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the Caged Birds of Kirayama

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Sugawara wakes up cold.

Frigid, rocky shores, the flutter of white curtains, and the shining sun reflecting bright and cheery off the surface of a lake—these vague, blurry recollections come up, but the emotions he had felt during his dream remain buried. He wipes away any lingering trace of tears, wondering if he had made noise during his sleep.

Pulling his covers aside, Sugawara sits up, eyes scanning across the sleeping forms of his teammates; some still, some fidgeting and restless, even in slumber. Murky clouds make the room a wash of gray, the dull light seeming a stark contrast to the shining afternoon of yesterday. The forecast hadn’t mentioned any rain, so he supposes it will clear up soon. Still… as much as he likes to believe that the bright blue of the sky will show itself, the clouds cast him in a shadow of doubt.

Shivering faintly, Sugawara wraps his blanket around his shoulders. It’s awfully cold. He swallows thickly, feeling sick. It reminds him of something. Of something he’s felt before, a similar sensation—an emotion that had risen during the trip here.

Though he had shown no hint of his faint heart, the things their younger setter had said had shaken him up. Comforting Kageyama had been a feat in his strength of will—if he hadn’t later admitted to Daichi how creepy he had found it all, he probably would have succumbed to it and ended up showing his own doubt openly. Sugawara isn’t a particularly cowardly person, but he is vulnerable to uncertainty and anxiety all the same.

He pulls the blanket around his shoulders closer, shivering faintly. Tsukishima had seemed disturbed by the talk even though he had made a show of teasing Kageyama for it. Sugawara had the sense that it wasn’t so easy for Tsukishima to make light of it, but in the end, he had righted himself rather quickly.

There was no reason to fear the mountain, but the shadow of the trees and the secluded nature were all a person needed to become restless here. It was a baseless sensation—it was the feeling of eyes on your back, the dislike of darkness after watching a scary movie. Kageyama’s voicing of that indistinct emotion was all it took to send shivers crawling up and down Sugawara’s spine.

The more Sugawara thinks about it, the worse he feels. Eventually, he reluctantly drags himself from his futon. As he had expected, the chilly morning air bites deep into his skin, sending gooseflesh rising up and down his arms. He’s the first one up. He has no clue what time it is so he makes sure to keep quiet as he gathers up a change of clothing and heads to the showers.

By the time he returns, the rest of the team has already begun to stir. Nishinoya is wide awake, making no attempts to stay silent as he tromps around gathering his things. Comforted by his teammate’s presence, Sugawara forgets the conversation of yesterday, focusing on what they’re to do today instead.

Breakfast is a hasty affair. Everyone seems energized and ready to train, unaffected by the gloom of the sky or untoward thoughts. A glance toward Kageyama confirms that he’s just as he always is, passively grumbling at Hinata’s side—he’s fine, if not a little pale. Perhaps he had also felt the affects of the chill in their room.

They finish with breakfast, tidy up, hear a word from Takeda, and go to the gym to start practice for the day. They set up the nets: Kageyama is fine. They warm up: Kageyama is fine. They begin a practice match: and Kageyama is fine, at least in the beginning.

Sugawara is still fighting his unfounded apprehensions, denying that anything is wrong when he notices that, unsurprisingly enough, something is genuinely wrong.

Sugawara isn’t like Nishinoya or Kageyama, but he has keen senses. He draws conclusions based on reason, on proof and on logic, and he is, most of all, observational. He notices details that other people don’t notice, his eyes tuned to carefully dissect what’s in front of him. After all, when he’s on the sideline of a match, it’s all he has.

He notices that although they’ve been training for just over an hour now—they’re on the second round of their first match—Kageyama is still pale. The people around him are flushed and panting and Kageyama is as white as a ghost, pale and wheezing. He shouldn’t look the way he looks.

Sugawara sees it coming before Kageyama does. His pallor grows and, as if in slow motion, Kageyama stops, ignores the volleyball he is to set, and runs off through the open door into the courtyard to hurl in some bushes.

