Originally posted on Ao3 on 31/07/2014

Your entire story seems to be written backwards.

His raven-haired head bangs against the locker with a metallic thud, but none of you care, and his fingers keep tugging on the hair on the back on your neck, his body pushed against yours, his lips leaving a searing brand on your own.

It's always been like this: all or nothing, a blazing fire or a glacial distance, no possible in-betweens.

It should be strange how something can feel so familiar and yet so alien at once. His hair's the same, albeit a bit shorter; his body's still as taut as you remember it; he still has to look up to catch your eye, sending the same old thrill down your spine; he's still oh so very warm. But there's a cocky assertiveness in his movements that's missing from your memories, as one of his hands doesn't hesitate to sneak under your shirt, while the other one still holding onto the back of your head. There's something different about his smell, too – there's a little more aftershave, a little less teenage hormones, perhaps. He pushes more, too, no longer content just to follow your lead.

The way his hitched breathing seems to get under your skin, though; the way it makes your head spin like champagne bubbles and your temperature rise up, that's the same as always. You box him in with your palms against the locker and lick a long, wet strip on his neck and yes, that full body shiver, that half-lidded gaze, are exactly as you remember it.

It's Old Ukai who first catches sight of him.

"Well, it seems it's not just us who came to relive old memories," he says, in his usual nonchalant manner, and Takinoue and Shimada crane his neck to follow his gaze. The first one frowns in confusion; the latter says:

"Oh, is that him? I don't think I've ever actually seen his face."

All of a sudden you have a bad feeling about this and you keep your gaze glued to Kei-chan on the court below, now leading the three-man block against Ushijima. Thanks to perfect timing, they manage to slam it down for once – Kei-chan's turning out to be awesome at it.

You all cheer, but then curiosity gets the better of Tanaka-san because she looks away, gasps and grabs onto your arm, digging her sharp nails on your skin (why).

"Oh my God, it's him."

You definitely have a bad feeling now. Yachi's anxious what? What is it? do nothing to calm your nerves.

"Oh my God, Shouyou is totally gonna faint when he finds out," Tanaka-san gasps, sounding about to faint herself. You really, really don't want to look in that direction; even as Yachi's eyes go round with her realization.

"Wait, you mean that boy over there is him? Really, really him?"

"Listening to you two, anyone would think he's a rockstar," says Shimada amused.

"To Shouyou, he might as well be," Tanaka-san replies, but from the hitch in her voice, she might not be just talking about Hinata. You're not surprised: he's always seemed to have that effect on people.

Including you.

Against your best judgement, you end up turning your head and there, on the far end of the stands, stands a raven-haired boy whose profile you still remember all too well. His hair's a bit shorter, perhaps; his skin maybe a tad more tanned. But the intensity of his eyes glued to the court; the way his hands clutch the handrail with his knuckles turned white; his eyes glued to the court as though he wished nothing more than to jump over it and into the game… you wouldn't mistake those anywhere.

There's a look of wonder drawn on his features as Karasuno's current number 10 makes an impossible jump across the court and yes, the sudden ache you feel is familiar as well. You return your attention to the game but the back of your neck prickles, and it takes superhuman effort not to look back.

You promised both him and yourself that you wouldn't, after all.

The whistle signals the end of the game and, for a moment, you're all too stunned to react. Then, from below rings a holler – either the libero, Tanaka-san's little brother or both – and realization sinks in: Karasuno is going to Tokyo again. There's a confusing moment in which Takinoue fist-bumps the air; Shimada's glasses seem to fly off from sheer excitement; Tanaka-san nearly asphyxiates Yachi into a hug and you yell and bounce in your place, too thrilled to remember you were supposed to keep a low profile. Even Old Ukai's wrinkled, severe face is lit up by a grin.

And then, he finally looks away from the court long enough to realize that he's not the only one who has come to watch his old team play at the preliminary finals.

Always the same self-absorbed little shit, you think with dangerous fondness. He replies to Ukai-san's greeting nod with a bow (even after all this time, all of his former pupils retain that good, nerve-wrecking fear of their old coach). And then he seems to freeze up, and you aren't quick enough to throw yourself to the floor, and now your gazes meet. Time doesn't stop: you're still aware of the ruckus all around you, Karasuno making up for the eerie silence from Shiratorizawa's supporters; you're very much aware of all the people around you. But his gaze still manages to pin you down on place, even from far away, and like a moron you feel how your arm raises and waves a hand awkwardly. You've given him every right to turn his head and ignore you, but instead a familiar, crooked smile turns up the corners of his lips as he waves back, looking every bit of an idiot as yourself.

