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the Caged Birds of Kirayama

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Hinata and Kageyama enter the cafeteria quietly, but are still noticed.

Bokuto and a few others holler out at the pair, glad to see Kageyama okay. Kenma gives a tiny wave where he sits beside Kuroo, and Hinata eagerly returns it—perhaps a bit too eagerly, judging by the way Kageyama clicks his tongue.

The first years from either team and some of the second years are crowded at one table, but Inuoka and Fukunaga still move aside to allow Kageyama and Hinata to sit down after getting their food.

“So!” Inuoka starts, smiling at the pair. “I heard you were sick, Kageyama!”

“I feel better now,” Kageyama shrugs, eating his food at a languid pace. True to that, he no longer carries the ill, forsaken mood and pallor of earlier. “I just wish I hadn’t missed practice.”

“It’s not the flu, is it?” Yamaguchi strains to be heard, tilting himself slightly to speak across the table. The babble of voices echoes in the wide space of the cafeteria.

Kageyama chews thoughtfully. “I can’t promise it’s not.”

“That… that’s weirdly foreboding,” Yamaguchi says.

Inuoka pursues Hinata for a conversation about the latest monster hunter game, but the spiker is noticeably distracted. He keeps shooting glances toward the table of third years; after doing so several times in one minute, Kageyama stomps hard on his foot under the table. He yelps. Everyone in the vicinity glances at him.

Before long, they’re done their dinner—and so is Sugawara. Hinata watches out of the corner of his eye as he stands from the table of third years, excusing himself. They can’t hear what he’s talking about from so far away, but something Asahi says gets him to burst out laughing. Hinata squints.

Without so much as a glance toward the first years, Sugawara leaves the cafeteria.

Hinata nearly chokes in swallowing his mouthful of unchewed rice, turning to Kageyama beside him to shake his shoulder with a less than subtle “mrgh” of attention-getting noise. Across the table, Fukurodani’s middle blocker Onaga stares at him.

“A-are you choking?”

Hinata shakes his head in fervent disagreement, reaching for his bowl of miso soup. He downs the last of it and gasps as the rice goes down. “Nope!” And then, hissing in a blatant whisper directed at Kageyama: “Let’s go!”

“What the hell are you two up to?”

Unfortunately for them, their timing is terrible. Yaku passes behind them as they stand from their seats, a second portion of rice in hand.

"Nothing," Kageyama shrugs, voice and face so completely blank it's genuinely convincing. Hinata folds his hands politely behind his back and rocks on his heels.

"Nothing!" He parrots, seeming shifty even in that.

Unconvinced, Yaku turns his eyes from Hinata to Kageyama. “I heard you were ill. Are you feeling better now?”

“A bit,” Kageyama is clearly unwanting in continuing the conversation. “But I still feel sick. I was going to go get some fresh air.”

Behind them, Yamaguchi raises his eyebrows.

Hinata nods vigorously. “I was going to go with him!”

The look Kageyama shoots him gives them away, but Kuroo is calling Yaku over so he relents and accepts their shoddy excuses with a haphazard smile. “Take it easy. I always like receiving your freakish quick, so don’t wear yourselves out, alright?”

They nod. Yaku leaves them with that and turns to return to his table. Walking as quickly as they can without raising any suspicion, they exit the cafeteria. As soon as they turn a corner, Hinata turns to his setter with a laugh.

“You’re a really good liar, you know. It’s kind of scary.”

“Shut up.”

“It was kind of ruined since you already told the guys at our table that you were feeling fine, though. Plus, since when would you ever admit to feeling sick?”

Kageyama tries to smack him. He evades. They end up racing each other to the old classroom, where Sugawara stands with the keys in hand and a look of mixed amusement on his face, almost as though he wants to laugh, but can’t bring himself to.

“I thought you were going to try and be stealthy?” Sugawara asks, even as he picks through the ring of keys.

“Well, I was trying!” Hinata protests.

“I’m sure you were,” Sugawara does laugh now, though it’s dry and maybe a bit forced. “I guess it doesn’t matter as long as we get back before bed. Let’s look around a bit and then leave.”

He unlocks the door and they step inside.