Panicked shouts ring in the wide gym, Hinata inadvertently drawing everyone’s attention. He runs after Kageyama, shouting all the while. Kiyoko follows after him and then, crouching by Kageyama’s side, helps him to his feet. Takeda is stammering something and it takes a loud word from Ukai to remind him that panicking will do him no good before he stops. Hinata gets yelled at and is told to leave Kageyama alone—also by Ukai, who seems exasperated by the sudden dramatics.

Sugawara turns to Daichi, seeking—what, he doesn’t know—and meets eyes alight with worry, mirroring his own.

“This isn’t good,” Daichi mutters, just loud enough for Sugawara to hear. Everyone else is watching, either talking to their friends or standing silent and still. No one has continued to play. Takeda is talking to Kageyama; Sugawara can’t hear them from across the gym so all he can do is watch as Kageyama goes from woozy to irate, no doubt upset by something Takeda has said.

“Whoa,” Asahi’s voice is a trembling whisper from where he stands beside Tanaka, not too far from the captain and vice captain. “Kageyama looks mad.”

Sugawara sighs in exasperation, running a hand through his hair. He turns to Daichi and is greeted with an anticipated look. He doesn’t need to say anything. Sugawara nods, heading off toward the three where they stand by the open doors to the courtyard.

Guilt gnaws at his insides; Sugawara wonders if he should have intervened beforehand, if he should have pointed out Kageyama’s sickness and maybe even told him to stay in bed—or to stay at home. He wonders if he should have kept him from getting on the bus at all. But it’s too late to feel guilty.

Sugawara cuts across the gym to Kageyama’s side where Kiyoko is patting his back and looking worriedly between Takeda and the ill setter. Her head jerks up as Sugawara approaches and relief softens her features.

“… you need to stay in the infirmary for a while to get some rest. It’s not permanent—”

“I can still play!” Kageyama protests, but he’s pale and trembling, clearly unfit for the harsh exertion of practice. “I’m fine!”

“You’re not fine,” There’s the telltale dip to Takeda’s tone, the dropping of an octave. His impatience is obvious. He doesn’t want to be fought on this, that much is clear. “You need to rest. If it’s a fever, then we need to take care of it.”

Takeda notices Sugawara and gives a surprised smile, seeming just as relieved as Kiyoko. Sugawara realizes the expectancy in Takeda’s silence, that the lapse in their teacher’s scolding is his que to jump in and add onto what he’s already said.

“You need to rest, Kageyama,” Sugawara says, not missing the way Takeda’s shoulders relax. He hates arguing, after all. “It’s not like you’ll be cooped up for the entire time we’re here. Relax, okay? You’re shaking.”

Kiyoko shifts as Sugawara gets closer, allowing him to brush away Kageyama’s bangs to place a cool hand against his forehead. “Hmm,” he murmurs, considering. The setter makes no move to shrug him off or shy away, seeming more complacent than before. Perhaps he’s simply tired. “You don’t have a fever, so…”

Behind him, he hears the coaches rallying the kids, Ukai and Nekomata loudly chiding them for gawking. Play resumes as if there had been no pause at all. Sugawara isn’t sure, but he thinks he hears Kageyama’s teeth grinding.

“Let’s make sure it doesn’t become a fever, alright? The best case scenario is you’re out for a few matches, until you’re well enough. The worse case scenario is that you get sent home.”

Kageyama pales further, if that were even possible. It’s a warning, and Kageyama has caught onto it. Kiyoko and Takeda seem ignorant of the subtle threat.

“… it’s really for your own good,” Takeda says, finally speaking up again.

“Let’s go to the infirmary,” Kiyoko chimes in, a hand on Kageyama’s back and the other on his arm to steady him. Sugawara thinks that if it were Nishinoya or Tanaka, they’d probably be milking her careful attentions. “You want to get back and play as soon as possible, right?”

It’s a question. Kageyama allows her to guide him and answers under his breath, “… o-of course.”

They get a few stares as they make their way out of the gym, Takeda leading them out. Sugawara finds the procession unnecessary and perhaps less helpful than they’d like to think. Takeda turns to him, noticing his following. He looks slightly guilty.

“Oh—sorry, Sugawara. You can return to practice. We’re alright from here, I think,” Takeda says, glancing worriedly at Kageyama as he and Kiyoko walk on ahead.

