Chapter 1: Dreamland
Kageyama dreams he is sinking.
Cold presses around him on all sides, a frost biting deep into his bones, an icy envelopment. There is no sound, and there is nothing to see, opened eyes seeking light and catching aught but the curtained call of night.
He can't breathe.
It suffocates him in a way that no dream should, not by any means, an anxiety so stifling that his chest jumps as his heart throbs wildly in panic. Like a caged animal he thrashes, fear instinctual and deep, limbs so slow to move, encased in the bitterly cold water. Where is he, he wonders? An idle thought in a sea of nothing but aching terror bubbles up, a question he can't seem to answer. There's no one here to answer his empty cries.
It's dark and he's afraid.
Static builds up in his ears, an air-splitting shriek finally bursting forth from his lips. There's something hot trickling down his face, tears, maybe, a burn that leaves scorched lines where they rest too long. The water disappears, just like that, the numbing terror escaping him in one hot breath.
He stands now upon a mountain, watching the sun rise up over grassy hills and tall, autumn forests. The sight should soothe him, but instead a different kind of dread builds in his throat, a scream he can't scream. His body stands frozen, chilled to the bone. There's nothing wrong with the vision before him, all warm tones and gentle beauty, but a voice inside of him tells him that it is wrong, all to the contrary, the vision a lie and the beauty so very ugly in reality.
The static reconnects and rebuilds, a slow winding hum that heightens in volume to a shriek that should not be, coming from just beside him. His bones are frozen, still, from the cold of the lake, and he can't seem to move his head nor his eyes to catch just what is making that noise. He cannot move, not even as it comes closer and closer to him, unrelenting and constant in its noise. A cold, white hand stretches out in front of him, a warm voice drifting in through the static. It is terribly familiar, and so very earnest.
Kageyama? Where did you go?
A chilly wind sweeps over him, starting from the plains stretching before him, a simple whisper of the storm to come. Dark, heavy clouds roll in from a place so very far away, a place so truly numinous he can't imagine it. It is a calling to the thunder that buzzes above, achingly plain. Lightning strikes, terribly, terribly close.
He wakes up in damp, sticky sheets, tears leaking from his eyes. His room is cold and so peeling the sheets from his skin causes a shiver to trickle down the back of his neck to end at the base of his spine. A gross feeling creeps up on him, even as he sits up and pulls his shirt off. An irrational anger makes him swear, hissing at nobody, scared for no reason at all.
It's just a dream, he tells himself. He hops in the shower and drowns his fear in the hot, scalding water, rubbing away the memories where they sit, burned on the back of his lids. It was just a nightmare. Not uncommon, yet not common enough to plague him like this. There's an innate desire in him to call for his mother, to sit somewhere warm and brightly lit, like it'll chase away the terrors of the night. Warm milk, a kind embrace. That's all he wants.
Instead, he chases it away with a hot shower, a white, fluffy towel, and a cold glass of water. He downs it in the darkness of his kitchen and then he goes to bed and sleeps lightly, fidgeting and uncomfortable. He is unable to hide from his dream, and it takes him far longer than it should to fall asleep.
Even in the morning it lingers, hovering over him like a cloud. It comes out in unfortunate ways, in him yelling at Hinata more often than called for, in his lack of concentration on his schoolwork, and in his failure to commit properly to his sport. It lingers and lingers until Takeda, their teacher advisor, calls them over during their evening practice.
"Good news, everyone. I know it's cutting it a little close, but... after talking it over with coach Ukai and the others, we've decided that, if you all agree as well, we'll be having another training camp."
The cloud splits as though cut with a knife, and like smoke, the dream disappears. Kageyama's excitement mounts.
"Of course, we need to take as many opportunities that come to us as possible, especially before the nationals. For this reason, I think it's the right decision. Coach Nekomata and Takeyuki accepted our invitation, and— well, it’s a bit small, but I figured that it could work. What do you all think?"
Daichi looks around to the team, and Kageyama finds himself nodding as their eyes meet. A silent agreement occurs between all of them in the space of a second. "Of course. When is it?"
"Actually," Takeda seems bashful, now, ducking his head and rubbing the back of his neck awkwardly as he explains. "That's the problem. Their teams have agreed to come, but it's over the upcoming summer break. It's really cutting it close, and I had worried that some of you might have already made plans..."
"As if," Ukai grunts from his side, smirking. "They're all volleyball freaks."
"Well, I don't think anyone has any plans," Daichi mutters, glancing behind him at the team. Kageyama keeps his eyes forward, already too aware of the fact that his family doesn't have anything in mind, mother having left for Sendai not long ago. "You guys?"
No one speaks up, and even Tsukishima shrugs. Kageyama recalls a conversation he'd overheard between him and Yamaguchi in the club room and on their way home. My brother was going to come in and visit for the holidays. The realization that Tsukishima is choosing practice over family matters surprises him, and he finds his eyes glued to the other boy, who catches on quickly, returning the stare with a furious furrow to his brow.
Kageyama averts his gaze.
"Seems like we're all clear," Daichi says, a smirk slowly slipping onto his face. Takeda seems immensely pleased, pushing up his glasses with an excited grin plastered all over his face. Hinata jostles Kageyama's arm, and he startles, looking down at him, raising his eyebrows. It is clear that he's holding in his own excited blabbering. He suppresses the urge to jostle him back.
"Then we'll be heading out in a few days, on Monday— there's a few more minor details that I need to work out with the others, but we have a place and a time. I'll fill you all in properly after that," he concludes neatly, slapping his palms together to signal the end of their meeting. Ukai inclines his head to speak to him in hushed tones as the team quickly turns to babble with each other.
Kageyama finds himself occupied with Hinata, who clings to the sleeve of his jacket like a child, hopping up and down in place. "Did you hear that? It's like a private training camp for our three teams! Just us! How cool is that?" he urges Kageyama's agreement, glimmering, wide eyes staring into his.
"Don't tug," Kageyama reprimands him, prying Hinata's hands off of his arm. "It is cool. I didn't think it would be possible for such a last minute camp before now."
"Yeah!" Hinata fidgets in place, placing his hands politely at his sides. "But, I just hope my mom agrees! After all, I think she wanted to do something."
"Oh yeah," Kageyama nods, mindlessly. His attention lingers elsewhere, a strange disconnect to the current scenario. There is happiness, a sort of vague giddiness, and laying just underneath it is unease. It is perplexing because it is an emotion that he can’t understand; it’s not something he should be feeling right now. It irritates him, an insistent thorn in his side.