 

 

As soon as he closes the door behind them, they split up. The opaque glass had obscured anything of interest in the room, and Sugawara has to wonder what drew Hinata here in the first place.

Although the room is full, it seems empty in the sense that there’s nothing of use here anymore. Where there might have been cameras, there sit some reels of exposed film and grunge covered textbooks, piles of notes and crumbled bits of chalk. Sugawara stifles a sneeze.

Kageyama wanders over to a bookshelf, and Sugawara and Hinata end up scrounging through the old desks. Minutes of silence pass undisturbed; maybe they’d used up all of their energy getting here, but neither Hinata nor Kageyama say anything, both boys taking to different artifacts curiously. Sugawara doesn’t question them.

Hinata is examining what looks like scrap notebooks. There’s no real merit to digging around like this—and he’s truly digging, without any rhyme or reason to his methods of searching—but he’s focused, just as much as he’d be during a volleyball game. Sugawara had initially thought that perhaps he was searching for a specific object, but it's clear now that he isn't seeking out anything in particular.

“Hmm, this one is older than the others,” Hinata says, holding up a ratty, dog-eared book. The frame of the binder is peeling away in places, the leather spine covered in cracks. It must have been somebody’s beloved book in the past.

“Did you look inside?” Sugawara asks him, stepping past some rolled up papers to peer over his shoulder. Kageyama doesn’t even look up from the photography albums on his lap.

“Nope,” Hinata chirps, carefully opening the cover. “It’s so old.”

There’s a hand drawn circle of some sort on the very first page that gives them both pause. It looks like a pentagram at first glance, but that isn’t quite right. There’s three words scribbled in the outermost circle in a language he doesn’t know, and there is more writing in the middle of what appears to be a pyramid. Underneath, there’s something written in roman characters.

“This isn’t English… what is this?” Hinata asks.

“I can’t recognize it…”

“You can’t tell either, Sugawara?”

“Well, it’s definitely the roman alphabet,” He shrugs, straining to see it. “Here, let me see?”

The book is carefully passed between the two. Further inspection proves that the circle that Sugawara had assumed to be a pentagram is—well, it’s not a pentagram. It isn’t necessarily satanic in nature, but there’s still something weird about it.

“What is that creepy scribble?”

Sugawara and Hinata both jump. Kageyama had grown bored of the photo albums, evidently, and had snuck up behind Sugawara to peer over his shoulder. Hinata had been too absorbed to notice him.

“Geez, Kageyama, don’t sneak up on people like that! It’s rude!”

“Shut up, I was right in front of you.”

“I would have noticed if you weren’t being sneaky ,” Hinata sticks his tongue out at him and for that, Kageyama glares daggers at him. “But you’re right. That drawing is creepy.”

They fall silent, peering at it. Bored with the circle, Hinata reaches over Sugawara to flip the page for him.

“What a dirty book,” Kageyama comments idly, crowding around his upper classmate. “Gross.”

"You make it sound like it’s a perverted magazine," Hinata chastises him. “Choose your words more carefully!”

“I thought you said it was in English?” Kageyama ignores Hinata entirely. Sugawara examines the book, befuddled by the question. The second page is in Japanese; it seems like a journal of some sort.

“No, I said it’s definitely not English,” Sugawara murmurs, flipping through the pages.

“What is it? A diary?” Hinata asks, screwing up his face into a concentrated squint as he attempts to work out the text from upside down. “What does it say?”

“...?”

Something catches Sugawara’s eye. He pauses in flipping the pages to scan a passage.

“... I think this is a journal from one of the former students,” He says slowly, flipping back to the first few pages. Behind him, Kageyama makes a noise of dissatisfaction. He’d probably been trying to read what was on the other page. Sugawara is silent, so Hinata prompts him with an imploring look and a whine. He rolls his eyes, but begins to read aloud.

“… this is by ‘Nishimoto Mori’, … ‘my world with crumbing lenses.’ Huh?”

“Are you reading that right?” Kageyama asks, reaching around his vice captain to tap the scrawled letters. “’My life is ruined’. And then ‘here’s my story’. Isn’t that what it says?”

