wasn’t humiliating enough. I’m kicking him as hard as I can, tearing at his hair. “It’s not like I’m having a great time!” I charge at him, and we hit the ground in a jangle of limbs. I go for his throat, I’m gonna squeeze and squeeze until he can’t look at me that way anymore. As if I’ve ruined everything.

But I don’t make it to his throat. Hands are hauling us apart. Daichi and Suga are yelling. Kageyama won’t release my wrist, though. 

My head is clearing. The heartbeat pulse in my temples is slowing. I don’t want that. I want to shout, spit, claw Kageyama’s eyes out. Match him fist for fist. Only it’s… such a relief to finally be touching him again. Suga loosens his grip on me. Some distant part of my mind is realizing Mom is gonna be furious that I lied to her. Facing her seems small now that I have my answers about Kageyama’s feelings. I scrub my arm over my face. Hot tears are welling up my throat. I choke back a sob. “I don’t know how it works, alright? I tried testing you before—”

“You what?

No. Nononono. I shake my head and press my face into my arm. I wasn’t supposed to say that. 

I can't meet his eyes. My palm fists at my side. “Yeah, so what?” I shout, but I’m already losing all my bite. There is no more fight in me now. “Maybe... I suspected a little when I started dreaming about setting… But I thought it was important to understand how all the positions worked. Like, I should learn everything as well as I can.”

The predatory hunch in Kageyama’s shoulders sags, and Daich lets him go. I don’t know what kind of face I’m making, but his is twisted up, and he squeezes me tighter at my wrist. He still won’t let me go. It’s nothing, I tell myself. Since we’re touching, he’s got to be feeling better too. That’s all this is.

Kageyama shields his free hand over his face like he can’t handle the sight of me. “What the fuck?” he asks, voice hoarse from all the shouting. “How is this possible?” 

“I don’t know, alright!” I say, pulling my hand away. “I think about volleyball all the time, it's not as if anything has really changed.”

His bottom lip pinches up in his dramatic pouty-frown. It’s never looked so menacing. “When did this even happen?”

“What do you mean, this your fault to begin with!” How dare he forget! Acting as if this is all on me! “You shoved me all the way back on our first day of school like some rude bully-yama-thug!” I cross my arms over my chest. “Didn’t anyone ever tell you, you’re not supposed to get touchy-feely?”

“I-I… I don’t know. You pissed me off. It was instinct.”

Tsukishima’s practically wheezing. “What are you, a wild beast?”

Kageyama growls at him, but he comes for me instead. “What are we supposed to do now! How can we win when we’re like this?”

“Don’t you get it,'' Daichi says, shoving him back before he can fist his hands in my jersey. “You're worried about playing and winning, but this is probably why you two can do that insane quick in the first place.” He levels Kageyama with an icy once-over, gripping him at the shoulders. “Being Tangled has only made you better players, not worse!”

“That’s right,” Suga says, using his baby-soothing voice. “Imagine what you could do if you actually trained your bond.”

Kageyama’s face twitches. “You mean…” He stops.

So do I. Neither of us has thought about this part before. And then he’s smirking at me like he’s about to slaughter all those babies Suga figures he's talking to—which means Kageyama is excited—and I know he’s thinking what I’m thinking. This could change our plays… We can evolve.

I haven’t lost to him… lost him yet. 

I bite hard on my lip to keep it from trembling because there he is—vicious, demon-yama is mine alone, and we are going to master this thing. We are going to conquer the court!

The first time I try to tune Kageyama out of my head… it doesn’t go well. Miss Shibata says we need to do this. That if we continue to neglect our connection, we’ll only keep getting sick, and it will interrupt our lives.

“I believe,” Miss Shibata starts, folding her hands over her desk. “You’ve both been in enough consistent contact throughout the school day to keep your needs for touch at bay.” She’s eyeing where my knee is pressed into Kageyama’s thigh. I glance down—I can feel Kageyama doing the same, his whole leg tenses up against me—and I flinch away from him.