Hinata shakes him free of his distracting thoughts, again jostling his shoulder in his excitement.
"What's with that look, Kageyama? Don't tell me you actually have plans?" Hinata asks, a mocking pout curling his lips. Kageyama's instinct is to hit, so he does, smacking Hinata lightly upside the head.
"This is just my face," he snaps, irritation not much more than smoke, a cover for his bizarre anxiety. "And what would be so weird about me having plans? ... it's not like I do, but even if I did, volleyball is more important," he mutters, sour gaze flitting over to where their coach and their teacher stand, speaking seriously about the camp.
"Haha, that's true! You're such an airhead, I thought for a second that expression meant something bad, but I guess you'd pick volleyball even if you had a girlfriend," Hinata laughs like he's told a good joke, and Kageyama swats at him again, an attack that is easily evaded this time.
"Shut up," he barks, slight annoyance blowing over into anger, as it does, always, with Hinata. "What the hell do you know?! My face is my face!"
"Hey, you two," Daichi calls from beside Sugawara, startling them from their bickering. "Kageyama, Hinata. Neither of you really have plans, right?"
They drop the argument in order to address their captain. Hinata is first to speak. "I don't. I'll still have to check with my mom, but... I don't really think there'll be an issue for me. Kageyama might have a date, though," he says, all joy in his teasing, and Kageyama barely restrains himself in front of his upper classmates, who fix him with a worried stare. The fact that they take anything Hinata says seriously at all ushers in an anticipatory anger that pushes out his apprehensions, chasing his worries deeper and deeper into the back of his mind.
"I don't," he hisses, wanting to smack him again. "I don't have any plans, and my parents don't, either. I'm coming."
"Oh? That's good. You had such a serious expression on, even for you, Kageyama. I was worried," Sugawara explains, eyes twinkling mischievously. It is as always, reassurance easy to find in the familiar interactions of their team. He nods to his upper classmate, and he and Hinata bow respectfully before they are ushered off to help clean the gym before they head home.
Hinata steps aside to speak to Yachi when she nervously calls out to him, and the two speak to Takeda; Kageyama doesn't wait for him, opting to walk home by himself. He wonders over what it could have been about, but tosses those worries aside, deciding it isn't any of his business. It's not long before he arrives home and receives a text message from Hinata.
Yachi can't come. She has plans! And I don't think Narita or Kinoshita can, either. Why didn't they speak up!
Hinata is probably disappointed, even if his message is unexpectedly mature.
Too bad for them, he thinks.
He forgets the dream. The feeling of foreboding lingers, now no cause but a breeze in the distance, the chill of some ghostly winter wind. It's an inexplicable feeling that loses its reason— the dream— and becomes terribly indistinct.
It's a rather cold day for August.
The heat picks up later on in the week, temperature rising to unbearably high degrees along with the humidity. The sun blazes down on the gym where they practice, turning it into a sauna. The evening brings a kind breeze along with a drop to the heat, but it still lingers, pressing in on Kageyama, suffocating him.
It's three receives into the five that they cycle through for practice when his mounting annoyance finally peaks, senses dulled from the overbearing summer heat and the exhaustion that comes after a hard day's work. There's a flush to his skin that clings like a fever, and he finds himself snapping at everything and nothing, displeasure causing his typically violent temperament to escalate even further. It's unwarranted, he knows as much. That doesn't stop him from lashing out.
Hinata bears the brunt of his anger on the other side of the net, flailing to receive the balls sent flying his way with increasing power and speed, unable to keep up. The third ball flies off to the side, Yachi squeaking as she walks by, barely avoiding it. Hinata falls on his ass with a strained yelp, hands flying out to catch himself.
"Pick yourself up!" he finds himself shouting before he can help it.
"Shut it!" Hinata yelps indignantly from the floor of the gym, all furrowed brows and puffed up cheeks. "I'm trying, can't you see?!"
What Kageyama can see are the signs of Hinata's own irritation, but he finds himself continuing to chastise him anyway. "Come on, use your whole body! Are you scared of hurting your arms or something?!"
"I said shut up," Hinata bites back and stands, dusting off his pants with a grimace. "You're being such a bully today, Kageyama! What's up with you?" he barks back.
"Bully?" Kageyama repeats, cocking a brow. He wipes away the sweat above his brow and approaches the net, unaware of the rest of the team's watchful eyes. "I'm trying to help, here. It's not my fault you can't pay attention."
"You're acting like a jerk, though!" he says, going and pointing at Kageyama for emphasis. "What's wrong with you? You've been moody all week! I mean, you're usually pretty picky, but not like this!" he continues to shout back, his own frustrations finally coming to a head. "Bully!"
Tanaka starts toward them as the atmosphere begins to pick up, all tense shoulders and twisted brows, but Daichi throws an arm out to stop him, giving a subtle shake of his head.
"I'm not," Kageyama says, but his resolve is beginning to crumble, clear in the way he pauses, hands clenching and unclenching nervously. "... I'm not," he repeats, shaking his head.
"You are," Hinata says, an exhausted sigh escaping him in a huff, dropping his pointing hand to instead cross his arms. "Did you not even realize it yourself? ... aren't you just being an airhead right now?" he asks, this time being the one to cock a brow.
Kageyama slouches, casting his gaze aside. He realizes that everyone is watching him, and he flushes, turning his angry glare back to Hinata. "I'm not..."
Nishinoya snorts, somewhere to the other side of the court, breaking the tense atmosphere easily. Kageyama wipes the sweat from his brow and averts his gaze with a pout.
"You are," Hinata wags his finger at Kageyama, and the others return to practicing, the bickering pair eventually getting back to it as well. They continue like that, with the back and forth, until Kageyama trails off into a grudging silence. Though he'd argued, his serves do get softer and thus, they're easier to receive. They're sweat soaked and miserably tired, but they work hard at their sport until Ukai blows the whistle on practice and they begin to clear out.
Takeda stops them after the cleaning is done with, waving them over eagerly. The gloom around Kageyama doesn't dissipate, and Hinata nudges him with an elbow, as if to chastise him for his lingering bad mood. It makes his stomach lurch unpleasantly, but he has a feeling it's something else.
"Good work, everyone! I know you're all eager to get out of here," he begins, fanning himself with a sheet of paper in his hand. "But as promised, I have more information for you concerning the upcoming training camp. As you know, we'll be heading out from tomorrow, August 8th, to the 14th. We'll be taking a rental bus west, over to Kami, where we'll head up to Kirayama, and..."