“You’re right,” Sugawara turns to blink at him, impressed. “This is written brokenly. I’m surprised you were able to parse that.”

Kageyama shrugs, but his ears go red. Sugawara turns back to the book and continues to read.

“’This school is boring. We were told by our teachers to keep journals to occupy ourselves, but I don’t really like it.’ Hmm… Kageyama, can you read this?” Sugawara taps a passage he finds illegible. The writing is not only smudged, but also written as though by a young child.

“‘The transfer student is loved by everyone’,” Kageyama answers, squinting down at it. “’I don’t know about her’.”

“That’s weird,” Hinata seems dubious. “Is that really what it says?”

“Yeah,” Sugawara nods, eyes roving across the idle writings. “Huh. This is kind of neat.”

“Like a time capsule,” Hinata grins. “I told you we might find something cool!”

Sugawara doesn’t respond to that—he just gives Hinata a smile in return before continuing reading aloud. “’The teachers are strict but they don’t check our notebooks’. And ‘the new girl talks a lot during lunch. Somehow, everyone listens’.”

“What are they, ten years old?” Kageyama mutters, squinting at the characters.

“I don’t think so. This was a high school,” Sugawara replies to the rhetorical remark seriously, preoccupied with the text.

“Then it was written by an idiot,” Kageyama decides.

“Maybe that’s why you can read it so easily,” Hinata teases, getting an indignant huff from Kageyama. Sugawara flaps an annoyed hand and shushes them before they can devolve into bickering.

“This is just a boring recounting of the first few days of classes…” He flips through the pages until he finds something else—something that seems peculiar enough to read out.

“’This school is strange. I was told by one of my peers that someone once hung themselves in the third gym, but it’s brand new. I don’t think anyone hung themselves there’.”

Kageyama and Hinata fall silent, sharing a look with one another.

“’The headmistress is kind. I thought she would tell me to go away when I reported these things, but she took me seriously. She told me not to worry about it. These are just rumors. I won’t listen to them’.”

Sugawara hesitates and scans the next few lines before speaking them aloud.

“’I do want to go home. At night, the wooden floorboards squeak. We are not allowed to wander. But I hear someone walking around after curfew. Are they just messing with me’?”

Sugawara lifts his head and scowls, stopping there. “We… we shouldn’t read this.”

“Keep going!” Hinata urges, bouncing on the balls of his feet. His excitement is offbeat and misplaced, seeming an odd contrast to the uneasy atmosphere in the room.

“Doesn’t this bother you?” Sugawara asks, dumbstruck.

“It’s just a book!” Hinata says, usually loud voice sounding even louder in the quiet of the classroom. “We can’t stop here.”

“I kind of want to keep going, too,” Kageyama admits, lips pressed into a thin line. Despite his own curiosity, Sugawara is still hesitant. He doesn’t want to, but between the two of them, it’s not like he can say no. He reluctantly turns back to the book, flipping to the next entry.

“There’s only one line for this date,” Sugawara mutters, prompting Hinata to stand on tip toes to see so for himself.

“What does it say?” Hinata questions.

“’Akira told stories in our reading class again. Everyone listened, but I didn’t want to.’”

“That’s weird.” Kageyama is as blunt as ever.

Hinata gives a nervous smile and nods, agreeing with him, but curious all the same. “What were the stories?”

“It doesn’t say. Maybe they were rumors,” Sugawara offers, flipping through the book. There’s another page, like the last, with just a single line written in the middle. “’They knocked my lunch over and put cicadas in my slippers.’”

“Eh?” Hinata is plainly confused. “… why would they put cicadas in his shoes?”

“That’s what you pay attention to?” Kageyama gives him a disgusted look behind their upper classmate’s back, baiting him. “Are you an idiot?”

“No! Well, I mean it seriously. Why would they do that? Is there more, Sugawara?” He asks, as persistent as ever.

“’I found a bird in my cupboard. It ruined my school uniform’. This is...”

“There’s got to be more. Look,” Gripped with a frantic desire to uncover more, Kageyama flips to the next passage. Silence settles over them for a moment as he and Sugawara read it, Hinata fidgeting in impatience. “‘Akira wrote a message for me on the chalkboard: it told me to go home’. What the hell does that mean?”