You feel an elbow on your side and Tanaka-san points to the court: below where you're standing, the Karasuno team has gathered to bow to their supporters. You gulp when your eyes meet Kei-chan's, but even though he raises his eyebrows and barely shakes his head, he looks more delighted than you remember ever seeing him when dinosaurs weren't involved.

By the time you return your attention to the far end of the stands, he's already gone.

A recurring theme of sorts in your shared history.

In the beginning, you don't pick him out from the bunch of first years that have just joined the team. They all share the same sort of afraid, sort of awed look on their face. A look that on many of them will turn into sheer terror once Ukai-san's training from hell begins. You're already used to it so you can share a laugh with your older teammates at the newbies' struggles to keep up, although you also try to be a good senpai and encourage them not to cut corners, because if the coach catches them, he'll have their heads. You notice with some relief that none of them is taller than you, but then few people in high school are. Your height is still your greatest advantage, even though all your dreams of becoming a starter in your first year have been dashed once and for all.

But this year will be different you tell yourself so the lies you tell your little brother taste a little less bitter in your mouth.

A few of them are really good, but not good enough to be a part of the starter lineup at Karasuno. The school has the highest caliber team in all of its history, and no matter what a bigshot you believed yourself to be in middle school, here you'll have to work yourself to the bone for the chance to play. And even then, you might still fall short.

That's a lesson you've yet to learn.

When a couple of first years get to play in practice matches, you start to grow anxious. You could understand not making the cut as a first year – in a club that's gotten as big and as good as Karasuno, that's hard to achieve, even if you used to be both the captain and the ace of your middle school team – but as a second year, there's a clock that's started ticking.

You ask the coach permission to stay in the gym afterhours to keep practicing. He seems to glare at you with narrowed eyes, but that's kind of how he always looks. He acquiesces as long as you promise not to overwork yourself. You nod and bow, bitterly biting on your first thought: what difference would it make if you overworked yourself, if you got a sprained ankle? It's not like you get to play as it is.

One day, you're no longer alone at the gym: alongside you, another kid has picked up a volleyball.

"Tsukishima-senpai, excuse the intrusion. Do you mind if I stay as well? I won't bother you, promise."

(That's a lie, but none of you are aware of that yet.)

You blink as you try to place him. A first year, sure: one you've never bothered to register or remember his name. Raven hair, grey eyes, and a wiry frame: to you, he looks way too short for a volleyball player, unless he's aiming for the libero position. In which case, tough luck: Karasuno's current libero may be the best in the entire prefecture.

Soon you learn he doesn't want to become a libero, but the ace. You stare. He snorts.

"Yeah, I'm aware I'm short, no need to point it out," he drawls, rolling his eyes. You bristle at getting called out like that, even though those were exactly your thoughts.

"I wasn't going to point that out," you lie. "I was going to say that, if that's the case, prepare yourself to face a lot of competition."

There's something about him that compels you to add:

"Mine included."

He tilts his head, eying you with curiosity. Then, a mischievous glint appears in his eyes; a crooked smile turns his lips up.

"Then it's on, Tsukishima-senpai."

Oh, the sheer amount of trouble that crooked smile will always get you into.

That very same crooked smile beckoned you into the clubroom and into this predicament: his hand inching lower and lower down your back, to fiddle a moment with your waistband before sneaking inside; his gasps turning into unashamed moans and fuck if you don't want to just slam him against the lockers and devour him whole.

This is the worst time and place possible for this: any moment now, someone will realize you're both missing and come looking and you don't even want to think of the consequences of that; but you can't stop sucking on his neck to get more of those sounds he makes; you could not have stopped yourself from inching closer to him even if your life depended on it. He squeezes your ass and the little shit lets out a laugh at your gasp; you decide to take revenge. You grab his face with both your hands (they still look so big on him) and he looks up at you, his eyes widening, expectant. You regard him for a moment, just because you can, because this is not a dream but flesh and blood pulsing beneath your fingertips. You lean forward and place a kiss, feathery-soft, on one eyebrow; then, the other; your thumbs tracing circles on his chin, on the corner of his lips. He lets out an undignified whine at the slow place you pepper his face with kisses, and you don't care if you yourself feel about to burst: torturing him like this has always felt best.