Kageyama finds his attention beginning to drift despite his best efforts, nausea creeping up the back of his throat. Takeda continues to talk.
"... with Nekoma and Fukurodani. Some of the players can't make it, since they had plans, but..."
He slaps a hand over his mouth.
"—Kageyama?" Hinata's hands are on his upper arms, easing his downward descent to his knees. Takeda's informative spiel has ended, replaced with worried stammering that Kageyama doesn't pay much attention to. His head spins as he wills away the urge to vomit. His ears are ringing and he knows if he moves a muscle now, he'll end up with the contents of his stomach on the gym floor. Hinata does not speak to him so much as he blubbers, absolutely panicked. "Kageyama! He's so pale! Captain, can we get a bag?! He's going to be sick!"
Kageyama grabs onto Hinata's wrist when he begins to rise from his position beside him. "Just wait," He heaves, voice muffled against his palm. Hinata freezes up and then his hands are squeezing Kageyama's shoulders, shaking him.
"Don't die, Kageyama! Coach Ukai, what should I do?! He's shaking!"
"Hinata! You're the one shaking him! Let him go and step back," Sugawara's voice drifts in, muddling up Kageyama's swarming thoughts further. The frenzied panic surrounding him makes his gut clench and he squeezes his eyes shut tight, curling in on himself. Sugawara is talking into his ear, voice gentle but hands firm as he gets him on his feet from the floor where he kneels.
The noise dissipates, all of a sudden, and the oppressive heat of the gym fades away to clean, cold air, light touches guiding him from gawking stares and muttered concerns to the sanctity of the open darkness outside of the gym.
"... Kageyama? Here." He's handed a paper bag, and he shakes his head like he doesn't want it, bunching it up in his grip. Sugawara is beside him now, silent as he walks him from the gym. Now that he's outside, the nausea passes as quickly as it had come.
"I'm sorry," he manages eventually, slow to come to comforts with removing his hand from his mouth, as if afraid a spare breath would have brought his sickness out of him. "Sorry, Sugawara. I didn't realize—"
"It's alright," his upper classmate shushes him easily, palms rubbing circles into his back before withdrawing, wary not to become anything inappropriate. He hadn't even felt it earlier, but now that Sugawara has stopped, he already misses it. "It must be heat exhaustion. It's not your fault, but you do need to be more careful with your body. You really threw us for a loop there. I thought Hinata was going to throw up, himself."
"Is he okay?" Kageyama mutters, catching Sugawara's eye. "Hinata. I had a bad feeling..."
"Hm?" Sugawara tilts his head, polite, but curious. "Hinata? He's fine. He's just worried, like everyone else. We'll head to the club room for now, okay? Takeda will finish filling you in tomorrow."
"Where's Hinata?" Kageyama asks, a sinking feeling of dread settling in the pit of his stomach. "Is he okay?"
Sugawara's gaze turns skeptic, and he pauses in leading him to the club room, instead turning to press the back of his hand to Kageyama's forehead. He scrunches his brow like he dislikes what he feels, and Kageyama is embarrassed, now, on top of sick and worried. "You're still awfully warm," he murmurs, considering. "Come here."
He leads Kageyama to the stairs up to the club room to sit, allowing the cool of the evening to relax him. Sugawara heads up the stairs and Kageyama puts his face in his hands until he's roused again by his upper classmate, who hands him a water bottle and a cloth to wipe his brow with. He chugs the water and presses the cool fabric against his forehead, unsteady.
Bit by bit, he regains his senses. His previously bleary embarrassment expands but Sugawara shushes him, again, and urges him to change now, before the others return. As gracious as Kageyama is to have been pulled away from the gym, there's still a nagging, aching worry in his heart, biting deep into his bones. It's a discomfort he can't shake, not as he changes, not as he walks home with promises to text Sugawara on the way, and not in the comfort of finally returning home.
It is unfounded and it is, above all else, bizarre. Kageyama shakes himself out of his meaningless trance and goes to bed without a shower, hot skin long having chilled. He's tired, after all, stressed after practice and after the heat stroke. It's hard enough to remember to type out a quick I got home safely to Sugawara, who sends a reply he doesn't immediately see. He chooses to drop his phone and close his eyes.
He dreams about a blood red sun setting over a mountain.
Chapter 2: A Late Night is a Tired Morning
"The closer we get to the mountain, I just... it's like there's something crawling up my spine... I can't help but feel like something unpleasant is waiting for us there."
Edit: Beta'd, now, by the ever lovely banana!
Hope you guys enjoy, and please praise her for the help, haha! The story has barely begun. There's a lot to unfold, and some hints have been dropped!
As always, crit is welcome, and I even have a journal if you want to get a bit more in depth. I love hearing what people think so let me know your thoughts!
The sun and wind chase him down.
The nightmare has Kageyama in turmoil. He tosses and turns in his torpid panic. It keeps restful sleep at bay and locks him into his state of unease.
He wakes up in an eerily familiar situation: soaked in sweat and tangled in his sheets. The dirty shirt he'd forgotten to change out of sticks to his skin, the wetness cold. His head is pounding. Bright morning light filters through his curtains, but it does nothing to quell his anxiety, even though he'd yearned for such a soothing sight after his last nightmare. He can't quite— he can't remember what it was about, but his cheeks are startlingly damp.
He's so caught up in himself that he doesn't realize the time, flinging his tangled sheets off with a disgruntled moan. He desperately needs a shower; he looks around his room for a towel, noting the half empty duffel bag, the folded laundry left out. It's a mess. He begins a mental to-do list of chores, rubbing his eyes wearily, looking around for his phone. He'd left it around his bed somewhere, but even after crouching and looking underneath the mattress, he can't seem to find it.
It's bright out. Unusually so. His body's clock usually wakes him up just as dawn breaks, so he can tell something is off. He checks the time now, turning his tabletop clock to face him where it sits, flipped over on his desk.
It's almost six thirty.
Stricken with panic, Kageyama scrambles to throw his clothing into his bag, unzipping and shaking out his uniform from last night. He tosses it into the rapidly building mess without a second thought. He almost trips over it as he flies around his room in desperate attempts to finish packing, cursing all the while. If his mother was home, she would have woken him with a slap of cold water, a scolding for his unusual lay in.
