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Happenstance

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"Sometimes I remind myself that I almost skipped the party, that I almost went to a different college, that the whim of a minute could have changed everything and everyone. Our lives, so settled, so specific, are built on happenstance."

Anna Quindlen, Every Last One

 

 

 

It’s Friday.

Unless he has a game with the team, this usually means takeout food home alone and an early night. Sometimes, on those rare occasions he feels a tiny bit inclined to leave the emptiness of his apartment walls and the routine of a place he hasn’t called home once since he moved to Tokyo―sometimes, he lets himself be dragged out by friends.

Today is not one of those days.

He ignores Hinata’s calls while he dresses up after his afternoon sessions at the gym. He is even considering skipping dinner altogether. There’s some leftovers he might warm up, or not. Maybe he’ll watch a bit of their latest game on his phone until he falls asleep.

Rush hour at the train station is not as daunting as it was on his first days―first week―month, well, honestly, his first year at Tokyo. Kageyama knows the steps, the exact number of seconds it takes him to get on the train as he leaves the team facilities, the exact number of seconds it takes him to get off and walk to his apartment. They are familiar, small and repetitive and he is fine as long as he is going from point A to B without deviations.

He adjusts the strap of his bag over his shoulder, hangs on tight as the train comes to a stop, waits for the doors to open and lets himself be carried off by the flow. The noise of the station is overwhelming―no matter how many years he spends in Tokyo, he doubts he is ever going to get used to it, not the way he is able to tune out the drumming excitement of the stadium or the yells of his friends over the kitchen table. He moves along with the crowd, uncomfortable, a brush of a shoulder here, a shout in his ear there, steps to the side just by the passage that leads to the bathrooms and waits for the rush of people to slow down enough not to fall down the stairs. It has happened to him a few times―too-long limbs, fast strides, in such a contained space.

He does not expect the bump on his shoulder, the “’m sorry” that follows, the pitch of a voice that rings familiar enough to perk his eyes from where they stare at the boring pattern on the floor. Sugawara Koushi stands by his side, then not, almost slipping away―just in as much of a rush as everybody else, not even taking a second to notice Kageyama after his half-hearted apology.

“Sugawara-san?”

His voice hangs on in the air; like a dying pulse it falls without reaction. Maybe Sugawara didn’t hear, maybe he is just another stranger his mind shaped into his former senpai.

He had been present on Kageyama’s mind this afternoon, somewhere at the back, like the taste of spice that takes a bit to kick off.

He had been present, front and center on his mind this morning, while he had awkwardly made his way through some impromptu interview the team had arranged with a reporter from a high school sports magazine.

Kageyama had never mentioned his name, but Sugawara had nestled himself around his tongue and in between his memories.

The other man stops and turns around, belatedly, a frown between his eyes. He smiles, broad and bright when he spots Kageyama.

“Kageyama! Oh, it IS you! Wow, look at―It’s been such a long time.”

Sugawara squints at him, with a tilt of his head and a finger on his lip, smile dancing somewhere still on his eyes. Kageyama nods, bends down respectfully.

“What are you doing here?” Sugawara’s voice is slightly rougher around the edges, but kind―kind and heavy and warm and light in the way Kageyama remembers it. Grounding, in a way he doesn’t think it could be possible to forget.

A slow blink after, Kageyama says, “I live here.”

Sugawara chokes on a laugh, threads his fingers through his hair. There’s a tease to the smile on his lips, not exactly casual, like he is letting the spice burn in his mouth.

“At the station?” he asks, looking around. Sugawara laughs freely at his own joke. Kageyama stays quiet, waits for the sound to drop, feels it settle somewhere in his chest instead. “’m sorry, Kageyama. Of course you don’t live at the station. Well, I hope you don’t—you don’t, right?” Kageyama shakes his head, and Sugawara smiles again, “I knew you were living in Tokyo anyway, I just―I didn’t expect to see you here. It is nice to see you though.”

“Hm. Why are you here, Sugawara-san?” Kageyama knows it comes out harsher than intended, he thinks it does. He is not really sure. With his hands in his pockets he tries to soften his frown, to build up a smile just like Sugawara had taught him back on his first year, with a bit more years of practice into it. Kageyama doesn’t think he quite manages it still.

“Work, a meeting―quick travel to Tokyo for few days, ‘m going back to Miyagi tomorrow.” Sugawara doesn’t seem to mind his tone, he speaks soft, familiar, as if they had never stopped seeing each other. Kind. Kind. Kind.

Kageyama stares at the way Sugawara moves his hands, sort of hanging mid-air, as if there is a barrier of years between them and he doesn’t know whether he is allowed to cross it or not. Kageyama doesn’t know either.

