notes - this was written for a request on tumblr and includes spoilers for the results of the girl's team's interhigh results! also, referring to chapter 36, daichi and yui are middle school buddies oh no... you know what that means... to me..
like the mountains
The first time Yui notices Daichi Sawamura is in the first year of middle school.
She's a beginner at volleyball and her arms are blotched red all over. Still, Yui doesn't want to leave the court until she can pull off a proper receive. She's embarrassed by the fact that it's already the third training she's been to and yet her performance remains bordered at subpar. Though the volleyball seniors are patient with her slow learning pace, Yui knows that if she doesn't do well, she's probably going to get benched for the next year. She hadn't joined a sports club to sit on the sidelines. The thought almost makes her want to cry. It's only made worse by the fact that her main objective for trying out a sport had been to get rid of her habit of crying easily and to build her flimsy confidence.
"Once more, please!" she shouts over the net at Sachiko, another first year. Sachiko's brushes a long strand of hair behind her ear and nods. Yui instinctively takes a step back as her friend prepares to toss the ball. Sachiko has been playing volleyball since elementary school, it's no wonder that her serves are the most consistent out of all the first year girls.
Yui has to calm her nerves as she hears the volleyball slam against Sachiko's hand. She follows the ball with her eyes as it hurtles through the air, taking a breath before darting into place and cupping her hands together. The volleyball seems so fast, and she can't help but hunch her shoulders to brace for it. It bounces off the uneven line of her arms and pops up and out of the girl's court. Another failed attempt.
"I'll get it!" Yui shouts to her teammates, jogging off to the boy's section of the gym to retrieve the ball.
It rolls to a stop near the feet of a boy taking a break near the wall of the gym. He puts his water bottle down and bends to pick up the ball. Yui recognises his face. He's a first year just like her.
"Sorry!" she says as he returns her the ball.
The boy tips his chin. "No problem." He's short and skinny, even compared to the other first years, and his clean haircut matches hers.
"Um, just a head's up. There may be more to come," Yui says with a laugh as she spins the ball in her hands, sticking out her tongue for added effect. Making light of the situation will help her get over her failure.
"Alright." The boy nods. It is a rather friendly response, considering that Yui had been expecting him to tease or ignore her. She shakes it off as she hurries back to the court.
"You don't want to take a break?" Sachiko asks as she catches the ball Yui tosses to her.
"Is one more alright with you? I need to get this right," Yui says, putting her hands together in a pleading gesture.
"I'm fine with it, Yui-chan. I just don't think you'll get it today," Sachiko says casually. She doesn't mean anything vicious with it, she's always been a pretty straightforward person.
Yui pulls at the sleeve of her jersey as she walks away from the net to the back of the court. Her jumping ability is just short of being atrocious, no thanks to her height, and her serve is passable at best. She's got to make her receiving work somehow.
Sachiko serves the ball again, and though Yui tells herself to focus, to receive the ball with confidence, she feels her shoulders hunch a little once again. The volleyball soars back to the boy. Yui hears Sachiko let out a quiet sigh as she goes after it.
"Sorry, again." Yui keeps her head bowed as she approaches him.
"You hunched your shoulders too much," he tells her.
"I... I know," she says softly. "I'm not used to it yet."
The boy thinks about this for a moment before replying, "If it's just a matter of getting used to the ball, you'll get it in no time." Without warning, he throws the volleyball to her. Yui's hands react immediately, catching it before it can fly over her head.
"See?" he says simply.
"Oi, Sawamura, come and help feed some balls!" a senior calls him.
Yui opens her mouth before the boy leaves, "I'm Michimiya. Yui Michimiya!" It's only polite to introduce herself to him. She's probably going to spend the next three years sharing the gym with him and the rest of the boy's team, so she might as well get started here.
The boy grins.
"Daichi Sawamura," he says before stepping into the court.
She's only been playing volleyball for about a year, and as the third years are grudgingly preparing to graduate, her friends keep insisting that she should be the next captain of the girl's team.
Yui doesn't know how it came to be like this, but she's managed to become regular on the team. She's not the best player - Sachiko has the title firmly set like a tiara on her head - but the others think she has what it takes to be the captain.