“Thank you,” is all Sugawara says, giving a stiff bow and a stiffer smile, feeling awkward and forced. “Feel better soon, Kageyama.”

Sugawara… turns away, feeling unwell with it.

Considering the circumstances of Kageyama’s late arrival yesterday, his illness now shouldn’t surprise any of them. It’s strange that it has persisted to this point, but there’s nothing strictly unusual about it. Sugawara is guessing that Kageyama had been unwell for days before the trip—maybe even longer than that.

He slows his pace, looking out of the windows and into the courtyard, where the gloomy sky twists and spirals above the mountain. The sun has yet to show itself, hidden behind clouds that are charcoal gray, oppressive and heavy.

Maybe they won’t see the sun at all today.

He stops in place, biting his lip. The wind seems to be picking up outside; the tree in the yard is swaying faintly, grass rippling in slow tides. The cold metal of the fence gleams menacingly, the spiked wrought iron looking jagged and mean in the afternoon darkness.

He has the sense that the conversation they’d had on the bus has something to do with Kageyama’s illness, but that’s foolish.

Sugawara gives a violent shake of the head and hurries back to the gym, deciding to talk to Kageyama about it later, to check up on him. Making baseless assumptions was unlike him. Kageyama was ill because he had over-exerted himself. Sugawara needs to stop over thinking things; at this rate, it’ll be the death of him.

When Sugawara returns, he finds his and Nekoma’s team paused for a break, their practice match over and done with. It seems like Nishinoya had played as setter during Sugawara’s brief absence; their match had nearly been over when Kageyama had grown ill, after all. Fukurodani is stretching and running laps; Daichi is standing with Kuroo, so Sugawara makes his way over to the two.

“Hey,” Kuroo calls out to him as soon as he catches his eye. “How’s Kageyama?”

“Well—he’s still exhausted, I think. From before.”

“Ah, you mentioned that,” Kuroo nods studiously, crossing his arms with a pensive twist to his lip. He seems interested. “Wasn’t it heat stroke?”

“It was really bad!” Hinata butts in, striding over from the benches. “He almost threw up, then. This time he really did throw up.” He sticks his tongue out, mockingly disgusted. Kuroo gives him a laugh for it.

“Hah—but I doubt it’s just that, after all. Mountains sure can make you sick~”

“They can make you sick?” Hinata tilts his head to peer at Kuroo with an inquisitive look of wonder. He doesn’t understand what Kuroo means—and neither does Sugawara or Daichi, judging by the blank staring. “What do you mean?”

“It’s probably hypoxia,” Kuroo shrugs, as if that’s an obvious conclusion to come to. Sugawara remembers it as something he’d heard about in biology, but his memories are fuzzy and vague.

“What’s that?” Hinata asks, nonplussed. He doesn’t pretend to know, and urges for an answer with a simply worded question and an intense stare. Sugawara fixes a steady gaze on Kuroo, just as curious for further explanation.

“Altitude sickness,” He says, smiling over Hinata’s shoulder at Kenma, who shuffles closer from the benches. “You know. Oxygen deprivation of the brain.”

“Kageyama’s brain is oxygen deprived?” Hinata asks, stepping aside to let Kenma into their little circle. After a moment of considering: “I could have told you that.”

Kuroo presses his lips together in a thin line, shaking his head. “We’re all in the same state, you know. It’s probably just affecting him more because he was sick.”

“That would have caused his nausea,” Kenma murmurs sheepishly. When everyone turns to look at him, he shyly ducks his head. Kuroo seems surprised, and when the silence continues without interruption, Kenma explains further. “… when you learned about it in class, you didn’t stop talking about it.”

“Yeah,” Kuroo grins toothily, puffing up his chest proudly—apparently pleased with Kenma’s remembrance. “It’s really interesting what happens to your head when you’re stuck too far below—or too far above ground.”

“All he did was throw up,” Hinata sticks his lower lip out, peevishly. “It’s not that special.”