“You know,” Sugawara speaks again, body leaning forward, breath brushing that intangible line. Kageyama pushes his hand further down his pockets, shrinks down in his shoulders, and waits for him to continue, as if there’s a secret somewhere only he is allowed to hear. “I was heading back to my hotel, but I’m not really tired; it’d be nice to catch up.”

“Now?”

“If you want. We could get a coffee, or something?” Sugawara smiles, soft, inviting. “What do you say?”

 

 

+

 

 

He says, “Why?”

In front of him, Sugawara laughs. An easy sound that fills the station, drives past the rails and chases the train away. It’s not quite right―Kageyama remembers his laugh a bit warmer, with more teeth, and full of crinkles around his eyes. More youthful, less... He tilts his head, lets the sound blend with his memory, and feels it take the shape of a frown on his face.

“You don’t change, Kageyama, do you?”

Sugawara is still laughing like an echo. His hand lands on Kageyama shoulder, a hard grasp that grounds Kageyama to this place and this time. He blinks, long, waits―Sugawara leans towards him.

“If you really want an answer,” Sugawara continues, soft and hot breath closer than most people dare, a shrug on his shoulders, his smile two teeth wider, “’s just cause, that’s why.”

 

 

+

 

 

He says, “I should go.”

He frets with the strap of his sport bag over his shoulder, balances his weight on one foot, purses his lip. Sugawara looks as uncomfortable as he feels.

“Right, right, of course,” Sugawara rushes to say. His hands move frenetically in the space between them, “You are busy, of course, I shouldn’t… Big star you are now, Kageyama.”

There’s a gap a step larger between them. Sugawara puts a hand on the back of his neck, smiles sheepishly.

Kageyama can feel the pressure between his eyes as he frowns.

“I’m still a second string player.”

Sugawara goes still, blinking at him. Kageyama feels Sugawara’s sigh fill the air with relief, it settles on his skin like a breeze.

“For now,” Sugawara winks at him, up and chirpy again, bouncing on the sole of his feet. He looks younger like this, more like the eighteen-year-old Kageyama remembers. “Here,” he says and grabs Kageyama’s hand, puts a card―a business card, Kageyama notices―in it, smile back and comfortable on his lips, “Maybe next time.”

 

 

+

 

 

He says, “I’m going home.”

It’s not what he means to say, even though it’s technically true. He was going home, even though his apartment has never felt like home―which is not the point, but. The point is, it doesn’t sound like something he should have said. He can hear Hinata’s voice in his head go “that’s rude, Kageyama-kun” and he scowls to himself, lips tight.

“Someone’s waiting for you?” Sugawara asks. One of his eyebrows pitches up dramatically and his mouth quirks in a very particular way for a smile.

Kageyama thinks of his empty walls, the annoying tickling clock right above the TV, the kotatsu with the food stains he can’t seem to get out no matter what he tries―

“I don’t think so.”

“Always so matter-of-fact―” Sugawara half-laughs. He punches Kageyama on his arm without hesitating, twice; Sugawara’s signature form of affection. Kageyama remembers the sting of it on his skin, warm and tingly just like the bruises he got―he gets―from practice. It sits heavy on his stomach now: that Sugawara still thinks of him with the same sort of fondness Kageyama remembers him with.

 

 

+

 

 

He says, “I live close by.”

He thinks of his half empty wallet at this time of the month, he doesn’t think he can afford a night out today of all days―maybe next week, if his paycheck is on time. He has milk, coffee, maybe some sugary-concoction from the last time Hinata and Yamaguchi came by―he doesn’t think he has any alcohol. He lightly wonders if Sugawara would mind that.

Sugawara lips turn into the perfect shape of an O. Small and precise, round and plump and abnormally pink in the station lights. Kageyama looks away, towards the stairs. There’s a new flood of people incoming; the next train is only two minutes away. Same as the walk they’d have to make to his apartment.

“Your train is coming,” he says, when Sugawara still doesn’t find his words. It’s a strange sight―not that a pensive Sugawara is a strange sight, not that Kageyama has any say in what strange consists of for Sugawara anymore, it’s just… Kageyama can’t remember Sugawara looking like that. Whatever that is.

“Let it come,” Sugawara says, pauses, breaks a laugh out of his lungs. Kageyama thinks it’s a private kind of laugh, an inside-joke he is not invited to. “Damn, you are even more direct that I remember you, Kageyama. Should we go?”

 

 

+

 

 

He says, “Won’t you miss your train?”

Sugawara turns, worries his lip, with his eyes fixed on the time table announcing the next arrivals. Incoming – 5 minutes.

