The Spring Tournament Regionals. Many teams from the Miyagi prefecture had come to watch, though only one team was participating. Once again, the members of Karasuno found themselves the subjects of rumors and gossip spreading through the gathered volleyball players. Some of them were less than pleased.
"Did you hear what they're saying?" Ennoshita asked in a low voice. The group was gathered on a cluster of benches at the back of the main entrance, waiting for the first match to begin. "They're saying Karasuno won a brawl with a street gang."
Tanaka gave him one of his sharp-toothed smiles. "That doesn't sound so bad to me."
"They're saying we knocked out someone's teeth with a brick and he had to get dentures."
"That's a better story than reality." Tanaka rotated his right shoulder, enjoying the strength, the freedom of movement. He'd been pain-free for a while now, and he loved giving Suga a toothy grin and telling him to stuff it when Suga asked him to rate his discomfort on the ten-scale. Suga kept asking anyway, just because he could.
"They're saying Daichi killed a guy."
The team went still for a moment, absorbing this.
Tanaka looked at Daichi, who sat stone-faced against the wall, his eyes closed and his body still. Then he looked back to Ennoshita and blinked his eyes, wide and innocent. "That still doesn't sound bad to me."
"Shut up, baldy!" Kinoshita hooted from the sidelines.
"Uncivilized savage!" Narita called, his voice full of laughter.
Ennoshita crossed his arms across his stomach with a heavy sigh, his eyes falling almost shut in heavy-lidded disapproval. Tanaka's spirits were too high for him to be as daunted as he usually was by Ennoshita's displeasure, but he did deflate a little as he sat back down on a bench.
"No, but really," he said. "I don't think those rumors are gonna hurt our chances on the court. Why do they bother you so much?"
"Because they aren't true!" Ennoshita pointed at Asahi. "Why does it bother him when people think he's been in high school for more than five years?"
"Because his heart is made of cotton and spun sugar." Tanaka lifted his shoulders in a shrug, his hands raised toward the ceiling, then glanced at Asahi. "Sorry, Asahi-san."
Asahi tilted his head. "No, it's true."
Ennoshita, though, had decided to appeal to a higher power. He looked to Daichi. "Doesn't it bother you? What people are saying about you?"
Daichi was silent for a moment longer, then slowly opened his eyes and met Ennoshita's gaze. His eyes had been closed for so long that for a moment they looked almost black, before his pupils constricted in the light. "Not really, no."
Ennoshita slumped. "Why not?"
"I'm not sure. I suppose it ought to. But it truly doesn't bother me at all." Daichi frowned in thought. He seemed genuinely uncertain about his own feelings.
Suga laughed, bright as a bell, and punched Daichi's shoulder hard enough to make him grunt. "I think you like it. You feel like you earned this sordid reputation. We all went through hell of varying degrees, so you feel like we ought to have come out of it a bit singed and scary."
"Mm. I suppose." Daichi narrowed his eyes. "It's true that I have no objection to people being scared of us for once instead of the other way around."
The team sobered at this, staring at the ground or off into space. Though everyone had healed physically from the events of the past months, they all bore scars, visible or invisible, faint or strong. Karasuno had come out of the ordeal more tightly bonded than ever, but they were more wary, too. It was an uncomfortable feeling, a knowledge they could never erase. The darkness of the world had touched them, had blackened their wings like inky soot, and they would never be able to rub it off entirely.
"Well, I don't like it," Hinata declared, small but stubborn. He huffed and wrapped his arms around his chest. "I have to go pee but I don't wanna, because strangers are gonna stare at me and it's weird. Because it's not because we're good at volleyball but because of something else."
Something else, right. Something that none of them had chosen, that none of them would have wished on their worst enemies. Something that had happened to them, more than something that they had done. And that wasn't fair. It didn't feel good.
But who ever said that life was fair? No one in Karasuno, that was for sure.
"I'll go with you to the bathroom," Kageyama said. "At least that way everybody will be staring at two of us instead of just you. And you can hide behind me if you want to."
Hinata rolled his eyes at this implication that he was short. But he didn't say no. "I thought you said it was stupid that I needed an escort to go to the bathroom."