“What happens if you’re higher up than even this?” Sugawara asks, the group collectively ignoring Hinata’s mock sulkiness. “Sorry. I remember some of the details from class, but…”

“Nausea, delirium, fatigue, hallucinations… there’s a lot of stuff, depending on the circumstances. Oh, headaches, too—of course. Happens during altitude changes.”

“I think I know what you mean. I once got a splitting headache while on a plane,” Daichi sighs, crossing his arms. “It was horrific. I had no clue what was happening.”

“It was like cramps, but in your head, right?” Kuroo laughs, hands coming to rest on his hips. “Well, it can kill you—”

“I thought I was dying,” Daichi says, a cloud passing over his face. “It was awful.”

“—but only slowly, and only in extreme conditions. We’re just barely high enough for altitude sickness, I’m betting. Honestly, I’m surprised he’s so sick.”

“Whatever it is, I hope he gets over it soon!” Hinata gives a boisterous shout, seeming not nearly as angry with Kageyama as he pretends to be, concern thinly veiled. Sugawara gives him a smile and nod, easily realizing as much.

“He just needs rest. I’m sure he’ll be back before long.”

Practice proceeds as normal. The coaches seem undisturbed; unlike the teens, they seem sure in themselves, in the fact that Kageyama will get better. Sugawara is put at ease with the rehearsed motions of practice and they make up for Kageyama’s absence easily enough. It goes on: there’s a second match, a third match, penalties and stretches, lunch— and more practice, more and more, all without Kageyama returning. Sugawara approaches Kiyoko to ask her to check up on him and she obeys wordlessly, returning not fifteen minutes later with a faint smile on her face—he’s doing better, she says.

Sugawara feels something settle at the back of his mind. Like to confirm that Kageyama is really okay, he needs to see him with his own eyes. He gives her appreciative thanks, but it isn’t genuine at all— his worries aren’t put to rest so easily.

The whistle blows on practice. Evening has long fallen, the sun never having shown itself. He wonders if it will begin to rain soon; it had certainly looked as though it was going to, earlier in the day. Distractedly, Sugawara begins clean up. He’s unhooking the volleyball net when Hinata comes up next to him, usually bright face dim with a gloomy, brooding frown. Concerned, Sugawara stops—to look at him, to pay him attention. Hinata doesn’t bother with any preamble.

“... Is Kageyama still not back?”

Hinata is blunt when he needs to be, or when he feels he should be. Sugawara is struck with a sudden jealousy, wishing he were less timid. He shakes his head, finishing with the net. He begins to fold it, and Hinata follows behind him, taking up the other side.

“Can we go visit him? I think even he’d get lonely, without any company.”

“That’s a good idea,” Sugawara agrees, finding himself not minding, not at all. He wants to see Kageyama too. “Let’s finish up here first. I’ll meet you by the courtyard windows after we’re done.”

“Okay!” Satisfied, Sugawara and Hinata finish up with the net. The smaller boy runs off to sweep, snagging a broom from underneath Nishinoya’s nose.

Sugawara breathes out thinly.

If Kageyama were to go home it would ruin the atmosphere of the camp. Volleyball is more important to Kageyama than anything else, so he probably wouldn’t accept it easily. Sugawara sympathizes greatly, even though he’s aware that his well-being comes first. He isn’t nearly as talented as their younger setter, but he’s just as passionate.

This was the last year of high school volleyball for the third years. Doing as much as they could in the time they had was of utmost importance. It made Sugawara feel frantic sometimes, panicked like he was on a timer, like at the end when the buzzer rung out, he’d be left in the dust of his teammates, fun memories tainted with the bitterness of regret. He’d never show it, of course. That was too unlike him; there was no point in agonizing over it and even if he felt that way, those thoughts never lingered long.

Sugawara knows not to dig himself into a hole brooding, but the atmosphere of the day—dark, gray—and the dream he’d had earlier had gotten him wound up to this point, solicitous to the point of madness. He feels like Asahi.

Asahi, who—when he scans the gym—he finds laughing alongside Tanaka and Nishinoya, agreeably tagging along in cleaning beside the two. It startles him into indignance, and then into realization. He’s overreacting to everything, nerves seeming sensitive and raw.