“Go home,” Hinata parrots. “Didn’t they mention wanting to go home?”

The next few lines are scribbled out, ink smeared across the messy scrawl of writing. It’s barely legible at all. “’The world’s setting sun grows cold. The rotten trees reach the sky and touch the moon’—I think this next part is a poem,” Sugawara continues, turning to look to Kageyama for approval.

“I think so,” He nods.

“This is weird,” Hinata butts in, going still. “I don’t really get it. Maybe we should just put it back.”

Both Sugawara and Kageyama look up and fix him with a perplexed stare. The sudden drop in interest is unusual—Kageyama can’t ignore it. “Seriously? You’re the one who wanted to look through this thing in the first place.”

“I can’t even read it from here,” He says, making it clear that he simply feels excluded—or perhaps teased, like they’re making it all up as they go along.

The younger setter rolls his eyes, exasperated. “You’re not missing out on anything.”

“A lot of it is boring,” Sugawara quietly agrees. “You can look at it after, if you don’t believe us.”

Hinata huffs, but he doesn’t argue further. “… I guess.”

Sugawara hums idly as he and Kageyama struggle to read the rest of the poem. “… ‘understanding is given to life…’? That doesn’t sound right.”

“’Magic held close becomes the truth’. That’s this line,” Kageyama taps the paper where Hinata can’t see.

“’This was the summer story Akira told us’,” Sugawara reads, giving an appreciative murmur of realization. “ Oh. So the stories were really just poems?”

“I dunno if it’s a poem,” Kageyama’s lack of patience has him scowling, frustrated with his inability to understand the journal’s contents. “I don’t get it.”

“Okay, so maybe it’s not a poem,” Discontent with that answer, Sugawara flips the page. “This is dated the same as the story. ’Today, I thought I’d go see the teachers. I thought if I spoke to them something would change’. Oh… ‘nothing did’.”

“I guess it didn’t help the bullying in the end.”

Kageyama’s hushed words hang in the air. Hinata’s mouth falls open in surprise, like he hadn’t expected Kageyama to actually say it—like he’d hoped that they could just continue pretending that it’s a story, not a disturbing retelling of a high school boy’s life.

What they’re reading is sad, and how they’re reading it is unforgivably cruel—like it’s cheap entertainment, or a mystery to be solved. Sugawara has nothing to say for himself. Without turning any more pages, he rethinks what they’d read.

It was obvious. There were probably more explicit clues in the diary, but they hadn’t had the patience to read in depth. The cicadas, the bird in his cubby, everything. He feels guilty for flipping through the pages as if it were a magazine, searching for the parts that caught his interest.

“This is messed up.” Kageyama reaches past him to flip through the diary, and Sugawara’s hand snaps out to stop him midway, something catching his eye.

The book falls open on the same page that had given Sugawara pause in the beginning. Behind him, Kageyama carefully begins to read.

“’…I hid the knife underneath the floorboards.’” He drags his finger down, as if in disbelief of what he’s reading. “’I only have one choice.’ What the hell kind of choice is that?”

For a moment, they’re all quiet. Hinata tentatively interrupts that silence. “This is kind of scary.”

They ignore him. Kageyama keeps reading.

“’If I hide in the showers, it’s no good. If I miss role call, it’s no good. The doors are chained when we sleep. If I break a chain, the noise will wake the others, so it’s no good. To hide I’ll have to be outside. To be outside I’ll have to have a reason. If I…’ I can’t read this. It’s smeared.”

Sugawara finds the next legible text and reads that. “’I’ll put it in the storage closet’. I can’t tell what he’s referring to… ‘And this in the photography room’. I think he means the journal…? Then ‘Akira is it’. That’s the last line.”

Kageyama flips through the book, but there’s no other text. The rest of it is empty.

“Is… is that it?” Hinata asks, peeking through his hands.

“I think—whoa,” Kageyama freezes as he flutters through a few blank pages and finds one with a polaroid taped to it, picturing the front of the school draped in snow. Underneath, it reads: I knew as soon as I saw it .