Kageyama shrugged. Things changed. "It's stupid, yeah. Doesn't mean I won't do it."
That kind of summed up his friendship with Hinata, really.
Hinata was still for a moment longer, sucking on his bottom lip as he contemplated his options. Then he jumped up from the bench and grabbed Kageyama's arm to pull him to his feet. "Okay, fine. Let's go! I really gotta pee!"
Kageyama allowed himself to be dragged, ignoring Tsukishima and Yamaguchi's snickers as Hinata hauled him off toward the bathroom. He knew it was sometimes hilarious, the way he let Hinata push him around and dictate their activities. Yachi said once that it was like watching a big, grumpy dog being pounced on by an orange kitten. He didn't really care, though. Being Hinata's friend was fun, and he wouldn't change it.
Hinata liked it, too. He bounced on his toes as they traveled down the hallway, singing one of his nonsensical bathroom-trip songs. They didn't run into anyone from Miyagi on the way, so there wasn't any staring. Eventually the rumors would spread outside of the Miyagi teams, too, but they would deal with that when it happened.
They did their business in the bathroom and got out. By this time it was obvious that the match was finally starting, because the halls were emptying, and those people still visible were walking rapidly toward the main gymnasium. They could hear the tell-tale sounds of volleyball teams warming up: distant cries, volleyballs hitting floorboards in bass-deep blows, the high-pitched squeaking of shoes. As soon as they got close enough to the gym, Hinata was going to go into his usual raptures about the smell of Air Salonpas.
When he realized what was going on, Hinata set his feet as if preparing to sprint down the hall. Kageyama grabbed the back of his shirt to stop him. "Running in the halls is dangerous," he growled. Hinata looked back at him, unimpressed, but straightened up and proceeded at a brisk walk.
It had become something of a familiar exchange between the two. Whenever Kageyama was around Hinata, which was often, he did his best to stop him from doing risky things. Like, for instance, performing one of his ridiculous jumps into the air while standing in a doorway. It was paranoid, maybe, but Kageyama couldn't help it. He really, really didn't want Hinata to hit his head again.
He knew that it annoyed Hinata on occasion, but so far Hinata hadn't complained about it. He understood why Kageyama was being cautious, even overly cautious. Just as Kageyama never, ever teased Hinata for cuddling a stuffed stegosaurus during the first couple weeks of his recovery, Hinata also never called out Kageyama for being overprotective. They accommodated each other without needing to talk about it.
They moved toward the main entrance as quickly as they could, aware that their team was waiting for them. They were so focused on the walk that they didn't notice the two people walking in front of them until they started to pass them. Kageyama steered Hinata around the two strangers, and then of them reached out to touch Hinata's shoulder, stopping him short.
All movement ceased as Hinata looked up at the guy who had stopped him, his eyes widening. It was Aone Takanobu, and with him was one of his teammates, the aggressive one who never shut up. Futakuchi, Kageyama remembered after an extreme effort. But Futakuchi was quiet now, standing at Aone's elbow with his mouth shut. There was no aggression in his stance and expression. They must have heard the rumors, too.
"Oh, hi, Aone," Hinata said, relaxing at once. "I didn't see you there. Sorry, we were in a hurry to get back to our team and go watch the match."
Aone said nothing. He studied Hinata with an even more serious expression than usual. Kageyama glanced at his face, then back to Futakuchi, trying to understand what was going on. Futakuchi was watching Hinata, too, a touch of worry on his face.
Hinata fidgeted from foot to foot, and his voice rose in pitch. "You didn't believe those dumb rumors that have been going around, did you? I mean, yeah, it's true that Karasuno got in a fight with a gang, and we won, but almost nothing else everyone has been saying actually happened. It wasn't that big of a deal, and it's all over now, anyway..."
He raised his hand to touch his forehead, as if checking to make sure that it still didn't hurt—a habit he had picked up toward the end of his recovery. It had bothered Kageyama at first, and he always had to fight the urge to slap Hinata's hand away and tell him not to mess with his bruise. But Hinata always looked relieved after he touched his forehead and discovered no pain there, and Kageyama couldn't bring himself to interfere. It had become an unconscious gesture now, done only when Hinata was particularly nervous or stressed, and Kageyama hoped that it would fade away if no one brought attention to it.