You both work yourselves ragged, until you end up exhausted, panting, with your backs against the cold floor. You no longer pretend to train on your own: it makes much more sense to help each other. He needs to improve his shitty receives first and there's only so much you can accomplish on your own. Practicing spiking against the wall is both boring and unpractical, after all.

Little by little, you find new pieces of this puzzle of a small boy who wants to become a giant. You learn the reason behind his crooked smile (not a quirk but actual nerve damage); that as mischievous as he acts at school, he's deadly serious when it comes to volleyball. It's not a pastime; it's not just a sport, but an all-consuming passion burning him from inside out. You understand the feeling well, although sometimes, his fervor might even put yours to shame.

He's also stubborn as the proverbial mule: no matter how many times a taller upperclassman points out the futility of his efforts to become a spiker with that height, it only pushes him to try even harder. Many find it annoying or illogical, but you find yourself charmed. He has all the odds against him but so far, so do you, and who doesn't love an underdog story?

As months go by and Ukai-san never calls out either of your names to play in a match, your optimism wanes and the frustration starts to spike. You discover that frustration manifests in different ways for each one of you. He bangs his head against the lockers on occasion; you hide your tears with a mask of faux cheerfulness in front of your little brother and cover up your failings with a growing pile of lies.

It's hard to tell which one is the unhealthiest.

And then one day he goes and overdoes it, of course; and you see the pain written across his features as the muscles on his legs spasm, making him stumble and fall. Cursing him into next Tuesday, you pick him up from the floor, placing his arm around your shoulders – not the most practical position given the height difference, but it's the best you can do. He'd whine if you tried to carry him bridal style, although he kinda deserves it for his sheer idiocy.

You place him on the bench and, ignoring his protests, you start massaging his leg.

"Don't be a moron, if you have to sit out at our next practice, Ukai-san will have your head."

"Do you think he'll even notice?" he mutters, the bitterness of his voice matching your own.

"Are you kidding me? That old crow has eyes on the back of his head."

Your lame attempt at humor gets you a hint of a smile, and that shouldn't affect you so much. You try to concentrate on kneading his sore muscles, starting from his calf and moving upwards, handling his leg with a care that contradicts the way you keep berating him for his stupidity.

He knows better than to talk back at you at a time like this.

Actually, he's almost too silent, until his breath hitches and you look up.

"Sorry, did I hurt you? Are you ok?"

No reply and you start to get worried when he won't look at you, his head tilted down, the dark fringe hiding his face in shadows, but the little bits of it you manage to see are scarlet red. Now that you look at him, he seems to be bent over himself, his arms crossed over his chest, as though he wants to turn himself into a ball but your hands on his stretched leg don't let him.

It takes you an embarrassing long time to realize what's going on, and the silence gets thick and awkward.

When they ask you to be a good senpai, no one ever tells you how to deal with this shit.

"Eh, okay, I think you're alright. I… I'll go and start cleaning up, and you can, ehh…" This one-sided conversation is a trainwreck in flames. "You know, it's quite normal, at your age, nothing to be ashamed about…"

He looks up just to glare at you, his grey eyes as ablaze as his face.

"You're only a year older than me, you asshole."

"I was trying to make you feel better!"

"Well, you suck at it!"

"Sorry, this is my first time inducing a boner – oh my god, please ignore I said that, no, even better: just someone kill me, please."

And then the little shit has the gall to chuckle, as you hide your burning face in your hands.

You two must be the most idiotically awkward teenagers alive.

"Sorry," he whispers, and he sounds so honestly contrite that you feel obliged to comfort him, so you give him an awkward pat on his thigh and tell him not to worry. Then you realize that your hand is on his thigh again and you freeze up. He gawks at you for a moment, you want to look away but you can't (why won't the ground just swallow you whole) and then, once again the little shit throws you off balance, giving you a crooked smile.

"You know, if you wanted to lend me a hand, you could've just said so."

His tone is all false bravado and his eyes are wide, as though shocked by his own words, and why, just why you have to find that endearing. He bites his lip, leaving behind a trace of shiny moist and, well, shit. You're living a yaoi manga cliché, because you lean forward and press your lips against his, clumsy like a rhinoceros bursting into a china shop.

