Bokuto and Kuroo are laughing as they stumble towards their rooms, Practice was officially over and the captains have just finished their meeting when they hear the resounding smack of a volleyball. They give each other a questioning look and go to investigate Gym 3. it was too late for anyone to still be practicing right?
They peek in muttering a soft ‘Oya Oya’
What they see renders them speechless. Seeing Hinata practice late wasn’t unusual, In fact Hinata was almost always the first one up and last one to go to bed each day of the training camp. What was surprising was how he looked.
Each side of the net was littered with balls and Hinata was on his knees, hands curled into fists on the floor. He was trembling and soaked in sweat, The upperclassmen had never seen the boy so worn out. Not even when they had to do all those penalty exercises.
Kuroo gasps audibly when they notice the tears streaming down the boy’s face. The two are about to go racing to him when Hinata let’s out a gasping shout and struggles to his feet. Kuroo and Bokuto are speechless as the boy runs towards the net and does a dive beneath before immediately picking himself back up. Hinata scoops up the nearest ball turns and serves it to the others side.
He goes crashing to his knees as he lands and gasps for air. Now they can see the boys face more clearly they can see the sheer desperation and force of will that’s carrying this boy far past his physical limits.
Hinata gets back up and tries to walk toward the net, His knees tremble and his arms shake, There’s something curling in Kuroo’s gut as he watches the boy trip over himself and goes into a dive on instinct.
Bokuto is giving him a wide eyed worried look and Kuroo shares it with him for a moment.
They realize they fell into the same trap so many others had.
They underestimated Hinata.
Underestimated just how hard the boy worked, It was easy during practice to write the boy off as over enthusiastic. To think the boy only trained that hard when he had people to train with him, But here he is, Well after hours still attempting to go strong. It’s obvious the boys struggle this week hit him hard and suddenly the two feel bad for teasing him so much.
If it drove the boy to this then the laugh wasn’t worth it.
“Hinata it’s time to clean up.” Kuroo puts on his captain’s voice, Hinata shakes his head.
Kuroo and Bokuto have never hated that saying more. It was like Hinata’s mantra. “One more.” “One More.” “One. More.” He would chant. No matter how many times he fell, No matter how many balls met his face, No matter if his knees and elbows are bruised from receiving. Hinata never quits. They thought they understood that, but now they knew.
The things they thought they knew were just the beginning. Kuroo frowns to himself, and to think he thought he knew something about working hard.
Bokuto shared a similar thought, for once calm and quiet. He thought he trained hard but here he was goofing off after sitting in a meeting for an hour and here Hinata was, presumably not having stopped since dinner let out.
It was so easy to get caught up in Hinata’s bright attitude, Hinata had fun playing volleyball but right now he wasn’t having fun. This was Hinata training to win.
As Kuroo watched Hinata, trembling and ready to collapse throw the ball into the air.
Kuroo rushed forward and grabbed the kid around his waist.
“Hey C’mon Hinata you’re not gonna get better if you hurt yourself training too hard!” Kuroo nearly shouts, carrying the limp boy towards the exit.
“Bokuto would you mind cleaning up?”
“What! Why me?” Bokuto whines but one stern look from his friend has him scrambling to pick up balls.
“M’ Sorry.” a small voice interrupts Kuroo’s ranting and he glances down at the boy in his arms. Kuroo adjusted his hold on the boy and was now carrying Hinata like a bride, Hinata’s face pressed against his collarbone.
“You should be, You need to take better care of yourself.” Kuroo reprimands lightly.
“I don’t want to fail...”
“What do you mean.”
“I don’t want to fail my team.” Hinata lets out a little sob that breaks Kuroo’s heart. “I’m always the one dragging them down ‘cause I’m not as good as I should be and-and-and-” Hinata descends into pathetic sobs, tears soaking through Kuroo’s shirt.
Kuroo rushes to a nearby stairwell and sits, holding Hinata close. “Hey now don’t you dare say that!” Kuroo commands gently. “You’ve got a lot to learn yeah, but Hinata you’re only a first year. You have time to improve.” Kuroo talks keeping his tone as smooth as possible.
“I wan-I want..” Hinata’s breathe is hitching and he gives up on talking instead burying his face against Kuroo’s chest.
“You don’t want to let them down and You want to go to nationals.” Kuroos wraps his arms around the boy and hugs tightly. “But running yourself into the ground by training that hard isn’t going to do that. You’re just going to hurt yourself.”
“I know.” Hinata sounds smaller than he’s ever been and that makes Kuroo mad.
Mad at himself for not seeing it before, Mad for making it worse with his teasing, Mad at anyone who ever made Hinata feel small.
The only thing small about Hinata was his body, That tiny stature housed a spirit that could rival the Tokyo tower.
“I know my teasing didn’t help, but you know I’m only teasing right? I never once thought you wouldn’t make it, Or that you weren’t a worthy opponent. In fact that first match we had I couldn’t keep my eyes off you, I knew right then and there that you were someone to keep an eye on.” Kuroo explains. A little embarrassed because he never wanted to admit that he had been intimidated by the boy.
Hinata sniffles and his breathe hitches in his chest.
“You were so fast and your eyes...You looked ready to take on the world Hinata. I was honestly a little intimidated by you, but you were so care free and fun loving it made it easier. I’m sorry, I’m sorry for every person who ever made you feel not good enough. I’m sorry for being one of them.” Kuroo hugged Hinata tighter to his chest and pressed his face into the riotous orange curls.
“I think Kuroo is really cool.” Hinata mumbles from beneath him, catching Kuroo off guard. “I don’t mind the teasing...I know you and Bokuto don’t mean it.” Hinata trails off quietly.