"It suits you," Sachiko says with a pat on the shoulder after training one day. "You're easy to get along with and you won't be as strict as the seniors."
Yui wonders if that's all it takes to be the captain. She wonders if that's all she is. Has nothing about her changed since she joined the volleyball team? The only thing she's sure of is that she can now handle a serve and is one of the better receivers on the team. Her arms are no longer an amateurish red, they're toned. Her shoulders are steadier. But, if someone were to ask about her confidence, the only reply she could give would be, "I'm still working on it."
Her receives no longer roll over to the boy's side of the gym, but Sawamura sometimes talks to her when they're taking a break from practice.
"So I heard you're going to be the next captain," he asks her as he wipes a towel across his neck. He's bulkier now, no longer the tiny boy she first saw a year ago. She's only grown two centimetres herself.
"I could say the same to you," Yui chuckles. "The difference is that it makes sense for you to be the captain. For me, not so much." She shrugs her shoulders.
"Michimiya-san, you're being too hard on yourself," Sawamura creases his brow as he says this. After spending so much time talking to him, Yui has learned that he is the kind of person who always knows what to say. His replies are never thoughtless or haphazard, and Yui thinks that he must spend a lot of time making sure of that. It's one of the reasons why all the guys know that he's going to be the next captain. Sawamura has a good head on his shoulders. But Yui? Yui has...
"You always think of others, don't you? And you're responsible. You always make sure both the teams have kept all the equipment after practice."
"That - that's something anyone could do!" Yui tells him.
"But you're the only one who's been doing it," Sawamura says in a knowing tone.
Before Yui can form a rebuttal, the coach calls the boys over to start their usual rallies with one another. Sawamura leaves quietly, and Yui wanders back to where Sachiko is lying on the gym floor, texting on her phone.
"Let's start practising again," Yui tells her friend.
"Mm? In a minute. My boyfriend wants to know what homework we have," Sachiko says without looking away from her phone. Yui resigns to Sachiko's laziness, which seems to have infected the rest of the other girls on the team.
"Yeah, the seniors are no longer here. They can't scold us for resting a bit longer."
"Alright, but just an extra minute," Yui says, tapping her foot. She turns to the boy's court as the girls drag out an "alright" in high-pitched unison.
Sawamura is standing the nearest to the boundary of the court, arms ready to receive the incoming ball. Yui blinks as she takes in his form, his stance, and finally realises just how much he has grown from last year.
When the volleyball comes, she watches him move swiftly into position, so easily that it's almost as if the volleyball itself had chosen to fall squarely at him. His arms are lined perfectly and his shoulders betray how familiar the receive is for him. If Yui had to choose something to describe him, it would be like a great boulder, unmoving and unpenetrable. It suits him perfectly. Something in her chest squeezes, telling her that this is the real reason why he's going to be the captain.
By the third year of middle school, Yui has grown so used to her stint as captain that she's not ready for their last official match. After this, she'll have to stop coming for biweekly trainings, remember not to pack an extra pair of sports shoes to school, and will no longer be able to the first years to pick up the pace.
The only one who could understand her would probably be Sawamura, but he's been busy drilling the boy's team that she hasn't had much chances to talk to him. He's a vastly different captain from her - Sawamura is always setting new sights for the boy's team to reach, always pushing them during trainings. The boys barely have room to take breathers.
Yui, on the other hand, is content to know that everyone is happy during volleyball practice. In fact, the very thought of an official match always manages to make her anxious weeks before the competition. She worries so much about how her team will do, whether or not she's been making the right calls and setting a good example - it comes to a point where she decides that maybe if she doesn't take things so seriously, she won't feel so wound up all the time.
Then, the girl's team loses in a practice game against another middle school in the neighbourhood, a week before Yui's last official match. As the girls pack up to leave the gym, still in rather good spirits despite their close loss, Yui doesn't move from the middle of the empty court.
"Yui-chan?" Sachiko stands waiting at the gym's doors.
Yui doesn't reply straightaway. She grips the volleyball tightly, pouring all her frustration and disappointment into her hands. It hadn't worked at all. She can't possibly tell herself not to take volleyball seriously - it's become a big part of her life. It's the only thing she's good at now. It's the thing she loves. She's the captain of the team, at least for this one last month. She has to do something.