(Or was it an elephant?)

It's messy, it's awkward, you're gonna jump off a forty-story building, you're not cut out for this shit, you're never acting on a whim ever again.

But his fingers clench on your shoulders to keep you in place and, okay.

Maybe messy and awkward is not the worst.

You eye the Facebook invitation as though it were a ticking bomb.

It might as well be.

In two weeks, a reunion for all the former members of Karasuno High Volleyball Club, to celebrate the team making it to the Nationals for the second time in history. It has to be Takinoue and Shimada's doing: don't they have lives of their own? Jobs to go to? Significant others to hang out with? Sims to date?

Against you better judgment, you check who has already accepted the invitation and tick off in your mind the familiar names. Many, if not all, of the guys you shared club activities with are going. It doesn't surprise you: it was, after all, the club's Golden Age.

His name is not on the list.

After turning it in your head more than you would a job application, you end up accepting the invitation. You can't be a wuss forever.

Two days later, someone else accepts as well. You really try not to read too much into it.

You fail miserably.

Awkward, messy make out sessions in the gym afterhours turn into awkward, messy make out sessions in the clubroom, and then into non-dates at each other's place. Ostensibly, you invite each other to watch old volleyball games, maybe play some videogames as well. More often than not, your hands tend to stray towards each other, gaining boldness inch by inch, kiss by kiss. There's always the looming threat of parents in the vicinity or little, nosy siblings butting in at the worst possible moment, but you find yourself throwing caution to the wind every single time you see that crooked smile, every single time his t-shirt rides up on his back and you just have to touch.

The tropes on hormonal teenagers are awfully cliché and also kinda accurate on occasion.

But even hormones or, gods forbid, feelings take second place in your concerns. Because as he begins his second year at Karasuno and you your third, the realization that neither of you has managed to make it into the team hits you both like a cannonball.

In your case, despair seems to cling to you like an oversized sweatshirt you can't shake off. Relentless optimism and forced cheerfulness can only get you so far, and even your parents notice there's something weighing down on you. They assume it's your approaching graduation and all it entails, and in a way, it is. Just not for the reasons they're probably thinking of.

Despair in him looks like a dark cloud over his head brimming with electricity, about to burst into a raging storm in any moment. He throws himself into training with manic energy, and people start to avert his eyes, as though his gaze could set them ablaze. You wonder at your willingness to keep approaching him, like the kids who play with matches until burning their fingertips.

Sometimes, it all just seems so pointless.

Sometimes, the underdog just doesn't get his way.

One day at practice, he jumps so impossibly high that he seems to soar, and his spike gets past three blockers. You gawk and you're not the only one. The ball didn't slam past the blockers' hands: instead, it went through the small gaps between them.

It was still kinda incredible to see.

A fluke, someone says. But it's not. Coach Ukai scratches his chin, pensive. At the next practice match, his name is announced as part of the starter lineup.

You were wrong. This is an underdog's story.

It's just not your own.

Why did you decide to come to this party, it's an excellent question. Despite what happened with the volleyball club, you have some fond memories of high school. You're just not ready to revisit them any time soon, but one foot into the gym and it's like getting steamrolled by all of them at once.

At least a dozen people come up to say hi, because for some reason you seem to be remembered even though you never got to play. There's the awkward dance of 'how are you, how have you been, what's become of you now, wow, that sounds fascinating' and eventually, you make your escape towards Takinoue and Shimada, who right now look like the safest option. You see Kei-chan surrounded by his teammates (and not just Tadashi), and when you see his put upon face, you think of walking over there. Not to share any embarrassing stories, of course not. You're too much of a good brother for that.

And then your gaze stumbles into familiar grey eyes, and you really don't want to think about Kei-chan right now.

He looks good, you think, in a red t-shirt, his hair a bit shorter than it used to be. Maybe a little bit taller than the last time you saw him. He also looks quite awkward, fidgeting and glancing around. When he sees you, though, he becomes very still. It reminds you more than ever of a crow surveying its prey, deciding the best course of attack.

He used to look like that during games.

And then, he waves and he's again the dork you remember, and that's his trademark crooked smile. And it's so, so ridiculously easy to smile back and follow him outside.

It doesn't end in an explosion.