That isn’t it. There’s more and more pictures, the probable cause of the book’s heft. One of the hallways, filled with students. A young girl holding a book and reading in front of the classroom. A few smiling students stood underneath a cherry tree, covered in dappled shadows. It reads Nishimoto, Misaoto and Mirai underneath.

None of the pictures depict anything strange, but they’re eerie anyway. There’s a gradual shift in the pictures, more taken of people’s backs and not their faces, some unfocused and some far off, distant. If Sugawara didn’t know any better, he’d think of it as some kind of art project. The pictures are gorgeous, even for their age. That doesn’t change how strange they are.

Eventually, the photographs lose their beauty. The subject is blurred, or unsure. There’s pictures of the ground and nothing else. Another photo gives him pause—it’s of a tree. It seems to be of the tree in the courtyard. It’s hardly recognizable because it’s in bloom, but Sugawara is somehow sure of it. He glances at Hinata, expecting him to notice and perhaps comment on it, but he doesn’t.

The caption reads my summer’s story. Sugawara studies the page.

Kageyama speaks up before he can. “There’s something up with the picture.”

It’s warped from water damage, Sugawara realizes. Reaching past him, Kageyama touches it. “Huh.” He picks at the edge, trying to pry it free from the page. It’s taped on the bottom and the top—he removes the piece from the top, and flips it down.

There’s a scribbled drawing of another pentagram on the back of the photo. It’s a bit different from the one on the first page, but there’s no mistaking it. None of them say anything for a moment, unsure how to address it. It makes the hair on the back of Sugawara’s neck stand up. This isn’t something they should look at, and he doesn’t know why he feels that way, but the feeling is so suddenly intense that it makes him want to cringe away.

There’s something written in a messy scrawl underneath it, so he focuses on that, instead. No one says anything about the drawing.

“’I thought I could fix it on my own. Now all I have is this’.”

“This?” Hinata asks, fascination warped with confusion. “What’s ‘this’? The circle?”

“He could mean the book itself,” Sugawara says, avoiding looking at the drawing. He flips the photo back up and puzzles over it, trying to understand the meaning.

“All I have left is ‘my summer’s story’?” Kageyama suggests, dragging a hand through his hair. “It sounds like what we read earlier, about her ‘summer stories’.”

“But he hated her stories,” Sugawara says, precariously. “And, these photos… I don’t know; it might just be me, but I think they’re pretty good.” In front of him, Hinata tilts his head. “I mean—they’re taken well. He’s skilled. There’s so many… and this journal is here, in the photography room. Don’t you think it’s probably something he liked doing?”

“Oh,” Kageyama says, flattening his mussed hair. “So, you’re saying he wouldn’t mix her stuff with his pictures?”

“Yeah,” Sugawara nods, flipping the page. “It’s got to be something of his.”

“We should check the other photos, too. There might be more.”

Following Kageyama’s suggestion, Sugawara returns to the previous polaroids—but most are glued down, not taped, and those that aren’t have nothing underneath them. He flips through the rest of the pictures, but the book ends with just a few blank pages. There’s nothing else of note. Sugawara heaves a nearly relieved sigh.

Having seen them reach the end, Hinata holds out his hands imploringly. Sugawara is quick to oblige him, handing it off as if passing him something disgusting. Hinata’s persistent cheeriness is incredibly atypical when compared to the mood of the room, and Sugawara can’t help but think that it’s his own way of dealing with it. Allowing him to read in peace, the two other boys settle down at one of the abandoned desks, silently brooding.

After a minute or two of grinding teeth, Kageyama speaks up. “It’s bugging me.”

“What is?”

“I don’t know,” he sighs, weighted and exhausted. Sugawara realizes that the healthy flush that Kageyama had regained is long gone, lost to a pallor that makes him look sickly. The tremble to his intertwined fingers is barely perceptible, but present. “I guess all of it. I don’t know, it just… it feels like we read something we weren’t supposed to.”

“What do you…” The older setter swallows, nervousness bringing about a cold sweat. He thinks about the drawings. “What do you mean? Which part?”

“Like I said, all of it,” Kageyama snaps, frustration and sickness taking an obvious toll on his patience. “I’ve felt uneasy ever since we opened the book.”