He's not one to miss her like this, but she'd left not long ago on a business trip to Sendai. She'd love to be around as much as he'd like to have her around, but she's working. She’d been a lawyer in the past and she’d been busy enough then, but as a member of the city council now, she's even more busy. Days he might have spent tip-toeing around her where she sat at her desk doing paper work have long been replaced with days in which he simply misses her presence.
He pushes away the childish feelings of resentment that bubble up at the thought, feeling selfish. There's no point in fretting over something like that right now. He has more important things to worry about.
A record breaking shower takes him three minutes tops, and then he's changed and flying out of the door, headed for the bus stop. He turns the corner and finds it peeling away. It makes him curse and want to tear his hair out, but there's nothing he can really do. Right— he can walk. It shouldn't take him too long. Kageyama wants so terribly to get rid of the frustration building in his chest, but this is nobody's fault but his own. He sucks in a deep breath and keeps moving, digging in his pockets for his phone.
It’s not there, of course, forgotten wherever he’d lost it last night. His irritation mounts, and Kageyama picks up the pace, frustration quick to turn into anxiety. He's already late, but missing the bus to the training camp is out of the question for him. He imagines what kind of scolding expression Hinata will make, and at that, he snaps like a rubber band, breaking into a sprint. The run feels longer than it should, his limbs slow and heavy from lack of sleep.
Luckily, Kageyama doesn't live too far away. He arrives to a near empty parking lot and his heart jumps in his chest, thinking he really missed his ride to the camp. A shout draws his attention aside, eyes catching on an idling bus and Takeda, who yammers affirmations into his phone, clearly having spotted him. The one-sided conversation makes little sense to Kageyama, who's so relieved he feels dizzy.
"Yeah— yes, the student has just arrived. Yes, yes. It looks like there's no worries. Well then—"
He allows himself to rest from the exertion of his run, panting with his hands on his knees, shifting his duffel bag on his shoulder. The sound of small feet pounding down the stairs of the bus is all the warning he gets before Hinata is screaming at him, jumping out with a shout.
"You! Where were you?!"
Takeda closes his phone with a resounding snap, turning around to take up the scolding in Hinata's stead. "You should have called, Kageyama. I was about to phone the police. We couldn't contact you through your cell or your home phone, and your mother's work line was—"
"I know!" Kageyama blurts, ready to explode in attempts to keep from interrupting his teacher and to defend what feels like his honor. Indignancy makes him choose honor over respect. "I'm terribly sorry! I— I missed the bus. I forgot to set my alarm. My mother is away, right now—"
"Stupid Kageyama!" Hinata yells, face red. "You could have phoned! Or texted! We were going to leave without you!"
Because of all the noise, half of the team is spilling out of the bus. It makes Kageyama feel hot all over. He finds his mounting annoyance finally peaking: and Hinata is, as always, the first to bear the brunt of his wild temper.
"Just shut up!" he's beet red from a mixture of shame and anger and that constant, nagging anxiety that makes him shout. "You don't know anything, so just keep your mouth shut!"
"Kageyama... calm down," Takeda is saying immediately, absolutely bewildered with his outrage. "Hinata, there's no need for you to get so mad, either."
"You—" Hinata begins, cut off as Daichi's hand lands on his shoulder, giving him a firm shake. It seems to remind him of his situation, because he shuts up all of a sudden, the silence a quick, blissful reprieve. Kageyama heaves, still panting. His legs are shaking.
"Kageyama, are you feeling alright?" Sugawara asks, stepping through the prong of teenagers. He hasn't bothered yet to look up, but Nishinoya and Tanaka are hanging out of the window, peering curiously from where they sit.
"Kageyama," Tanaka is hollering, a hand coming to cup his shout. "What's up, man?! You alright?!"
His concern would have reassured him, if he hadn't felt such an overwhelming sense of humiliation at slowing them all down like this. "I'm fine! I'm not missing this chance. I can handle myself," he answers, keeping his head down. His gut clenches nervously. "I'm fine. I just ran here, that's all," he explains, hoping it clarifies his shortness of breath.
"Can you stand up straight, then?" Sugawara's chiding voice has drawn closer; Kageyama raises himself with some effort, leveling his gaze with Sugawara. Kiyoko hovers by his other side— Takeda is watching him, once relieved expression having gone sour. Hinata looks like he's holding his breath, and Daichi is plainly worried.
"Kageyama, if you're really ill, then..." Takeda begins, all fretful worrying. He doesn't seem to want to voice what everyone is thinking, that he might just have to stay home. The thought makes him sweat.
"I'm not!" Kageyama's shout is reflexive, and he grimaces when he realizes what he's done. "I—"
"Hey!" Ukai's yell jostles those standing outside, interrupting Kageyama before he can begin a spiel of awkward apologies. "All of you, get inside the damn bus before we're late! Now!"
They all blanche, Kageyama's furious red melting away into a pale white. He scrambles to hoist his bag properly over his shoulder and hurries inside, Ukai taking his things away from him with a huff. He isn't given any time to object.
"Go sit down before you collapse," he chastises, and Kageyama obeys, all protests dying on his lips at the firm, disapproving expression on Ukai's face.
The walk of shame to the back of the bus to sit an aisle over from a scowling Tsukishima works to cow his anger, at least momentarily.
"The king finally arrives," Tsukishima mutters. "We waited for you. Were you so busy you couldn't make it on time?"
"What did you say?!" Kageyama snaps, taking up the bait. Tsukishima's lips twitch into a smirk.
"Didn't you hear me? I asked, what were you so busy doing that you had to make the rest of us wait?"
Kageyama grits his teeth, easily lathered up into a rage. Admitting his lateness to Takeda was painful enough, but impossible to admit to a haughty Tsukishima. Hinata throws himself down beside him as the engine of the bus starts up. The lurch and sway makes Kageyama feel nauseous, and it brings back the feelings of oppressive anxiety he'd felt last night.
"Kageyama was late because he slept in. I'm pretty sure you heard him earlier. Or maybe you're starting to have hearing problems? He was shouting and everything."
Tsukishima's smile melts, and he raises his eyebrows, unimpressed. Though Hinata had been the one to answer him, he continues addressing Kageyama. "Oh. I'm surprised. I thought your bird brain would have woken you up before your alarm."
"Tsukishima, maybe knock it off?" Ennoshita pipes up, seated just behind him and Yamaguchi. "I don't think Kageyama slept in on purpose. We all know he's usually here first with Hinata."
Tsukishima is put off, looking out the window with a dismissive shrug. Kageyama sees it as another act of defiance, and it twinges the thorn in his side. Teeth grit, he glares out of the window, unaware of the worried looks being shot his way. Ennoshita whispers something to Hinata.