Sugawara brushes those feelings off with a self-determined finality and tells Daichi where he’s going, heading out to find Hinata.

Just as he’d instructed, he’s waiting by the windows to the courtyard, peering out with a dazed look on his face. Sugawara finds it funny and looks outside, trying to spot whatever it is that Hinata seems so interested in—there’s nothing there but a tree and some shrubs.

“What is it?” He asks, startling the other boy as he approaches.

“I just think the courtyard is pretty,” Hinata says, vacantly. Sugawara looks outside, eyeing the barren tree and the gray sky. It's not particularly special. He shrugs the oddness of that statement off, finding no reason to argue it.

“... the tree will be beautiful in the spring. I'd love to come here again around that time."

After a few more seconds of the two peering outside, Hinata turns to Sugawara as though breaking free from some sort of daze. "Um! Let's go visit Kageyama. He’s in the infirmary, right?”

They head off together, Hinata staring into the old classrooms as they pass them by. Sugawara chalks it up to curiosity, figuring it’s nothing of importance, just him being as nosey as ever—but Hinata stops, hands pressed against the frosted glass of a door.

“There’s stuff in this room, still,” Hinata says, trying the door knob. “—huh?”

“It’s locked,” Sugawara reminds him, befuddled. He doesn’t know what to say. Why is he so concerned about the contents of an old classroom?

“Do you have a key?” Hinata asks, turning to him with a wild enthusiasm. Sugawara gives a slow shake of the head, not understanding.

“No, I don’t. Why do you need to go in there?” He asks, thrown off by his odd behavior.

“I don’t need to,” Hinata says, deflating. He gives up on the door, and they continue toward the main hall. “I just wanted to.”

“... why?” Sugawara has to ask. It’s better than brooding in silence as they traverse the school’s many halls, at any rate. And he’s curious, now.

“I just thought it’d be cool,” He says, sighing in longing. “Like—it’d be fun to discover some old work from the students who used to go here. The school is kind of spooky, but it’d be neat, to see some of the past! It’s like it’s a time capsule.”

Sugawara does understand, just then, with a sudden clarity that has him reeling. He feels strangely excluded, like the charm of this place has been lost on him. He’s been so pent up with frustrated concerns of trivial matters that he hadn’t thought once of the school as being interesting. Strange, surely; old, foreboding, shadowed and muddled, insides locked away tight with the trappings of both time and mystery, but not a thing worthy of exploration.

Hinata’s enthusiasm for all things new is one that makes him want to pry and snoop, to unearth secrets and learn. He isn’t one to shield his eyes from the darkness of night. Sugawara is struck again with jealousy, wishing he could throw away his tepid nature for a similar enthusiasm. It separates them, even in volleyball. Hinata’s constant thirst for growth and knowledge has lead the team to the point they’re at now, and it’s an innate strength that Hinata himself probably doesn’t even realize he possesses.

“It is neat,” he finally agrees, when his stretching silence gets Hinata to look over at him from his shoulder, brows drawn up in an expectant curve. “... maybe we can explore later. We should go ask Kageyama how he’s feeling, for now.”

“Yeah!” Hinata chirps, swinging his arms. “Maybe Kageyama would like to explore, too,” he remarks, seeming hopeful. Sugawara doubts it, but nods anyway.

They’ve reached the infirmary. As a formality, they knock. A muffled come in sounds from behind the door, and Hinata swings it open with a bang and a shout, running into the room and to Kageyama’s side.

Sugawara trails after him, spotting Kageyama where he sits on the edge of his bed. In comparison to how pale he’d looked during morning practice, he seems flushed now, lively and pink. Healthy. Well. Kiyoko hadn’t lied. Sugawara heaves a sigh of relief. It was preposterous to think Kageyama would be anything other than fine.

“How are you feeling?” He begins, gently.

“Better,” Kageyama says, face set, determined to convince him of it. Earlier, he’d seemed positively anguished, wracked with sickness and upset. “I’ve been laying in bed all day.” A pause. Sugawara watches as Hinata fluffs Kageyama’s pillows and tugs at his sheets, fawning over him like a nervous mother. The sight makes Sugawara want to laugh—and he sees no reason not to, because Kageyama is well and Hinata is charming, so he does. He laughs, startling the two of them.