Aone, though, reached out to grab Hinata's wrist, lightning fast, and stopped him from touching his forehead. Hinata blinked, wide-eyed with shock. Aone just moved his hand to the side and released it, still staring into Hinata's face.
Ah. He was looking at Hinata's forehead.
Hinata caught on to what was going on just as Kageyama did. "Oh!" He laughed, his cheeks pinking up, and rubbed the back of his head instead. "Oh, that. My concussion. I guess you heard about that, too."
He gave Aone a big, bright smile, wide and reassuring and effortless. "I'm okay now. Honest. I've been completely healed for a while. No headaches or dizziness anymore. At first I didn't feel like myself, and my emotions and my brain were all mixed up, but everyone took really good care of me. Don't worry. Everything is good now."
Aone listened to this with great solemnity, treating it like the most important information he'd ever been given. At the end, he nodded, slow and grave. Then he reached out and patted the top of Hinata's head, very, very gently, as if he was afraid of hurting him. Futakuchi twisted up his face in something like a smile, confused but tender. It was strange, but kind of nice.
Aone turned to go on his way while Hinata stood still, shocked into paralysis by the head pat. Then he gave a full-body shiver, breaking loose, and widened his stance in determination. "Hey, Aone!" he called.
Aone stopped and looked back, the ridge where his eyebrows should be rising in expectation.
"You wanna come sit next to us to watch the match?"
Aone and Futakuchi exchanged a glance. Futakuchi shrugged. Aone looked at Hinata and nodded, pleasure lightening his eyes and twitching his lips. Hinata beamed at him and gave him a thumb's up, then looked at Kageyama.
"Do you think that would be okay with the rest of the team?"
"Yeah, of course." Kageyama didn't have to think about it. Everyone was still in "let Hinata have his way as long as it's not dangerous" mode. He could get away with a lot right now, and inviting an erstwhile rival to sit with them wasn't anything to get fussed about, anyway.
"All right then, let's go!"
Hinata hurried to catch up with Aone, and they walked together to the main entrance. Hinata chattered about the match they were going to watch, the moves he was hoping to see, who he thought might win. Aone nodded at regular intervals, watching Hinata almost without blinking. Kageyama walked on Hinata's other side, his hands in his pockets, and mainly just felt good about the world.
No one in Karasuno objected to the boys from Datekou sitting with them. In fact, with all the chatter between matches and during time-outs, Ennoshita and Aone discovered that they had a shared interest in making movies and decided to work on a student project together. Even Tanaka, who might have been a problem, ended up finding Futakuchi hilarious. Hinata sat in the middle of it all, glorying in all the volleyball talk and in being surrounded by friends.
It was pretty much a perfect day.
A/N: There's more stuff in the "split second" tag on my tumblr, including some lovely fanart of happy Hinata from the last chapter.
I'm presuming that Karasuno will be the one team from Miyagi participating in the regionals, but the manga isn't there yet. So I left some wiggle room for this story to be considered canon-compliant. Either way, I'm sure they'll have time to watch some matches.
I really do want to know how Aone and Ennoshita started making student films together, though. (Go look up the official art about their projects—it's amazing, and I'm very upset that I can't read Japanese, so I can't read the light novels where all this apparently goes on.)
Anyway, thank you for reading this story! It's been a great experience for me, and I hope you enjoyed it, too! I will be writing more Haikyuu fic very soon—I already have two chapters for a pirates AU ready to go. Also I have more missing scenes for Split Second that need to be written. But the main story is finished, and I hope you found it as satisfying as I have. I wrote this story because I had to—it didn't exist and I wanted it to. I did not expect it to get this long; I honestly thought it would be maybe 20k words at the most. But I'm not displeased at all with the way it turned out, though I could have done some things better.
Thank you! Reviews, favorites, and other signs of your enjoyment of this story are all appreciated and fuel the muse, but I'll keep writing regardless. Nothing, at this point, can make me stop. I abandoned several original fiction projects that could be considered objectively more important to write for this fandom, because I fell in love with these characters and couldn't help myself. I'm on this train as far as it goes. (And Aone can sit next to me anytime, poor dear polar bear child.)