He tries to focus on other things, like the bus, which is horribly cramped. From where he sits at the back, he can see Ukai where he sits up front at the driver's seat, and when he shifts, his arm brushes against Hinata's. Despite himself, he doesn't much mind the warmth. Chatter starts and then stops as they begin to move. Beside him, Hinata is quiet as he focuses his attention on his phone, tongue sticking out as he texts.
He catches Kageyama looking at him and glares suspiciously. "Are you trying to pick a fight?"
"I'm not," he snaps immediately, but he doesn't avert his gaze. Hinata's eyes narrow, and he defensively hides the screen of his phone.
"Then you're trying to read my phone," he says next.
"I'm not," Kageyama bites, still unable to tear his gaze away from Hinata, who flushes with indignancy.
"Then don't stare at me, weirdo."
Kageyama doesn't bother with a retort, turning to rest his forehead against the cool glass of the window. He can sense Hinata glaring at him, but he ignores that, waiting for him to return his attention to his phone. Hinata gives up quickly and though Kageyama had felt such fierce irritation earlier, the lack of conflict has him deflating. The nauseous pinch to his stomach is gone, thankfully, though his head has begun to hurt in earnest.
He watches his breath fog up the glass, soothed. His eyes begin to glaze over, a steady exhaustion seeping in from his bones. He'd slept only fitfully last night, and it's catching up to him now. Weariness drags him down into sleep.
He can't fight it. The bus is quiet.
Kageyama doesn't dream. He wakes up to muffled laughter and it takes him a second to remember where he is, blinking awake with a sigh that he doesn't bother to muffle. Hinata is red in the face and giggling at him for some reason. He glares at him with as much force as he can muster, squinting against the now bright sunlight.
"What the hell are you laughing at?"
"Nothing!" The other boy whispers, frozen grin twitching as Kageyama smacks his lips and yawns, belatedly. "Um, nothing. Good morning, Mr. Kageyama. How do you—"
"Shut up," he grumbles, closing his eyes again, head lolling against the window.
Hinata is quiet, and Kageyama is sleepy, so he drifts off all over again. It's not quite a complete sleep. He's still discomforted after having been woken up, so he doesn't miss the burst of noise beside him, nor the hushed conversation that ensues between Sugawara and Hinata. They're laughing at him, but he hasn't had a nightmare, so he wants to sleep as long as he can without that aching unease.
The thought trips a wire in his brain, and the sleepy haze that has encompassed him is swept away in seconds. He's wide awake now, though he continues to feign sleep. Hinata continues what he seems to think is still a private conversation. He senses movement, Sugawara moving back from the seat in front of them to his own, probably, voice drifting away.
"—no way I could delete something so precious."
Hinata is whining beside him. Kageyama fights not to make a face in his sleep. "I still don't think it's fair, though... Oh! Sugawara?"
"Hmm...? You really aren't going to ask me to delete it again, are you?"
"I won't! Just, I had a question. Did you know if there's back up generators at the school? In case there's bad weather, or something bad happens..."
"Ah? ... I'm surprised you're asking that kind of question," Sugawara remarks, mirroring Kageyama's inward confusion. "I have to say, I'm not sure. We can ask Takeda later, if you'd like. I don't see why there wouldn't be any."
"Yes!" Hinata chirps happily, bouncing noticeably in his seat. Kageyama's brows furrow just the tiniest amount, wondering about that. It's a weird question to ask, not something he'd come up with by himself. Judging by his tone, even Sugawara hadn't considered anything of the sort. But it's fair, considering that the school is high in the mountains.
He rubs his eyes, sitting up properly. The light has shifted, the afternoon sun shining hot even within the moving bus. Kageyama notes that most of the team is awake, lively chatter a soothing ambiance.
Hinata notices him with a start, putting his phone away.
"Oh, are you up for real this time?" he asks, kicking his feet. He seems pleased with himself. "I was starting to wonder if you'd sleep the whole way. We're almost there."
"I'm awake," Kageyama answers, scowling at him. Hinata continues to kick his feet and watch him, but when he doesn't drop his unfriendly scowl nor try to continue the conversation, he stops with a pout.
"You're seriously pale. Are you sure you aren't—?"
"I'm not sick," he interrupts immediately, raising his voice. Out of the corner of his eye, he catches Daichi turning to look at him. "Stop asking me that."
"I asked once," Hinata protests with a whine, quick to the defense. "Geez, what's up with you? I noticed it earlier, but you've been moody all week! Is it because you haven't been feeling well all along?"
"Just be quiet and drop it," Kageyama is mumbling, hunching up his shoulders. It's closed off, not necessarily aggressive or assertive, and it makes Hinata frown. "Do you have to keep going over the same shit endlessly?"
"No," Hinata resumes kicking his feet. "This is new."
"I just don't know if this training camp is what we need right now!" Kageyama blurts, nervousness finally toppling out of him. He regrets his poor wording immediately. Hinata peers at him, all shocked surprise.
"You... do you have a fever? How could a training camp be anything but good for our team?"
Kageyama stays still, silently collecting himself. The lack of action surprises Hinata, and he leans close again, squinting suspiciously. Admitting this is like pulling teeth, but he can't let Hinata presume him a coward over volleyball.
"... it's not like that. It's just... just a feeling I had. It has nothing to do with this morning. The closer we get to the mountain, I just... it's like there's something crawling up my spine."
"Up your spine... you mean like a ghost? What, did you see some bad omen in your tea, or something?" Red is steadily creeping up Kageyama's cheeks, but Hinata pushes his luck and continues to tease him. "Oh, uh... I expected something more than that. That's kinda lame, you know. Are you saying you feel sick because of some kind of superstition?"
"That's not what I'm saying at all!" Kageyama finally snaps, slamming his fist on the armrest of his seat. The bus goes momentarily quiet before chatter resumes, but Daichi is clearly listening now, waiting to interject. Kageyama doesn't heed the subtle warning signs from his captain at all, and, overtaken by his anger, grows more and more flustered as he struggles to explain his feelings to Hinata.
"It's not a superstition, or a stomach bug, or something. It's not like that. I just feel like this is wrong. I can't place it, but it's weird, okay?!"