“I’m glad to hear that,” he says, more honest than he’s felt he’s been since they got here. “If we can convince Ukai, then you should be able to join practice tomorrow.”

Kageyama opens his mouth to respond, but Hinata cuts him off. “We can practice our quick! Maybe tonight, maybe now, we can—”

“Not tonight,” Sugawara scolds, faking ire. “Knowing you two, you’d just make yourselves sick with practice. I’m betting it was exhaustion that made you ill, Kageyama.”

“Or altitude sickness,” Hinata comments with a smug grin, getting a perturbed look from Kageyama. He offers no explanation, seeming unwilling to give up his newfound knowledge.

“Anyway… dinner will be ready soon. If you feel well, you should eat. I’ve got to get to the showers, but before that, you two have to promise me, no training.” They both stare at him, and Sugawara senses that they aren’t at all convinced. “... or I’ll tell Daichi.”

“No training,” they repeat in unison, Hinata sounding defeated.

Sugawara smiles, sugary sweet. With a wave, he turns to leave. “I’m really serious!”

“Yes, Sugawara,” they return, pouting and petulant.

Convinced they’ve taken to his promise of punishment, Sugawara leaves them to each other, heart feeling light.

On his way to the showers he runs into Nekoma’s libero, Yaku. He spots Sugawara and then his face lights up, greeting him with a nod and a wave.

“Hey. How’s your first-year setter doing?”

“I just visited him. I think he’s feeling better now.”

“What happened, exactly?”

“He had heat stroke the night before the trip. I think his body must still be exhausted from that stress.”

“Oh,” Yaku hums in acknowledgement and sympathy. “Kuroo was saying—”

“That it was altitude sickness? I heard.”

Yaku gives a light-hearted laugh at that. “It’s plausible. You seemed so distracted during practice. I thought it might have been something more serious, but I guess I was wrong.”

“Eh?” Sugawara is caught off guard by that and he raises a hand to his cheek in embarrassment. “It was that noticeable?”

“I doubt anyone else noticed,” Yaku shrugs, attempting to sound casual in attempts to quell Sugawara’s insecurity. “It’s not like you were playing badly. You just seemed to have something on your mind.”

Sugawara has to wonder if he’d been transparent about his feelings the entire time. Perhaps Tsukishima had caught onto his anxiety—reversing the roles he thought they’d had all along. It takes Sugawara a second to collect himself before he breaches the silence that has fallen over them.

“Honestly, it wasn’t just him getting sick,” Sugawara is slow to admit it, but Yaku seems a sane and reasonable person—someone who could help him make some sense of things. “He said some pretty worrying things on the way here.”

“Was he ill even on the ride up?” Yaku asks, perplexed. He’s curious, which invites Sugawara to divulge a little bit more— and as awfully informal as it is to do so, it’s not like they’re unequals, here.

“He was, I think, but he didn’t complain about that. He said the mountain itself made him feel…” A pause. Should he really talk about this? “—uneasy. If I’m honest, it made me a bit nervous,” Sugawara forces a smile, but he follows it up with a sigh that is strained. It gives him away. Yaku’s eyebrows raise.

“Is that so…? Is Kageyama a superstitious person?”

“I asked him if that’s what it was, but he denied it,” Sugawara shrugs, heat creeping up the back of his neck. “He insisted on it just being a ‘bad feeling’ about the trip in general, but it didn’t sit well with me.”

“Hmm,” The blonde boy considers that for a moment. “I guess he has good instincts after all.”

“Huh?” Sugawara stares openly. What does Yaku mean? “Kageyama has a really good sense for volleyball, if that’s what you mean…?” Sugawara guesses.

“I mean, he might claim he doesn’t feel that way based on a superstition, but that’s what it comes down to. If he felt bad about coming up here, it was probably a gut feeling.”

“’A gut feeling’... that was what he said it was. Are you implying that it’s not wrong…?”

"Maybe he was embarrassed to admit his beliefs, but I mean... some people think that mountains are spiritual," Yaku quirks his brows like the suggestion is ludicrous.

