31. The First is Always the Hardest

HInata held the phone to his face. He felt stuffy, eyes burning from tears. It rang a handful of times and he resigned himself to no answer before it clicked with a call.

"Shouyou?" Kenma sounded tired. He must have had his own qualifying matches. Hinata felt guilty all of a sudden, turning his nose into his shoulder as he sniffled loudly.

"Kenma-kun," he managed out, trying to go for lighthearted. His voice was thick, cracked on the last syllable.

"Are you okay?" Kenma's voice was no nonsense, no sense of the exhaustion Hinata had heard before.

"I," Hinata started, felt a fresh wave of tears burn at his eyes. "I won't be seeing you at the interhigh."

There was silence for a long time and Hinata was tempted to pull the phone from his face, to check if it had been disconnected from the call.

"Oh," Kenma's response was a soft sigh. Hinata hoped he wasn't imagining it, but it sounded as if Kenma had been sad.

"Yeah." Hinata sniffled again, looking down at his toes. He'd found a bench, taken a seat. He kicked his feet. "It was…"

"I know where this is going. Don't say it's your fault."

Hinata's mouth twisted wryly even though Kenma couldn't see. He didn't say but it was, that he'd been the one to tell Kageyama he could do it, he could and then watching as the ball rebounded into the floor and lost them the set, lost them the chance.

"Shouyou," Kenma's voice was a sigh again. There was commotion in the background; Hinata could hear Inuoka and Yamamoto shouting in the background, one with exhilaration, the other with passion.

There was a commotion on Hinata's end too. He could hear loud footsteps, louder voices. As he looked back up from his sneakers, he saw the Aoba Johsai uniform before he saw faces.

"I have to go, Kenma-kun," Hinata said as the other players spotted him. It was the number two and three, Hinata didn't know their names. He ducked his head, ignoring Kenma's protests as he ended the call. He felt guilty, again, for hanging up, but it didn't look as if the other two were going to just carry on past him.

The tall one made him feel even shorter, sat down as he was, but Hinata refused to stand up.

"Hey," the number three said. They both looked a little shifty and Hinata immediately scrubbed his face by lifting the hem of his shirt, knowing his face was probably blotchy and red.

"Hinata, right?" number two said. "From Karasuno." The second part would have been obvious, given his uniform currently.

"Oikawa and Iwaizumi's volleyball friend," number three continued, amusement colouring his voice. When Hinata looked up again he was smiling, but it wasn't mocking.

"Yeah," Hinata agreed warily. "I'm, I don't know your names." He tried to sound apologetic. He just felt tired now.

Number three sat down next to him, thigh to thigh almost.

"I'm Hanamaki, Takahiro. That one there is Matsukawa Issei."

Hinata went to shuffle over, automatically prepared to give Hanamaki space. Matsukawa instead fell heavily onto the small bit of bench left over on Hinata's other side, leaving him squished in between the two others.

Hinata wasn't sure if he should introduce himself, considering they'd said his name in greeting.

"Don't worry," Matsukawa added. "We know who you are."

That almost flustered Hinata, and he had to ruin it all by being forced to sniffle again before he made a mess of himself. That definitely made him flustered.

"It won't always be like this," Hanamaki suddenly said. "You're still a first-year, right? The first time is always the hardest."

Even without context, it was obvious what he was talking about. Frustrated and mortified, Hinata felt a fresh well of tears prickle his eyes, hands lifting to press firmly to his face.

"It won't get easier though," Matsukawa continued apologetically, and Hinata almost flinched out of his skin when a hand rest on his head out of nowhere. Normally he'd feel like he was being treated like a child, at this point, but instead, bewildered, his head was drawn into Matsukawa's shoulder.

"So if you need to cry it out," Hanamaki rested a hand on his knee. "We know what it's like. We've all been there."

It was like some awful, two-pronged attack, and while Hinata didn't know why they were being nice to him, it was the trigger that set off the floodgate, like trying to hold in your emotions until someone says 'are you okay' and breaks down the wall.