“If it’s not our teasing, whats making you feel this way?” Kuroo asks, trying to get a clear understanding so he could fix this. Being friends with Kenma for so long had given him insight to the world of anxiety and after all these years he was able to help Kenma no matter what. This wasn’t Kenma. This was Hinata, someone that was supposed to be endlessly hyper and happy and always begging for a toss.
“You’ve been playing a lot longer than me. All of you have.” Shouyou sighs. “My receives suck, My serves are worse and at first I had to rely on Kageyama because I couldn’t even spike with my eyes open.”
“Yeah and?” Bokuto’s voice catches their attention.
“We’re fast but you’re faster, We jump but you fucking fly! We train hard but look at you.” Bokuto’s voice is stern with hands on his hips, Surprising the two on the stairs.
“For us it’s easy, we ask our teams to practice with us and they do. You? You train even without that, You love spiking, Love it the most out of everything. Yet all week I’ve seen you do more dives than all the rest of us combined, I’ve seen you blocking and chasing down the Pinch Servers and anyone else for advice on serving, Hell I've even seen you annoying Yaku for help.” Bokuto is almost scary like this, Stern and serious are so out of character for him.
“So give yourself a break.” He finishes and sits beside the two.
“Yeah.” Kuroo agrees.
Hinata’s tearing up again and turns to hide in Kuroo’s shoulder and sobs weakly, breaking the upperclassmen’s hearts.
“I’m sorry, I’m sorry.” He cries. Hinata knows he shouldn’t have trained so hard, Knows he could hurt himself. He just wanted to stop being a burden on his teammates. He wanted Kuroo and Bokuto to look at him like a real opponent. Not just some shrimpy first year.
“Hey now, It’s alright.” Kuroo tries to soothe.
“Hey Hey Hey! C’mon I’ll get you something out of the vending machine!” Bokuto offers in a teasing voice.
“You-You D-Don’t have too.” Hinata manages between his breathe hitching.
“You think you can walk?” Kuroo meets Hinata’s teary eyes, Bokuto already standing to leave. It’s at this moment that Hinata realizes the position he’s in, Kuroo’s arms, Kuroo’s lap. He blushes hard, Stuttering out jumbled words and ends up falling to the floor startled.
Kuroo looks down at wide amber eyes blinking owlishly up at him, and bursts out laughing with Bokuto. Hinata sits up and manages a weak laugh of his own.
Suddenly Hinata is lifted straight off the ground and thrown over Bokuto’s broad shoulder like a sack of potatoes. Which has them laughing harder, Hinata giggling more earnestly than before. Hinata wiggles around in a show of protest but doesn’t actually try to break free.
The small group make their way down the hallway and finally reach the vending machines. Bokuto buys water for himself and Hinata, and even buys a milk bread for the boy who shyly accepts the sweet. Kuroo laughs and whines at Bokuto for not buying is but gets himself a water.
The three sit down to drink and let Hinata eat when they get on the topic of graduation and University. Kuroo and Bokuto plan on going to Tokyo University and Hinata wonders what that’s like.
“-And I mean can you believe it if Oikawa comes too? We’d be an unbeatable team.” Bokuto grins excitedly
“Yeah but if he doesn’t then we can always wait a year for Akaashi. Kenma refuses.”
“Yeah Yeah Yeah! Akaashi’s a billion times better than Oikawa.”
“Is he better than Kageyama though?” Kuroo says sneakily. “We could poach Hinata when he graduates and then we really would be unstoppable.”
“Wah! Of course Akaashee is better than Kageyama! Right Hinata Right?”
Hinata pauses to think about it, Kageyama was skilled, He could set right to where Hinata needed it, But he also couldn’t stand people not relying on him. He wanted Hinata to keep his eyes closed, He wanted Asahi to trust where he sets to, He wanted everyone to trust him, but he barely returned any. He was getting better for sure but he still had his pride.
“Yes.” Hinata decides.
“Yeah! I knew it!”
“Kageyama didn’t want me to learn to spike with my eyes open.”
“Wait what? That brat.” Kuroo frowns.
“If you want we can set you up with Akaashi during free practice. I’m sure he’d love tossing to you. I mean it won’t be the first time he’s tossed for you but still-”
“Okay Okay, We really need to head to bed.” Kuroo scolds lightly and stands. “And mister late-train still has to shower.”
Hinata gets to his feet, his legs wobble a little but he thanks Kuroo and Bokuto once more and walks towards the bathrooms. As soon as Hinata is out of earshot Kuroo sags and sighs loudly.
“That kids gonna be the death of me!”
“Yeah you looked pretty comfy with him all cradled in your arms!” Bokuto teases, wrapping his own arms around himself and making kissy noises.
“Cut that out!” Kuroo’s blushing furiously and swats Bokuto across the head.
“Oh Kuroo! My hero!” Bokuto calls in an exaggerated voice making Kuroo chase him down the hall. Only for Bokuto stop dead in his tracks causing Kuroo to run into him. There at the door was Daichi with a raised eyebrow.
“Ah-Ah-H-Hey D-Dai-Chi” Kuroo and Bokuto stutter in unison. The other captain sighs before giving them a soft look.
“W-What for?” Kuroo asks dumbly.
“Hinata has been down on himself for awhile now and none of us could help. We tried everything.” Daichi explains. “I saw you on the stairs.”
“Why didn’t you interfere?”
“Like I said we had tried everything, You and Bokuto seems to have cheered him up. At least for the moment.”
“Hey Hey Hey, y’know it’s no problem. We love the little guy, sucks to see him down on himself like that.” Bokuto says nodding.
“And Kuroo.” The steel is back in Daichi’s voice causing Kuroo to freeze. “Break his heart and I’ll break your legs.”
“Yessir.” Kuroo nearly squeaks.
“Goodnight you two.” Daichi walks away calmly.