"Hey, Sachi," Yui says, "D'you think Sawamura-san would be willing to help the girl's team out?"
"Is that what you were thinking about?" Sachiko asks. "Well, he doesn't have a reason to say no," she points out. "But Yui-chan, he'll probably make training tough. He wouldn't care if we were girls!" Sachiko whines, sounding distressed.
"That's the point!" Yui stuffs the volleyball into her duffel bag as she runs up to Sachiko and they lock up the gym for the night.
As the boys and girls carry out the combined training regime planned by Sawamura and herself, Yui stands at the first court with Sawamura. She's helping him work on his spike. Behind her, she can hear a few girls complaining about the rigorous training. She sighs when she sees that Sachiko has decided to take a break already.
"It's hopeless," she mutters as she tosses the ball into the air.
The volleyball bounces against the floor of the court. Sawamura hadn't tried to spike it.
"Why did you say that?" he asks, though his tone is calm, Yui can see how stern his eyes are.
"We can't win like this," Yui says, placing the two balls in her hands back into the basket. "We've got to face the truth," she says, not the least bit happy about it.
Sawamura doesn't reply for a moment. Yui shrinks a little, wondering if he's angry at her for being so demoralising. She can't really blame him.
When Sawamura finally speaks, his voice is more composed than upset. "Michimiya, even if you don't have confidence to win, even if everyone else tells you that it's definitely impossible. We... " Sawamura looks at her, and she can't break the eye contact.
"... as captains, we are the only ones who can never say that."
These words strike Yui. It shows how different she and Sawamura really are. She feels self-conscious around this person, who is a much better captain than her. Yet, instead of shying away, Yui rights her footing and stares up at him, at this tall boy who she wants to someday be like.
Sawamura and her both get accepted into Karusano High School. The boy's volleyball team are infamous underdogs, and coach Ukai is a name that they've both known since middle school. The girl's team has made a much smaller name for itself, but it doesn't stop Yui from signing up on the first day.
"Michimiya, not to get ahead of ourselves but I hope that we'll eventually be captains once again," Sawamura tells her as they walk towards the gym in the school. He says these words in a conspirational whisper, and Yui nods while trying to hold back her laughter.
"Alright!" she tells him with a thumbs-up.
At this, a smile breaks out on Sawamura's face, and he has no trouble directing it to her. Yui has to turn away before he can catch her blushing. "What is it?" she asks, pretending to fumble for something in her shoulder bag.
"It's just that I remembered - back in middle school, you wouldn't have given such a reply," Sawamura explains, his smile easing.
"... I didn't notice that," Yui says, placing a finger on her chin. "Oh, that's weird."
"Not as weird as you think." Sawamura grins.
Yui feels her chest tighten inexplicably. She raises a hand to slap his shoulder. "What's weird is you!" she hastily mumbles before stomping ahead towards the gym's doors.
"Sugawara, can I ask you something?" They're standing beside a vending machine as they have this conversation. It's lunch break, and she can hear shouts coming from the second gym - the energetic first years in the boy's volleyball team must be practising.
"Sure," Sugawara says as he sips his packet drink. When he notices Yui's hesitation, he laughs a little. "Is it about Daichi?" he asks.
"How did you know?" Yui jumps.
"Just a lucky guess," the boy says with a grin.
Yui is already embarrassed by the subject, and she's not even speaking to Sawamura directly. "I just wanted to know if... if Sawamura has any... interest in anyone," she says, twiddling her thumbs and looking down at her shoes. "Please don't tell anyone I asked you," she whispers, looking up at Sugawara.
Sugawara shakes his head and smiles. "Of course I won't." And she believes him. She's talked to him enough times to know that he wouldn't do anything else. It's strange to think that she's choosing to talk to him instead of her girl friends. Sugawara's trustworthiness is a powerful magnetic force, Yui decides.
"And to answer your question - I don't know."
"He doesn't talk about it?" Yui asks.
"Michimiya-san, to be honest, I don't think Daichi even thinks about it. He's too busy with the volleyball team," Sugawara says with a chuckle. "He's not really a romantic. Please forgive him."