“I must admit, though,” she says. “Even with that, I’m surprised that you two have been Tangled all this time without realizing it.” 

That’s what everyone keeps saying and saying. Ha, ha. So funny. I wish they’d be quiet.

Miss Shibata is still talking. “...the mental and emotional parts of everyone are tied together. So a Tangled match can’t expect to reach an emotional equilibrium without a balanced mental link.”

I don’t really get it. 

She says we should focus on our own thoughts and emotions and then try to separate them from each other’s.

My own thoughts and emotions… I’m anxious. Kageyama is right next to me, his back is straight as a blade, and he’s pressing his lips tight. I don’t want to screw this up. And I love him—the bastard. It’s like a warm custard-filled taiyaki in my chest. Can he feel that? 

I try to pick out what’s him—confusion, fear, rejection, loneliness, maybe? Or isn’t that me? I’m confused, aren’t I? And afraid. Loneliness… is that me too? 

Trying to sort out what’s him, and what’s me, and what’s me thinking about what’s him, is like an endless rally in volleyball. Except, instead of the thrill of touching the ball, it’s this never-ending loop.

We both get a headache so bad, we have to sit out the whole first half of practice and hold hands. Kageyama’s chin is tilted up and away to the side like he’s afraid to meet my eyes. He has calluses on the pads of his fingers. They’re pressing into the backs of mine. I want to let my hands wander, thumb over the outline of his wrist bone, follow the muscle in his forearm up to the bend in his elbow. This is what we do now—hold hands until our headaches and fevers pass. Until we can think. I’m not sure it’s any easier.

Things have changed. There’s a distance between us that wasn’t there before, and all I really want is for everything to go back to normal, but I don’t think it will. I don’t think we can be normal ever again.

We still fight sometimes. When the noise in our heads gets too loud. When we spend all our energy on a game and can’t shut out the TV static that creeps in after… Can’t shut it out at all, really, but it always pitches up worse when one of us is exhausted. 

Suga not so gently suggests we go back to the guidance counselor. He says it’s for our own good, but I’m pretty sure it’s because Daichi can’t deal with us anymore.

Miss Shibata drums her fingers over the back of one hand. I hope she’s not getting tired of us, too, because I don’t know anyone else who can help.

“Back when I had you fill in those packets,” she says. “You both noted that you’ve experienced heightened levels of accomplishments together…” she trails off, making it a question. A question I don’t answer—mostly because I can’t believe Kageyama agreed with something like that. 

My stomach is goopy as a soft boiled egg, just thinking about it.

“Yeah…” Kageyama shifts in his seat, tongue skimming his bottom lip. 

I bite mine.

“Whenever I play with Hinata,” he says in such a hushed voice, his next words hang on the edge of his breath as if he’s whispering directly into my ear. “I feel like we can do anything.”

“Right…” Miss Shibata says, frowning a rumple between her brows.

I nod. How could I not? “It’s the same for me. Volleyball with Kageyama is the most fun. That’s the only time it seems as if we’re getting this stuff right.”

Miss Shibata narrows her eyes. “What do you mean by that, exactly?”

I exchange a glance with Kageyama.

Miss Shibata wants to see us play.

She shows up at practice and chats with Ukai on the sidelines, scratching notes in a little red notebook through an entire two-on-two. Kageyama and I are up against Tanaka and Nishinoya. Kageyama goes for a setter dump, and both Tanaka and Nishinayo leap up to block, but he shoots me the ball instead. Of course, I’m ready for it. This is what we do!

I kill the ball, and Miss Shibata drops her notebook. Ukai’s grinning like a raptor at her. I can just hear him say, “They’re monsters, am I right?”

“Alright, Kageyama,” Miss Shibata says, scooting up closer in her desk chair. We’re sitting in her office again under all her books and boxes. “Let’s talk about how you threw that one ball at Hinata without looking, I want you to describe to me what was going through your head.”