“Kageyama, you don’t… this doesn’t have anything to do with how you felt on the way up, does it?”

“I…” Kageyama runs his hands through his hair again and then brings them down to the table, clenching them into fists. “It’s the only thing that makes sense to me.”

For one heart shattering beat, Sugawara really has nothing to say. He can’t comfort him again, not when he doesn’t believe it himself. The entire book reeks of bad omens. The mentions of bullying and the vague, obscure sounding poetry combined with the eerie degradation of the quality of the photography alongside the circles were all grim signs.

He wants to laugh at it. He should be able to laugh at it. But this is too serious to ignore or shrug off.

The tense silence doesn’t last long. Sugawara is just opening his mouth to spill out half-hearted comforts when Hinata runs over to the table and slams the open book down in front of them. The forbidding circle from the first page stares up at them, seeming to glint maliciously. Sugawara averts his eyes.

“Look at this again!” Hinata says, excitement seeming strange in the grim atmosphere of the small room—too bright, too cheery. “Guess what? I figured something out!”

Kageyama sighs, obviously struggling not to yell at him. “Pipe down before someone hears you, dumbass.”

“This writing isn’t by Nishimoto!”

“Huh?”

“Look," Hinata taps the scrawled writing underneath. “It’s all neat and tidy, when the rest is all messy. It’s different!”

Having thought Hinata might have been getting somewhere, Kageyama’s disappointment is explosive. “You’re such an idiot! It’s written in the alphabet, so of course it’s gonna look different.

“Shut up! Tell me something that you noticed if you’re so smart! All you do is complain.

“Dumbass. You’re an absolute dumbass.” Kageyama is sweating. If his sickness wasn’t clear to Hinata, then it is to Sugawara. It’s only getting worse.

“You’re just angry I noticed something that you didn’t!”

“Hinata,” Sugawara cuts him off before he can continue. “Stop. Arguing isn’t going to solve anything. This is serious.

“I know it’s serious,” The younger teen blurts. Both Sugawara and Kageyama can only stare. Hinata stares back with an intense, challenging gaze. He seems determined to get to the bottom of the mystery.

He turns around, walks through the mess, and squats to dig through more books, as stubborn as always. Sugawara watches him for a moment longer before heaving a sigh, drained of energy. If he wants to keep looking, then there’s not a lot Sugawara can do to stop him.

“Let’s keep this to ourselves,” Sugawara says, firmly. “The others might also… take this really seriously.”

“I don’t think they’d believe us unless we showed them this,” Kageyama mumbles, picking up the journal. He turns the page, obscuring the ugly scribble from their sight. “…I’ve read it myself, but even I still don’t really understand.”

“I think it’s a journal from a bullied boy,” Sugawara says. “And I don’t think we had any business reading it.”

“He’s probably long gone now, though,” Kageyama shrugs, flipping idly through the pages. “… it’s not about that. It just gives me the creeps.”

Sugawara raises his head and watches as Hinata picks his way through the junk in the room, carrying what looks like an album in his arms. He drops it onto the table and watches proudly as Sugawara drags it closer to inspect it.

“What is this…?”

Kageyama squints at it. “I was looking through that earlier.”

“Read the label on the side,” Hinata insists. Sugawara is befuddled, but he obeys, checking the label on the binder’s spine.

“’Nishimoto’… this is his? This entire album?”

“Yeah!” Hinata gestures toward it, obviously eager for Sugawara to open it. He rolls his eyes but gives in, because even though he’d said himself that they’d had no business in prying, he’s too curious to deny himself a look. And it’s not like this is a diary, this time.

Inside, the pictures are more of the same. Some are more mediocre than he’d expected, but others are spectacularly artful. There’s almost no text to accompany the many photographs, but they tell their own story—again, matching the dates of the diary, the pictures gradually lose focus and precision. Photographs of snow covered trees and wildlife, students silhouetted against the shining sun—the gorgeous frames make way for murky skies and unsure looking puddles of rain, blurred, as though taken hastily.