“That’s…”

“It sounds really weird,” Yaku gives a shrug, uncommitted to the idea of augury, despite connecting it to Kageyama’s premonition.

“I guess I shouldn’t be surprised,” Sugawara murmurs, something settling at the back of his throat. He swallows. “But I’ve never really heard about that before.”

“I only read about it briefly. I think mountains are supposed to be sacred? So building on an untouched one invites bad luck and misfortune… it’s like desecrating burial grounds or something,” Yaku shrugs. “Or maybe he heard some ghost stories. He doesn’t strike me as the gullible type, but—”

“He is,” Sugawara deadpans. Kageyama was surprisingly dense, for all his icy, sharp sighted intuition when it came to volleyball. “Ghost stories… so like, old folk tales?”

“Yeah,” Yaku smiles, glad not to have to explain. “Ghost stories are especially popular in old schools.”

Sugawara’s stomach twists. Old schools, like this one. He doesn’t particularly like where this is going. It sets his teeth on edge. “Have you heard any…?”

“Um,” Yaku seems to notice Sugawara’s discomfort. “No. I haven’t. I don’t know what your beliefs are, but I have to wonder if he heard about some of those superstitions. Maybe he picked it up and the connection was subconscious. I doubt he thinks he believes in it. But it’s a possibility.”

“I think it’s interesting,” Sugawara answers cautiously. “Really interesting.” It’s possible Kageyama had picked up on something like that. Sugawara doesn’t believe it, but as myth—as subconscious superstition—it makes sense. It injects reason into something that had previously been baselessly frightening.

Yaku grins derisively, relieved that Sugawara hadn’t taken offense. “... at any rate, no one really wants to live in the mountains. He could have just been scared of—”

“—ooh, what? Who wouldn’t want to live up here forever?!”

A boisterous shout shocks the two boys, who had been speaking in low whispers as they had traversed the hallways leading to the showers. Just ahead, Bokuto is standing with his hands on his hips, Akaashi turned to look back at him with pursed lips, clearly unimpressed.

“I certainly wouldn’t,” Akaashi answers vaguely. “It’s rather cold up here.”

“I’m glad I’m not the only one who noticed,” Sugawara agrees, relieved for the interruption. “I thought I was going to get a cold just getting out of bed this morning.”

“So what? It’s a little bit chilly!” Bokuto and Akaashi tag along with them on their way to the showers. “This place is super cool. I really want to go through that forest.”

“You might be the only one,” Yaku interjects. “I found it kind of spooky.”

“I know a few people who might go with me,” Bokuto chirps, bouncing on his feet, giving Akaashi a sidelong glance. “Suga, would you come with me?”

“Uh,” Sugawara is caught off guard by the sudden attention. “I don’t think it would be safe. I doubt there are any trails...”

Bokuto is giving him a blank look. It’s clear he’s not buying it as an excuse. He gives up on that after a second or two. “Aw, man. But it’d be so cool!”

Sugawara nods distractedly, something cold prickling the back of his neck. He turns to look behind him, and in the corner of his eye he catches movement. They’re at the top of the stairs on the west side of the school, closer to the opposing teams’ dorms’ than they are to Karasuno’s. Perturbed, he searches with his eyes; he sees no one, but he has a feeling he knows what—or who it is.

“Sorry, I have to head this way,” He gestures. Yaku blinks owlishly at him while Akaashi nods.

“We’ll see you at dinner.”

“Thanks,” Sugawara says, turning to head to Karasuno’s dorm. Bokuto seems insulted, but Akaashi distracts him easily, allowing Sugawara to leave unhindered.

He heads through the common room and strides up to the door leading to their dorm, watching as the brass ornament hanging from the knob spins and sways. Whoever it was had been fairly sneaky—purposefully, it seems, to avoid drawing attention.

Putting on a scowl, Sugawara tries the knob.

—Huh?

It doesn’t budge. Sugawara tries again, finding the same solid resistance. He looks around—there’s no one standing there laughing at him, but it feels like he’s being pranked. He tries again, and the door opens.

And Hinata promptly runs face first into his chest.

“Uwah!”