He jumbles through a description that's spooky-familiar. “During games, it’s like I can tell where Hinata’s gonna go, and how fast. Like we’re sharing one body. And I can tell how much he wants the ball…” He’s fencing himself in with his hands clenched over his thighs. I realize I’m doing the same thing. This feels private. How we play is something between Kageyama and me alone. Is it okay to talk about it with someone else?

“Sometimes,” Kageyama starts.

I will never get enough of his blushing. It’s spreading from his cheeks, down the back of his neck. Bright against the black and white collar of his uniform. I want to see how far it goes. It’s not fair how he can flush this pink and still look as if he’d drink tiger blood if he was thirsty. Maybe play with the tiger’s guts after for a way to pass the time.

“Sometimes, even if I know I should give the ball to a different spiker because they have a better shot, my hands will move on their own. I end up giving it to Hinata without meaning to, even when a toss is hard to pull off.” 

 The ceiling light putters out for half a second—about the same as my brain’s managing at the moment.

Maybe I should have seen it coming, but hearing Kageyama describe what it feels like to be connected to me… it’s almost as good as hitting his sets.

Miss Shibata nods along with him and turns to me next. “And Hinata, you were clearly relying on your bond to a large degree when you jumped that one time before Kageyama started to move toward the ball—how did you predict that?”

“Um...” I try to swallow past a spike of intensity in my chest. Or is that the bond? Kageyama’s forcefully not looking at me. “When we’re playing, everything on the court doubles up, so I stop thinking and focus on what I want most, you know?” I’ve never actually told anyone this, so my face is a bit hot, but I keep going. “Like the ball’s right there, so I just have to get it, and if I focus on that enough, everything else quiets down, and I can sense where Kageyama is, and where I need to be. Then it sorta clicks, and I move.”

She leans in. “The thing you two have been struggling with is how to pull back and manage the extrasensory and informational input. But this proves you can pull back. You’ve been doing it already. Selectively blocking each other during games!” 

She’s right...

Miss Shibata claps her hands together. “You already have strategies and coping mechanisms for playing.” She’s getting riled up. Her face is splitting into a grin. Her forehead looks huge. “All we need to do is take that framework and apply it to the rest of your time.” 

Somehow moving everything into volleyball makes so much more sense. Miss Shibata has us sit outside, across from each other, where Kageyama and I sometimes practice tosses. Grass is tickling my ankle where my sock slinked down at some point. Kageyama’s knees are bumping into mine. If I were to grip mine just right, my knuckles would brush his knee bones. Can he see this isn’t close to enough for me… see right through me? What would he say if he ever noticed? ...It feels like he’s got the upper hand, and it pisses me off.

Miss Shibata has us focus on all the noise in our heads, all the doubled up information. Then she gives us a volleyball to pass. She says, “When you pass the ball, imagine quieting the information in your heads down. Keep only what you need, what you can handle.”

I turn off all the parts of my head that are spiraling back and forth between what might be me and what might be Kageyama, and I keep to what I know…

Here is where the ball is. Here is where he is. Here is where I am. Everything is just like on the court. I stop with all the junk I’m trying to figure out—all the mental gymnastics. 

I stop thinking. 

My mind hushes, the tension in my head releases. I let out a sigh and feel Kageyama doing the same against me. 

Miss Shibata cheers, all forehead, and then she has us do it without the ball.

I can’t believe it was this simple.

Mom demands that I bring Kageyama over to our place more, instead of going to his, so she can keep an eye on him. We have to study for exams, anyway. If we don’t pass, we risk our spots in the Spring Tournament lineup. This is a good way to stave off my craving to touch Kageyama over the weekends too. Those are always the worst.