"B- But I gave him chocolates on Valentines Day! Wasn't that enough of a hint?" As Yui reveals this, she feels her face heat up. Her ears must be blushing too. She'd waited for Sawamura to be alone on Valentines last year and had given him store-bought chocolates with a handwritten thank you note.
Sugawara sighs with exasperation "... Daichi..."
After visiting the girl's team's practice for the last time before the university entrance exams officially begin, Yui finds herself lingering on the school grounds. She walks through the empty afternoon hallways back to her previous classroom. As she passes Class 4, she spots a familiar figure sitting on a desk. She peeks in to see that it is Sawamura.
"For some reason, I knew that you'd be here to," she says as she enters the room.
Sawamura doesn't look too surprised to hear her voice. He turns to look over the back of the chair. "It's the last training for the girl's team too, isn't it?"
Yui nods as she leans against the desk next to his. "They've still got a long way to go, but after the loss during the Interhighs... I'm sure that they're more than ready to start training seriously."
"The same goes for the boy's team," Sawamura says, sounding sentimental as he props his head against his hand.
"Speaking to a teacher. He says it'll take awhile, but I told him I'd wait."
"You two are as close as ever," Yui observes, trying not to sound too jealous.
"He's probably one of the closest friends I've made through volleyball. But you're included too, Michimiya, don't worry," Sawamura says with a teasing smile.
Yui harrumphs. "I've made a lot of friends through volleyball too, you know," she tells him, pausing as she thinks about what to say next. "So I... I kinda regret not pushing the team to succeed when I had the chance, when we could all still play together," she says, the corner of her lips lifting only slightly. "Guess I'm still not that good at this captain thing," Yui sighs.
"There you go again." Sawamura says with disapproval. Of course, he must be sick of hearing her talk like this for so long.
"It's true. I was taking winning and losing for granted. When your words finally reached me, it was too late to make amends. But at least I know we played our hearts out during that Interhigh match. If only I could redo the last year."
"But that's such a silly thing to say, isn't it? We've already graduated," Yui adds quickly, attempting to sound cheerful.
Sawamura looks out the window. "Do you want to go to the same university, then? That way we can continue captaining the volleyball teams, like we always have. We'll improve as captains together."
Hearing this, Yui thinks it must be Sawamura's equivalent of a love confession. Her cheeks flush, and she wonders if they're as red as her arms in the first year of middle school. Thinking about middle school, it dawns on Yui that she's known this boy for six years. Six years, she's watched him grow and change into the person before her today. He was no longer a boulder, but a mountain. She'd always looked on in awe of him, she'd always wanted to stand at the same level as him. As these memories replay themselves in her head, she realises that she'd always...
"Sawamura! I like you!"
Yui doesn't know what compels her to say it. The only thing she knows is that it is the last day of school, that the sun is setting, that she will no longer play on the Karusano team alongside her friends, that she will no longer be able to meet Sawamura during lunch to talk about volleyball.
"Eh?!" he replies, looking so shocked that it honestly offends Yui. "I mean, wait, hold on," Sawamura immediately amends himself when he sees her expression. He stands up from the chair and gestures wildly. "Give me, just, give me a moment," he says, tripping all over his words. It's cute, but Yui doesn't want to give him the luxury.
"Just say what you feel!" she says. "Sawamura, you're always thinking about how to phrase yourself nicely, about the best answer to give," she explains, her voice growing softer.
Sawamura doesn't try to defend himself, and Yui can't help but feel pleased with herself for hitting the nail on the head. It gives her the extra push she needs to finish what she has to say.
"- I don't need that, I just... I just want you tell me how you feel."
Her shoulders are hunched, but as she finishes this sentence, she straightens them.
Yui tells herself that no matter what, she won't cry.
"Good to hear that you're doing well, Yui-chan," Sachiko says over the phone. "You still playing volleyball?"
Yui lies on the bed in her dorm, staring at the ceiling of the cosy room. "I'm on the university's team," she says sheepishly.
"Wow, you really love volleyball, don't you?" Sachiko replies.
Yui doesn't need to think about it. "Yes, I do."
"Is that Sawamura guy still playing too?"
"... Yeah, he is."