"That doesn't mean anything!" Hinata throws his hands up in the air. "Don't you want to practice? We're going to be going up against Fukurodani and Nekoma! You—" he stops himself mid-sentence, face going blank. Kageyama glares at him, unimpressed, but willing to wait and listen. "You... you aren't scared because we're going up against them, are you? I mean, I know they're intimidating teams, but we'll only get bet—"
"Shut up!" Kageyama shoves at Hinata's shoulder, pushing him back in his seat. "Stop making things up out of nowhere and deciding my feelings for me. I just told you, didn't I? It's not my fault that your bird-brain can't perceive anything past what's in front of you, dumbass!"
Hinata begins to respond, but is cut short.
"Excuse me, Kageyama," Sugawara's soft voice draws both Hinata and Kageyama's attention away from each other, and they both realize that they'd grown steadily louder as they had argued, caught up completely in their fight. Their vice-captain pats Hinata's arm as he stands from his own seat, taking up the one in front of them so he can speak to them properly. "Are you okay? It's not like you to get so heated over something like this."
Kageyama bites his lip. Sugawara is right. While they both bicker relentlessly, he rarely gets to the point of real anger. It's like he's been on eggshells all week; the sensation has steadily driven him mad, to the point where he's discussing himself with Hinata, trying to get him to understand. He continues to pout until Hinata pokes at his side.
"Well? ... what's wrong with you today?"
"Hinata," Sugawara says sharply, silencing him with a look. He wilts under his upper classmate's gaze, apparently cowed. "... sorry. Could you just stay quiet for a second and listen?" he returns his gaze to Kageyama, and he tilts his head, offering a smile. "I can tell you still aren't feeling well. It's not just that, though, is it? Did something happen to make you feel so nervous?"
"I'm not nervous," Kageyama pouts, slouching slightly. He doesn't meet Sugawara's eyes as he speaks, instead focusing on the passing scenery outside the window. "And I'm not sick. Like I said, I just got a bad feeling. It’s probably nothing, so there's no need for you to worry," he mutters sourly.
"Hmmm..." Sugawara hums, pretending to consider that. "Well, okay. I understand as much. But, y'know, I was curious. Why did you say 'this training camp isn't what we need'? Was the feeling you got so bad you felt like we shouldn't go at all?"
Hinata fidgets restlessly, apparently unhappy. Sugawara ignores him, and waits patiently for Kageyama to open up. Eventually, he does, though he's slow to start.
"... yeah. It's not like you think. I don't think training camps are bad. Of course I don't, but, just... I guess it was really just a passing feeling, but..." he speaks slowly and cautiously, weighing every word. "It's like... something unpleasant is waiting for us there."
The phrase sends a chill down Sugawara's spine, and he casts a nervous glance at Daichi, who crosses his arms with a pensive look on his face. Sugawara doesn't break stride, however, and nods warily.
"I'm not making fun of you when I say this, but... did you see an ill omen of some sort before the camp? People often mistake simple things for signs when it comes to this sort of thing. I'm not saying that what you feel isn't legitimate, but—"
"It's not that!" Kageyama speaks out of turn, apparently so frustrated that he doesn't care enough to remain polite. "I didn't feel this way before at all. I didn't read tea leaves or something and randomly decide the camp was bad for us. I don't believe in that. It's useless to think about. I just had a bad feeling. There's no explanation for it. It's a bad feeling, just that— it's... it's not going to impact my performance, either! I did really want to—"
"Calm down, calm down," Sugawara breathes, trying not to fan the flames of Kageyama's irritation. "Okay. So it's just a feeling. I know what you mean, now. I get that way too, you know? Sometimes, when I'm sitting in a bus, or the train, I worry about implausible scenarios."
Kageyama peers up at Sugawara with a perplexed expression on his face, his interest piqued. He seems to have relaxed, and Sugawara inwardly releases a sigh of relief, glad to see that he'd stopped panicking. Curiosity seems to have replaced his irritation.
"What do you mean... what kind of scenarios?"
"Ah... really outlandish things. Like, what if someone bombed the station? Ah, oh no, what if the bus driver swerves and crashes and we all die?" Beside Kageyama, who wears an indifferent mask, Hinata grimaces. "That sort of thing. ... I think there's actually a word for that, but I can't remember. The thing is, it's totally normal to have those thoughts. They're morbid, scary, and can really get your heart to beat. But it's okay, you know?" Sugawara smiles.
"Nothing's going to happen. Our teacher adviser - Takeda - he's a reliable person, you know? The mountain isn't going to crumble. A landslide won't happen. It's safe and the buildings are in good condition. There aren't any dangerous animals up there, either. It'll be just us and the birds," he explains.
"... I understand," Kageyama nods, biting his lower lip. "Yeah... I see what you mean. Um..." he looks down, embarrassed. "Thanks."
"I'm surprised," A voice pipes up, surprising the three of them. "I didn't know Kageyama had the traits of a wimp. You might actually be one of us."
The two boys turn in their seat to peer at Ennoshita, who wears a crooked smile. Sugawara laughs, light-hearted and easy. "You can say that again. I thought Kageyama was always so tough, but it's actually kind of reassuring that he thinks the same way as us."
"You shouldn't be nervous," Ennoshita says, addressing the person in question directly. "Really, it's fine to experience those kinds of intrusive thoughts. I think we all do, to some degree. Right, Tsukishima?"
Tsukishima's head jerks away, his eavesdropping suddenly clear. Yamaguchi scowls beside him, but he simply shrugs. "There's no reason to be that scared of powerhouse schools."
"Shut up," Kageyama sighs immediately, heat creeping up the back of his neck. Sugawara and Ennoshita mean well, but he's steadily growing more embarrassed, more regretful. He should have kept his mouth shut. Their voices traveled clearly in the small bus. "I said that's not what it is."
"They're just intrusive thoughts," Sugawara says, giving Tsukishima a subtle shake of his head, disapproving. He crosses his arms. "I'm glad you remembered what they were called, Ennoshita. I knew there was a term for it, but I couldn't remember it at all."
"Harmless, but freaky, right? I always wondered if other people experienced the same things, but if you look online, it's a common phenomenon."
Kageyama goes quiet, listening as his worries dissolve into meaningless chatter. Hinata disengages with his upper classmates as they speak over his head and nudges his setter's side with an elbow, pouting.
"Don't make such a sad face, Mr. Moody-yama. Cheer up!" he whispers, prodding. "You look kind of constipated."
"This is just my face," he argues, predictably.
"Sure!" Hinata makes a show of scoffing, crossing his arms, a crude imitation of Kageyama. "Lighten up a bit! You can get over it if it's not the camp you're worried about. Get just a little excited! We're almost there!"