We’re huddled over Yachi’s notes in my living room. Have been for hours. It’s late already, so all the lamps are on, giving off this fuzzy light. Mom set up the folding table for us, and now it’s complete chaos, covered with all our papers. 

What kind of luck do I have that I somehow manage to get psychically linked up with another person taking all the same classes, but he’s dumb as dirt? Not that we can read thoughts anyway. 

I finally understand what Kenma and Miss Shibata meant by that. Kageyama couldn’t have heard me say trust me that day with Seijoh. Things fell apart between us anyway, but I don’t understand why. Maybe just the fact of being Tangled is enough to make him hate me. 

I don’t know how I ever doubted being Tangled in the first place. Our heads and emotions are linked, so if Kageyama’s thinking too hard about something, pressure tenses in my head. If he focuses on something intensely enough, it will draw me in too. 

Honestly, I feel kinda cheated. What good is a psychic connection if you can’t read thoughts? Who’s even heard of that? Seriously, not fair.

Natsu’s knocked out in Kageyama’s lap, making these whistly snoring sounds. Apparently, she’s decided she prefers him as a big brother because today she called him Nii Chan . You should've seen his face. Flushed like cotton candy shaved ice. Shaved ice so sharp, I could cut my tongue on it. If only I was so lucky.

Kageyama is peeking down at her for the tenth time with this wobbly smile as if he’s not sure he’s allowed her love. 

I’m scarfing down the plate of rice dumplings coated with soybean powder, so I don’t do something stupid like grab Natsu off and drop myself into Kageyama’s lap. Besides, I'm starving. All this studying burned through my curry rice from dinner.

That’s when it happens.

Kageyama leans forward, thumb brushing the chub of my cheek where I guess I had soybean powder. All his lines are smooth. Light as Japanese cheesecake. Soft.

My mouth falls open. I don’t breathe.

My skin itches to grab him. Too squeeze. I want to bite into him and never let go. 

I’m consumed with wanting so suddenly that I think I can’t contain it all. That I think, maybe, it’s not all mine. I hope—give a mad prayer—and clear my mind. I focus on the rice dumpling in my mouth, the pencil in my hand, and let the rest go. 

Part of my want drops away. 

This time, I was right, it wasn’t only me.

A heartbeat dangles between us as his eyes fall to my lips and stay. Like… like he wants to kiss me. I should know, all I ever want is to kiss him.

“Tobio,” Mom calls out as she turns into the living room with a phone wedged between her ear and shoulder. 

I flinch. Why did she have to walk in now of all times?

Mom takes one look at Natsu spread out over Kageyama, and I swear she’s already gone for him. She’ll have to get in line.

“Tobio,” she says again. “Your Mother’s on the phone. She can’t pick you up yet since she’s still at work. I told her it’d be safest for you to sleep over rather than take a bus at this hour. Alright?”

He’s grimacing, fiddling with his jacket zipper— nodding.

I go cold, then hot. And cold again. 

He’s staying the night...

My heart is everywhere at once as we head up to bed. Kageyama brushes his teeth as I pace my room. 

I didn’t imagine that before. I didn’t make up the way his eyes tracked my mouth. The way want flared up in me. I have to keep telling myself this, so I don’t chicken out. I have to confront him.

Kageyama sidles into my room in a t-shirt I lent him. An old Christmas present that was way too big, but fits him snug in the shoulders. 

I march straight up to him. The door clicks shut as he backs into it. I cage him in, hands on my hips. I’m glaring knives. “Baka-yama.”

He’s slack-jawed. I know he has no clue what’s going on, but his eyes are narrowing to slivers—he’s gearing up to fight me anyway out of some sort of animal instinct.

“Tell me how you feel about me!” I demand.

He makes a startled, choking sound, floundering. All I get with him half the time is body language, so I know this means he’s trying to weasel his way out of this. I can practically sense his brain overheating.

“No,” I growl. I can feel my lips curling back. I’m all teeth. “Tell me for real!”