He curled automatically, to follow the stretch of his head, the faint shame of sobbing into Matsukawa's shoulder swallowed by the grief.

It was just volleyball, he told himself. There's always next time, he told himself. His tears didn't listen to reason, even as Hanamaki's hand settled on his back, rubbing gently up and down as he shuddered and cried.

Hinata wasn't sure how long he was there for, aware that his teammates were probably looking for him, that the bus would be leaving soon, surely. But when he finally felt like he could lift his head, Iwaizumi was leaning against the wall opposite them, eyes on his phone.

No, Hinata realised, eyes on Hinata's phone.

Iwaizumi looked up then.

"Sorry," he said lowly. "I took the liberty of answering your captain's texts. He'll be here soon." He held the phone out, apologetically, but Hinata just looked at it, feeling drained and exhausted.

He should probably lift his head from Matsukawa's shoulder. He should probably stand up. He should probably see what Daichi had text to him. There were a lot of things he should probably do.

"Which entrance did you come through?" Hinata felt Matsukawa's shoulder rumble under his cheek.

"East." Hinata let his eyes close again. They opened again as Matsukawa started to move and he was forced to lift his head and sit up. Hanamaki's hand moved from his back to grip his shoulder and keep him balanced.

Hinata stared dumbly as Matsukawa crouched in front of him.

"I can't impose," he said suddenly, remembering something his mother had said once, as the implication he was being offered a piggy-back hit. Then, he added, "I can walk."

"It's a good idea," Iwaizumi agreed. "We can meet up halfway with your team then."

"I can walk," Hinata repeated himself. "I don't want you guys to be late for your own bus."

Iwaizumi's face went a little soft then.

"We won the round," he said quietly, as if knowing the words would cause a sharp spike of pain in Hinata's chest. "We'll be here for a while yet."


Hinata stared down at Matsukawa's broad back, hating his height anew. And then because he was tired, and because Iwaizumi was staring at him with an intensity he didn't have the energy to address, Hinata let himself sprawl over Matsukawa, arms locking loosely around his collar as Matsukawa grasped under his knees and stood.

Hanamaki's hand didn't leave him until Matsukawa was upright.

Oikawa was with Daichi and Sugawara when the two groups intersected, something soft and vulnerable on Sugawara's face as he saw Hinata being carried. Despite his quiet complaints, it didn't take long before Hinata was on Daichi's back instead, closing his eyes as Oikawa ruffled his hair.

"You did well," Oikawa said. And then, "We'll see you at the next qualifiers."

Kenma looked down at his phone, at the disconnected call. There was a tightness in his chest he didn't want to think about.

"What's with that face?" Kuroo asked, nosy as ever.

"Shouyou lost," Kenam replied, fingers already flying out to type a text.

14:52 Kenma-kun: Let me know you're okay. Skype later?

"Oh," Kuroo's intensity faltered for a second. "It was bound to happen. Luck of the game. No team is perfect. Sorry that it happened to him so soon."

"Ah," Kenma agreed, brow furrowing further at the lack of immediate answering text.

"He's got a good team," Kuroo continued. "They're probably looking after him."

But he phoned me, Kenma wanted to say. Instead he put in his earphones, scrolling through songs and trying to ignore the nagging feeling in his stomach.

15:01 Shouyou: Okay.

When the text did come through, Kenma could immediately tell that it wasn't Hinata in one word, by how it was capitalised, the punctuation, and the lack of any emoticons or smileys. It meant that Hinata was with someone he trusted with his phone.


He was sad he wouldn't get to see Hinata in the interhigh tournament. Even Kuroo wasn't mean enough to mock him for the expression on his face.

Ahahah, has it really been two years? Haikyuu has been on Netflix. Fires were rekindled.

Have some Aoba Johsai third years and Hinata.

Hit me up with the guys and gals you want to see for the next time I manage an update (hopefully not two years from now)