The smaller boy falls on his ass, crying out. He’s too light to knock Sugawara over, so all he does is fall to the ground, leaving Sugawara to stare in shock at the first-year. He chokes down a laugh, screwing his face into a scowl, even as he lends him a hand up.

“Hinata, what were you doing in there?”

“You scared me, Sugawara!” Hinata is the one admonishing him, even as he takes the proffered hand. Sugawara pulls him to his feet—but doesn’t let go.

“What were you doing?” As he speaks, he realizes that Hinata couldn’t have locked the door. He didn’t hear the lock; and besides, he didn’t have keys. He must have been holding it.

“Nothing!” Hinata refuses to meet his eyes, instead choosing to evade him with a shrug and a nervous shake of the head. It’s so easy to tell when he’s lying, especially when they’re this close.

“Hinata,” He warns, brows furrowing. Sugawara isn’t good at scolding or at instilling fear; he’s not Daichi, and he can’t pretend he is. Still, Hinata is acting suspicious and he’s determined to get to the bottom of it.

Hinata's shoulders slump, guilt apparent. “I’ll tell you,” He pauses. “If you don’t tell Daichi.”

“I won’t,” Sugawara gives way to his demand a touch too easily, mirth at having caught him overcoming his contemptuous ire.

Hinata hesitates, even after Sugawara releases his wrist. He bites his lip and looks down. It’s clear to Sugawara even before he speaks that he’s caught him doing something he wasn’t supposed to do.

The silence stretches thin. “I was looking for the keys…”

“The keys? The ones that Takeda gave Daichi?”

Hinata just nods; it seems he expects to be reprimanded.

“... did you go through Daichi’s things?” Sugawara is less angry than he thought he’d be, but that makes him bristle.

“I… was going to, but I didn’t.” As earnest as ever, it seems. If Sugawara were in a similar situation, he would deny any ill intent, especially if he hadn’t carried the deed out. Still, Hinata is honest, and that’s something he can appreciate.

Sugawara crosses his arms and makes to look as though he’s considering what to do, all while gazing with raised brows, unimpressed with his younger teammate. “What were you going to do with the keys?”

“I was going to go visit that room,” He implores, fidgeting with his hands. If he could run away, he probably would. “With Kageyama. I thought, if we couldn’t train, then we could at least go look at it. He’s been cooped up all day…”

That’s about all Sugawara can handle. The absolute guilt etched in Hinata’s tiny, woeful frown makes Sugawara sympathize with him—it even makes him feel a little bit bad. Sugawara discards his mask of disdain and heaves a great sigh, as if the situation wasn’t endlessly amusing. Hinata must have forgotten that Sugawara had already told him they could explore later. “You didn’t find them, did you?”

“No,” Hinata says, looking up.

“I’ll ask to borrow them after dinner, then,” A twinkling smile, and a laugh. “If it was something so simple, you didn’t need to sneak around.”

Having realized he’s not in any real trouble, Hinata perks up and grins, cheer sudden and blinding. “Yay! Really? Thanks, Sugawara!”

With permission granted, the orange haired boy bounces on his feet and takes off. Sugawara heaves a sigh as he enters their room to gather his change of clothes. In the same room last night, he had joked with Daichi about how their teammates might drive him mad—though it looks now as though Sugawara will be the one driven mad.

After a shower Sugawara heads to the cafeteria, where he finds most of the team already situated. He gathers up his food and Asahi gestures to the space between him and Daichi; in front of him sit Nishinoya and Tanaka, who chatter ceaselessly.

Sugawara eats in relative silence, listening intently to every word passed between the group. This is harmony. It’s refreshing to enjoy a hot meal surrounded by his friends, and so he basks in it. It’s a simple thing, but it fills him with warmth. Their presence is comforting.

Half way through the meal, Sugawara sees Hinata and Kageyama arrive—he hears it, too. Boisterous shouts greet them, teammates and friends both relieved and excited to see Kageyama again. The setter seems unsure how to handle the attention, but Hinata nudges him and they begin to bicker.

Ah. That was right.

“Daichi,” He whispers, turning in his seat. “I need to ask you for a favor. Can you keep it a secret?”