He’s neck and neck with me. “You’re—” He tilts his chin away and shakes his head like he’s a dog trying to wring something out and away. He won’t meet my eyes. “You’re the one who’s finally fast enough. You can sense what I’m gonna do like you’re reading my mind.” He scowls, nostrils twitching. “That’s exactly what you do. Dumbass.”

I ball my fist in his shirt (my shirt), exposing the planes of his stomach. Can he feel how much I want to tear it the rest of the way off? “That’s right, I’m a dumbass.” But if I’m a dumbass, he is too. “Now tell me,” I hiss, “ how you feel about me!

His face crimps up with a withering glare. His lips press together. 

I want to kiss them apart. 

Kageyama’s breath hitches.

Did he just…

He snatches me by the back of my neck and drives his mouth into mine.

The first time I kiss Kageyama, it’s like nothing we’ve ever done before.

I’m flash paper, and he’s a fire.

Kageyama’s lips are just as smooth as they look (he coats them with lip balm—the same strict maintenance he applies to everything). Mine are so chapped, they’re probably scratchy, but he doesn’t stop kissing me to complain. 

His tongue is warm and wet. The pad of his thumb shoves up between us, dragging my mouth open wider.

My heart is doing its best impression of a setter dump. I don’t care. I’m not losing. I bite his lip, and press against him harder. 

He kisses me like he’s thought about it before. One finger still hooked on my lip, his other catching places on my body like he’s looking for them. Along my scalp, fisting my hair. Over and under my thigh. Up the hem of my shirt to the small of my back. 

Kageyama’s chest is thin and muscled, but there's the slightest bit of softness in the oval around his belly button. I don’t have to look to find the purin freckle. Everywhere else my hand grazes, his belly is solid… I can’t believe I’m finally kissing him.

I’m struggling to keep down a sob in my chest—I don’t know what I would do if Mom barged in now, but I must be making some kind of sound because Kageyama trembles against me as he mouths at the soft part of my ear. His cheeks are damp with the tears running down my face in fat streams.

He noses at the corner of my eyes and presses his lips against me there. Neither of us breaks away, but his hands on me are softer now—brushing my hair away from my forehead, cradling my jaw, hugging me to him like he’s afraid to let go.

It’s a long time before I pull back enough to whisper, “How long?”

Kageyama’s eyes are glazed and lidded. His breathing is all torn up. “I don’t know. I didn’t get it at first—that this is what I was feeling. I never—” He squeezes his eyes shut. “I started really thinking about it after doing that packet. But, by then, I was sure you’d hate it. So…so…” He takes in a shaky breath. “I mean, why else wouldn't you tell me when you suspected?”

I bite my lip. “Cause I couldn’t lose you, idiot.” I shut my eyes against more tears. “That’d be like losing my best friend and volleyball at the same time.”

He presses his forehead flat to mine. “I thought it was only me,” he says hoarsely. “That if I was gonna lose you, it’d be easier to push you away first.”

Something breaks in me, releasing in a giddy energy.

I snort because pushing me away because he wanted to be with me is the dumbest thing he’s ever said, but it’s probably not much of a tell-off because I can’t stop smiling—even with how wet my face is. “Since when,” I ask, jutting my chin out in a challenge, “am I not ready for whatever you throw at me?”

His smile is like a nuclear burn.

As we crawl into my bed (I don’t mention the futon Mom brought up for him, and he doesn’t either), Kageyama yanks me over, so I’m lying almost completely on top of him. A drowsy currant hums between us.

He fingers the sleeve of my sleep shirt, tickling my arm. “Does this mean I can call you…” he pauses, nuzzling into the top of my head. “You know, by your first name.”

My head is tucked under his, right where his throat bobs, and the roughness of his voice vibrates against my forehead. “You want to?”

He shoves my face into his chest. “Of course I do, dumbass.”

That’s the only insult he knows. It doesn’t even sound like an insult anymore.