As if he'd predicted it, they're rolling up to a dirty, grass spotted parking lot. The engine shakes as it's shut down, and the team falls silent as Ukai stands up from his spot at the driver's seat, addressing them. Takeda does a headcount, mouthing silently to himself.
"We're at the gondola lifts, now. Grab your bags, one at a time— don't go shovin' each other, there's no rush," he's explaining, gaze catching as it skirts across Kageyama. "We'll be sending the team in chunks. None of you guys are scared of heights, right?"
Yamaguchi shakily raises his hand, Tsukishima shooting him an unsurprised, but unimpressed look.
"Alright, got it. You can ride with me and the third years," Ukai says, jerking a thumb at his chest. Yamaguchi nods rapidly, sweat clearly gathered on his brow. Hinata leans over Kageyama to peek through the windows, trying to catch sight of the cars. He swats at him.
They gather up the bags and head out, up the hill on the other side of the lot. The steps leading up are covered in moss and worn by age; it's been a while since this place has seen people, he realizes. Through the trees and the dirt covered trail, they stand upon a hill with a marvelous sight that stretches as far as the eye can see— valleys and mountainous cliffs swathed in the colors of summer, a wondrous sight.
It's strangely familiar.
Tanaka slaps him on the shoulder where he stands, rooted to the spot. It disperses that feeling of familiarity instantly. "What a sight! I've never seen something like this. Kinda regret not bringing my camera!"
"I brought mine," Ennoshita pipes up as he walks past the two, Tanaka tagging along with him as he heads further along the field. Nishinoya is running after them with an excited shout, all vibrant enthusiasm. Kageyama watches, eyes drawn from the fantastical sight of open land before him to, instead, the station holding the cable car that leads to the school.
It's all rusted metal and flaking plastic, a worn down relic. The third years are already setting their bags down inside. Kageyama overhears Ukai complaining to Takeda as he fiddles with his phone.
"... the signal's already dying, teach! You said it'd be bad, but this's too soon."
"Ah... the connection shouldn't be that bad. M-maybe it's just temporary? It should be fine, here... I even tested it last time..."
"Dammit! They said they were close, but how close is close?! Tch...!"
Everything is normal, but an oppressive feeling weighs on Kageyama's heart. He doesn't understand why he feels so anxious, and it has begun to tire him even more than it frustrates him. In an attempt to dispel the inexplicable emotions plaguing him, he steps up to the railing that overlooks the cliffs and peers out. Wind sweeps over the trees, the sweet smell of the pines reaching him where he stands.
It's peaceful, here. There's no reason to worry, so he won't. With that thought, his headache abates. He sucks in a deep breath of fresh air, savoring it. The cramped space inside of the bus probably hadn't helped how he'd felt. Like this, he can relax, just momentarily. It's enough for him.
Hinata, of course, ruins that.
"Kageya—ma!" he shouts, running up beside him, voice loud and overbearing. "It's time to go! It's time to board! Come on, already. Coach sent me to get you!"
He doesn't bother protesting. Instead, he works himself into a purposeful lather, and takes off at a sprint toward the station. He passes by his gathering teammates, barely hearing Nishinoya's cajoling laughter. Hinata is yelling at him, something about getting unfair head starts, but it doesn't matter because he's in the cable car already, panting with the sudden exertion.
He's the victor. It's just what he'd needed.
"You play so dirty," Hinata is breathlessly whining as he chases after him, just a step behind. Takeda and the first and second years are all clambering inside, though Yamaguchi is nowhere to be seen. "You have to give me at least a second's warning!"
"How many wins is that, now?" Kageyama asks, catching his breath. He settles his bag down into the growing pile, looking around the cable car with a vague disinterest. "I'm sure I'm up to 42."
"You're feeling better," Tsukishima remarks, snidely.
"And thank goodness for that," Takeda says, innocent in his remark, but easily cutting off any bickering before it can begin. "I was worried when I saw you this morning, Kageyama. Just don't run around in here once we get going, okay?"
Without further ado, they're off. The grinding rumble of the motor overhead is disorienting, ceiling trembling as the cables begin to pull them forward. It's like being suspended in an elevator, the movement a slow slide downward. It speeds up quickly, and Tsukishima makes a face, clinging onto the railing. Ennoshita is the same, and so is Tanaka, surprisingly enough.
The rock and sway of the car is unsettling and nauseating, but Kageyama swallows down his sickness and bears with it until they're about half way through, at which point he can stand to look out of the window.
The view is even more brilliant here, where they're suspended over the dark green forests and rolling, grassy hills. Over the way, somewhere east, Kageyama can see a creek, and further, a small waterfall and a wide, glassy lake. Hinata gasps in delight, watching it until it fades from view, obviously enchanted with the sight.
They arrive, Tsukishima releasing a carefully suppressed breath. They carry their bags outside and watch as the cable car leaves the station again, the secondary car with the third years far off, obscured by trees. For now, all they can do is wait for them.
Kageyama finds himself watching the rock and sway of the trees, scanning the horizon for the sun. It's dazzlingly bright in the sky, no ugly red in setting, but the sight of this is— it's familiar. He feels the sensation like it's a word he's forgotten, sitting on the tip of his tongue, stagnating in the back of his mind.
It's like he's been here before.
Chapter 3: Must it be, Unease?
Tsukishima leeches Kageyama's bad feelings and discovers his own. Fukurodani and Nekoma arrive and they explore within the gardens. Nothing bad happens at all, and yet... just what is this gloom?
Though I've polished and preened this chapter to perfection... I'll say it now: nothing really "happens" in this chapter. It's more of a set up for when things will "happen" later. Due to the nature of the story, a lot of small, innocuous things will later "become important", in one way or another.
... I'm way too into this.
Again, a thanks to Alana for her dutiful editing; she's helped me a ton thus far and I'm very grateful!
Edit: I absolutely rewrote a lot of the description of the mountain and the garden. I found it unsuiting, uninspired— I'd even call it pathetic... I'll probably edit it even more in the future, but right now I'm absolutely braindead.
Second edit: Fixed it up and the description of the land is now accurate and a bit more tasteful.
Tsukishima can’t help but be disturbed by Kageyama’s unease.
He doesn’t like him, but that doesn’t mean he can’t acknowledge his genius, his instinct. Kageyama goes on and on about how the camp makes him feel bad and that is unsettling, more than it is simply annoying. He finds himself foolishly searching for things that could go wrong, coming up with nothing. That should reassure him, but it doesn’t; instead it feels like he’s missed something.