Sugawara isn’t interested, and Kageyama isn’t either, judging by the firm glare he’s giving the opposing wall. He closes the album and pushes it back toward Hinata, feeling sick to his stomach.

“We should go,” he suggests, throat dry. “I have to return the keys to Daichi.”

Hinata wilts. It’s obvious that what they’ve found has disappointed him, despite the fact that he was the one who wanted to come here in the first place. Or perhaps it’s not the mystery of the diary itself, but the reluctance of his friends to investigate further. Either way, he gives up on it, and nods.

“… I guess!” He’s pouting, put out. “Kageyama, you should probably rest more! You look sicker than before.”

“And who’s fault is that?” He grumbles, chair squealing as he stands from the table. “This place gives me the creeps. Let’s hurry up and get out of here already.”

Hinata picks up the book—and turns to leave with it. Sugawara gapes. “Hey! Leave that here.”

“What?” Hinata stares. “Why?”

“First, we’re not supposed to be here,” He admonishes him in hushed tones, heart beating a mile a minute. “You—maybe you didn’t catch it, but I already said we shouldn’t tell anyone else about this.”

Hinata seems puzzled. “We shouldn’t?”

“No,” Sugawara agrees. “We shouldn’t.”

Kageyama crosses his arms and scowls. “Put that down so we can go.

Hinata does, though with great reluctance; like a kicked, scolded puppy, he settles it down on top of the table he’s closest to, eyes lingering on it even as he begins to walk away, steps slow. He’s probably expecting Sugawara to sigh and say fine, just take it! But when he realizes that’s not going to happen, he sighs and hurries out of the room.

Sugawara takes care to lock the door behind them, unenthused with the idea of Hinata returning to sneak the book out. For an extra measure, he tries the knob; it stays stiffly unmoving. It’s enough to reassure him.

Kageyama and Hinata split up from Sugawara. “Don’t sneak around anymore,” He advises, trying not to sound too stern. Even if he feels uneasy because of the book, he doesn’t want to show it in front of them any more than he already has. “Just get to the showers and then head up to our room.”

Sugawara doesn’t head up immediately, himself. There’s a restlessness deep in his bones; he finds himself drawn to the courtyard, where he pauses in front of the rows of windows to peer outside, at the tree.

It’s definitely the same one from the photos. Did Nishimoto spend his highschool days quietly sitting underneath it…? Even if he took photos of it, they didn’t seem to hold any type of cherished memory. Sugawara thinks about the circle that he’d avoided looking at, and the ominous message that went with it.

He suppresses a shudder.

It’s still cold in the hallways. Sugawara hates the miserable weather; it doesn’t look like it’s going to clear up any time soon. He just hopes it doesn’t rain.

It’s probably best if he heads up to the dorms to get settled into bed—staying out any longer might look suspicious. He’d even lectured the first years about discreetly hurrying to their dorm, so it doesn’t look good for him to avoid it himself.

Sugawara doesn’t run into anyone else on his way upstairs.

The second floor should be quiet other than the insistent howling of the wind outside, but when he opens the door to head inside, he stops short. He closes the door instead of entering the room, and a sudden thunk startles him.

Sugawara looks for the source of the noise and finds his eyes drawn to the brass ornament swaying from the doorknob.

That feeling of inexplicable dread crawls up his back as he watches it spin in place. It comes to a stop, and he draws it as close as the thin chain tying it to the knob allows him to.

There’s no doubt about it. It’s a charm with a circle etched into the metal, done in the same style as the pentagrams they’d seen in Nishimoto’s journal.

“Wh...what is this?”

Sugawara can’t take his eyes off of it. How had he never noticed this before? It was something that stood out from the rest of the school—no other doors had charms like this, and no other art existed like these circles. He can’t fathom as to why it’s here or what it means, but he has a feeling it’s nothing good.

There’s no way he can leave it on the door, not having seen Nishimoto’s writings. It’s probably been here for a while—probably since the school was vacated. Sugawara looks around for people, and then unhooks the chain it’s hanging from on the knob and pulls it off.

He stands back and stares at the door. Nothing has really changed except its appearance, but… standing here with the creepy charm in his hand, something feels different.

Sugawara shakes his head free of worries and opens the door.