“Alright.” I grin, pushing him off, and propping my head up on my hands. “I wanna hear it.” 

His chin crumples with some kinda held back emotion, but his eyes are doing that sharpening thing I know from all the times he’s sworn to crush our rivals. 

I crook a brow, still grinning.

“Sh-shouyou,” he mutters. It pulls the breath right out of me. And now he’s glaring down through his lashes, expectant. 

My throat is tight. I really don’t want to start crying again. This was such a mistake. I swallow and squeeze my eyes shut. “Tobio,” I spit out in a rush. “Tobio, Tobio, Tobio!” My letters smush together, so it probably sounds more like Tob-yo. I don’t think Kage—um, Tobio minds, because when I crack open my eyes, he’s got that stupid wobbly smile, and his cheeks are wet again. This time, not from me. I kiss them away. I’m allowed.

I like him like this—wrapped up in my clothes, wrapped up in me—smelling of my tangerine shampoo, and underneath is that crisp cleanness that’s all him.

I fall asleep, mouthing Os into his collarbone.

The first time we beat Seijoh in a real match, I shout a promise in my head, with me you can beat anyone! Tobio can’t hear it, but he’ll get the message in a flare of confidence. We are going to win because he trusts me—trust all of us—to receive his tosses. To be there.

Our team is united as we arrive at the stadium. This is our last run together before Suga, Daichi, and Asahi graduate. They've risked their grades and futures to stay on this long. Victory is the only thing worthy of their loyalty. We’ll claw it out if we have to.

We take the first set, Seijoh brings out their mad dog and takes the second. When we hit a deuce at the end of the third, the ball goes up, Asahi and Suga are setting up a play, but I see an opening—a window to the other side. And Tobio’s there in an instant, dropping the ball right through the shutters because he felt me see it. And now we only need one more point to win.

This gym is three times the size of ours from back in Miyagi. I feel like a giant anyway.

I hit the court with a full run-up from the backline. I’m flying before my heart takes a beat, and Tobio’s set is already cupping my palm—drawn to me like a wish—and it lands, punching the floor.

“Yama-yama!” I shout from across the net, punching my chest. 

I jump. That’s the deal. I jump from towers, he fills me with power—with heat. The searing hiss of it thrums through me. My ears pop from the roar of the stadium. "Tobi-yama!" (No one else gets to call him that, it’s all mine.) I’m jumping, and before I can understand what’s happening, Tobio is catching me, dragging my head to his, and folding his lips with mine. “I love you,” he pants out in the half-second I let him break away from my lips. 

I don’t think. I don’t have to. I’m saying it back, shouting it. It’s a promise. A promise to stay together because we still have a world to conquer.

“I love you,” I whisper again later, under the spray of the locker room shower. We probably only have a couple of minutes before it’s time to pile into the bus. Someone could come looking for us, but as Tobio’s thighs slide between mine, wet and shivery with goosebumps. It’s hard to care about anything besides the taste of clean water and sweat at the bend of his neck—sharp and strong, same as him.

Tobio’s skin is stained red down to his chest, where he’s bending to reach me. I get to see him like this now, as much as I want. The shower smells like cheap soap, steam, and victory. 

My hand bumps his as we feel between us for each other. Touching him is automatic, I’ve already said it. 

He’s locking me back against the tile wall in an unforgiving crush and brushing contradictory, dizzying, kisses along my cheekbone. The spread of his lips on my jaw drag sounds from me that scratch my throat on the way up. 

His hand doesn’t stop against me, and I won’t back down from the challenge. I chase the heat rising low in my belly. With Tobio, I’m always overheating. Either from fevers for being too far or the craze of being so close. 

He’s demanding. Always is. I can take it. I push right back, pressing my face further into his neck. The beat of his heart on my cheek is an echo to mine. Racing, drawing up, letting go.

We’re linked, Tangled, sure as fire.



FIN

 

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