Kageyama watches the way Sugawara passes a hand through his hair. It’s a bit longer now, he thinks―just a bit above his shoulders, it looks featherlike. He mildly wonders if it’d feel that way too. It had, back at Karasuno, once, when Sugawara had dropped his head over the bus headrest where Kageyama sat, to say something, to Hinata, past him, to Sawamura, to someone else, Kageyama can’t remember it quite right. Now, it brushes his shoulders like it had then brushed Kageyama’s head.

“There’s always the next one.” Sugawara turns to him, hair swift in his movement, caught somewhere in Kageyama’s eyes.

Kageyama blinks, stares at the announcement billboard: Next train – 10 minutes. That’s hardly time for a coffee, a drink, or anything. Sugawara grabs Kageyama’s coat, calls his attention back to him, and lets his finger fall gingerly when Kageyama stares at his hand.

“Or the next after the next one.”

 

 

+

 

 

He says, “It’s late.”

It’s hardly seven. But even though they are inside, Kageyama knows it’s already deep night. Sugawara takes his phone out of his jacket pocket, turns it on, looks at the time, flashes the “18.29” notice on his screen at Kageyama and smiles.

“I’m the old one here, Kageyama-kun, this is hardly late,” he says, flashing his teeth, wide and open and so full of amusement Kagayama doesn’t know what to make of it―Sugawara’s smile is exactly as he remembers it, if only with a few more lines around his eyes, more strength around his lips. “I want you to tell me what everybody’s up to… You are still friends with Hinata, right? I think I saw him at one of your games…”

“You watched one of my games?” He blinks, words out of his mouth before he can stop himself.

“I watch every one of your games,” Sugawara says, as if it doesn’t mean anything. He waves an invisible flag in his hand, adds with joy: “I’m a fan”.

 

 

+

 

 

He says, “I…”

And the words fall short on his mouth, like they can’t quite become a sound against his teeth, or his brain has forgotten how to function, make his body move its parts.

Kageyama shifts his weight on his feet, suddenly overly aware of the flow of people around them; the woman that pushes a toddler towards the bathroom’s doors, the high-schoolers hollering and heading for the stairs behind Sugawara, the lady that always sits in the same spot beside him on his morning train passing by. He closes his mouth, opens it again―soundless. He stares at Sugawara and hesitates, with his lips pressed shut. 

Kageyama finds the words hidden somewhere behind his throat a second too late.

Sugawara speaks first.

“I’m sorry, that was― I’m sure you are tired, Kageyama.” He takes one step forward and makes a move as if to grab onto his wrist, or his forearm, maybe his shoulder. Kageyama falters, looks away, mouth tight. Sugawara’s hand never moves past his own body, falling dead by his side, smile dropping off his lips. “I should head back, I‘ve an early train to catch tomorrow back to Miyagi… do you…" Sugawara pauses, tilts his head until it becomes a shake, "anyway, it was nice seeing you again, Kageyama.”

Kageyama stays still, watches him turn and wave.

“You too,” he says to himself.

 

 

+

 

 

He says, “Okay.”

And somehow finds himself running under the rain as they step outside, almost summerly brushing against his shoulders, Sugawara grabbing his sleeve, dragging him onwards―somewhere, definitely not with a destination in mind other than ‘Let’s take cover‘.

It’s said with a smile hiding at the corners of his lips and a question in his sharp eyes. Adventurous, it feels, in a way Kageyama hasn’t felt since his last day of high school, and he lets himself be dragged. Whatever lines they have to cross, they lie up ahead.

“Okay,” he says, and lets the feeling pour down on him.

 

 

+

 

 

Sugawara asks, “We could get a coffee, or something? What do you say?”

It’s Friday.

Unless he has a game with the team, this usually means takeout food home alone and an early night. Sometimes, on those rare occasions he feels a tiny bit inclined to leave the emptiness of his apartment walls and the routine of a place he hasn’t called home once since he moved to Tokyo―sometimes, he lets himself be dragged out by friends.

Today might be one of those days.

Coffee, or something, with Sugawara―warm eyes, the soft curve of his lips daunting, a picture-perfect older version of his senpai―doesn’t sound so bad.

He doesn’t answer right away.

There’s a feeling hard and unrelenting on his chest, clawing in in form of questions and doubts and―he thinks of his flavorless leftovers on his fridge, the silent tick-tock of the clock hands on his wall, the empty bed―he thinks of seventeen-year-old Sugawara, his hand on fifteen-year-old Kageyama’s shoulder, his voice strong and clear―Kageyama thinks of all the things he could say.

These things hang in midair in the space between them, fixed spots Kageyama can flick with the brush of a finger, hang on to by will of a wish.  

Sugawara flattens the collar of his jacket, puts a strand of hair behind his ears, smiles wide. He waits, kind, like a memory coming alive.

Kageyama says, “I think I’d like that.”