It doesn't exactly end: not in a clean, definite way at least. As the Spring High approaches, he trains more and more, and you have to buckle up and actually study. Your meetings start to become rarer and rarer. It's normal at this stage. But there's a certain stagnant coldness in the air between you that didn't use to be there when you were both the underdogs who couldn't get what they wanted. Relationships in high school tend to burn out eventually, you tell yourself. There's no tragedy in that.

No matter if you feel otherwise.

He still seeks you out and, sometimes, you let yourself be found. Sometimes, it's almost like it used to be.

Just sometimes.

You go to every game even though the hope to become at least a benchwarmer has vanished long ago. It's a painful sort of thrill to watch Karasuno fight and conquer, to watch him soaring across the court. The Small Giant, they call him, and it fits: his presence on the court seems so much larger than his small frame. Everyone's mesmerized by him, and you're no exception.

What happens with Kei-chan, though, is a wake-up call. You've been too lost in make-believes and wishful thinking, but graduation is around the corner and you need to set your feet on the ground at long last and start thinking in realistic terms. This is what you try to explain to him when he keeps pestering you to know why you look so upset. He tilts his head to the side, a slight frown on his forehead.

"Are you talking just about volleyball or also about us?" he asks, in an unusually subdued manner. He doesn't seem mad, just very confused.

"I… I don't know."

He stares at you, and then gives you a curt nod.

"Then tell me when you find your answer."

He doesn't seek you out anymore.

Graduation day arrives and, without thinking it twice, you tear out the second button, but you never give it to him.

You're not that much of an asshole.

The gods must favor you, because no one comes looking for you into the clubroom, and eventually you both manage to clean up yourselves, put your clothes back in place and leave the room looking more or less decent.

There's a moment of definite awkwardness as you stand outside the clubroom in silence.

"Eh," he says, eloquently. You're not that much better yourself, so you rub the back of your head to see if that sparks any ideas.

You end up blurting out the first thing that comes to your lips.

"Sorry." He stares. "For… well, I was a moron."

He tilts his head to the side, considering it.

"Well… kinda, yeah. But I wasn't the sharpest tool in the box either. I guess there're a lot of things we'd have to talk about, right?" He shifts the weight of his body from one foot to the other. "I mean, if we didn't want to leave things like this… if we wanted to, I don't know, see each other again or something. We should probably talk about some stuff."

"Yeah, we… we probably should."

He nods, pensive, his eyes down. You feel a knot in your throat. He's very close to your touch, and yet, very far.

And then he looks up, his eyes ablaze, a crooked smile on his lips.

"Or we could just skip all of that, right?"

There's a hopeful note in his voice that matches the furious beating of your heart, and this is so stupid, you're supposed to have moved on from this.

But he's still fire and you might not be the kid who plays with matches, you might be the match itself.

You feel a smile tugging at your own lips, and you open your mouth to reply something that could've been suave and wonderful…

And then Ukai the Younger's voice resounds from below:

"Hey, don't you go sneaking off who knows where! There's someone here who's been dying to meet you – maybe literally, I don't know. Hinata, are you still breathing?"

Next to the current Coach Ukai, stands Karasuno's current number 10. His eyes are wide open and he seems to be vibrating on the spot. He manages to nod, but his gaze never tears from the boy standing beside you. A few steps behind him, stands Karasuno's setter, his blue eyes narrowed, his arms crossed over his chest.

Oh, this should be fun.

"Well? Don't just stand there, come down here and meet your biggest fan."

"My what?"

Hinata-kun seems strangely subdued. Maybe he's been struck speechless.

(That might be a first, from what you've heard.)

But once he has his idol within reach, Hinata-kun lights up like a fireworks show, questions and exclamations and onomatopoeias bursting out of his mouth as he keeps jumping up and down.

The former Small Giant sends a panicked glance in your direction, but this is way too much fun.

In the end, he agrees to meet with Hinata at a nearby park in a couple of days, and the setter seems to have been appointed as his handler, because he grabs him from under his armpits and drags him away.

"…what's he powered on?" he asks you, dazed, and Ukai the Younger laughs.

"Who knows. But at least he didn't faint."

Before reentering the gym and joining everyone else, you decide to pluck up some courage.

"If Hinata-kun doesn't kill you with his enthusiasm, would you like, I don't know, go out for coffee one of these days?"

You wonder if it really can be this easy. Just to start anew, as though the past wouldn't weigh down on you, as old wounds could mend so easily.

He smiles and you realize that you're very interested in finding out.