He worries incessantly as they board the lift, but Kageyama is messing around and actually acting normal, so unlike before. He watches as he bickers with Hinata, wondering why his mood has shifted so dramatically.
“You’re feeling better,” he quips, only for his attempt to get anything out of Kageyama to be shut down by their teacher. He doesn’t try again.
The lift could break, he thinks, and we could crash down the side of the mountain to our deaths. The ride goes smoothly, though. The machine seems well oiled and maintained, just like Takeda had said. Either way, Tsukishima clings onto the railing with white knuckles, thinking about how fallible technology is. What had Ennoshita called this again?
They arrive at the station with no problems and when he steps out onto the platform he realizes how stupid he’s being. Kageyama’s delusions have fed Tsukishima nothing but intrusive thoughts of his own, scenarios he now can’t help imagining. He discards his worry for logic. Nothing went wrong and nothing is going to go wrong.
Tsukishima's mind is wiped blank as he scans the clearing they've stepped into— the landscape is so vast that he feels small and insignificant, like an ant on a hill. He tilts his head back as he looks up, scanning the hills on either side of them. There seems no end to the rise of the mountain. The horizon is green, trees reaching skyward where they're carpeted across the dips and valleys of the rocky mountainside. It gives the impression that they're truly in the middle of nowhere, surrounded by nothing but wilderness.
Cutting into the side of the hill is a wide staircase leading up. Tree branches hang overhead, the mountainous territory threatening to overwhelm and consume. Moss has snuck tight into the corners of the concrete, and the railings on either side of the staircase peek just barely out of the bush that threatens to overwhelm it on either side. Ivy has wrapped itself around the ornate, twirling patterns of the iron. It all seems mystical.
It steals his breath away.
He turns back around, looking out across the valleys they'd passed over. The line of cable cars seems wildly out of place, the gleam of metal a bizarre contrast to the uncultivated environment. The cable car platform is at the edge of a cliff—the clearing where they stand is just a rocky outcrop, cut into the side of the mountain, just a small portion of something so much bigger. He's struck with regret; he wishes so bitterly now that he'd kept his head up during the ride.
He can’t see anything that even implies the existence of a school from where he stands, but he guesses it must be further ahead. Takeda tells them they have to wait before heading up the stairs to the school, confirming his assumptions.
The clear hum of the cicadas resonates, here, sounding like a reverent hymn. Tsukishima notices the silence of his team with some surprise. It seems that the majesty of nature has enough power to shut even Hinata up. Of course, something has to shatter that tranquility eventually— the screech of metal on metal signals the arrival of the rest of the team. Yamaguchi steps out of the secondary car looking as green as the scenery. He shuffles to his side and Tsukishima huffs.
“Are you going to throw up?”
“I’m not,” Yamaguchi protests feebly, not convincing at all. He clamps his mouth shut, teeth clacking together. He seems too nauseated to give the environment much thought.
According to Ukai, the other teams will arrive soon. Tsukishima lags behind with Yamaguchi, watching as Hinata and Kageyama race each other up the stairs. Any peace from before seems a lie— they’re unable to relax for even a minute. Even just watching them is tiring.
Tsukishima and Yamaguchi are last to reach the top, and now the grounds are in complete view. Wide and long is the building— the school is two stories, tall two pane-windows opening it up wide to the light of day. It seems refined, more a mansion than a school. It’s so different from anything he’s seen in person before, back in Miyagi or anywhere else. It’s not the gate that stops the team from proceeding, but rather— a sense of wonder.
“It’s so cool!” Hinata says, otherwise impressed into silence. The only person who seems unsurprised is Takeda. He unlocks the chained gate and opens it with a single, forceful shove. To the immediate right of the building there is another gate, smaller, but locked just the same. It looks as though it leads to a garden of some sort, overrun by nature.
Spiked fences line the edge of the property, pinpoints gleaming under the afternoon sun. A canopy of trees hangs over the entrance and the shade covers where they stand by the gate, cloaking them in shadow. To the left is a track and athletic field and beyond that is the encroaching forest. The ground is level, as though it had been carved out of the surrounding rocky landscape.
Tsukishima stares out at the mouth of the forest as a cloud passes over the sun. Blanketed by shadows, it looks rather lonely. Were there trails for the students to travel on? For such a luxurious piece of land, he can't help but assume there is— or were, rather. If left uncared for, it wouldn't be any surprise if such trails were now merged completely with the forest once again. What he'd seen thus far had given the impression that the mountain was reclaiming itself, nature an overwhelming force when combined with time.
The thought brings him to a bigger question, that of navigation. The school is large, indeed; the western build gives it a sense of grandiosity, though Tsukishima is unsure whether or not it's any bigger than their modern high school. Mansions were a confusing maze of wide hallways and overly furnished lobbies, useless rooms meant to impress, but not to fit any particular form or function. Though this seems a similar structure to a mansion, the layout inside is hard to discern from the outside.
Looking out at the school, Tsukishima feels distress crop up at the thought of navigating it. And further, still— the garden, the athletic field and the forest— it all intimidates. He's not scared as much as he's discomforted by it. Miyagi isn't exactly a city, but... it's still friendlier than the wilderness here.
He looks around for their teacher, spotting him quickly. Takeda stands at the front door and Tsukishima makes his way over to him.
“Excuse me,” he intones, politely detached.
“Oh, Tsukishima? Is something the matter?”
“No. I was curious…” he pauses, catching Hinata slinking closer in his peripheral vision. Undeterred, he continues on. “Is there a map for this place?”
Hinata joins him, tilting his head. Tsukishima shoots him a glare, like Hinata’s a fly he wants to swat.
“Oh?” Takeda notices Hinata and smiles. “Were you curious too, Hinata?”
“Yeah! It’s so big… I feel kind of daunted!”
Tsukishima is caught off guard, but he supposes Hinata is just being nosey. It’s annoying. He glares at Hinata, meeting his eye and receiving an indignant little huff.
With nothing to be said, he turns back to Takeda expectantly.
“Ah, well, there might be a map available for the layout of the school, but I’m not sure where it could be. I don’t have one on me,” he explains, looking between the two curiously. “Oh, but there might be a basic blue print included in the safety manuals.”
“Safety… manuals?” Hinata repeats, unsure on what he means.
“Instructions for fire exits,” Tsukishima explains for him. “I suppose even an old place like this required that sort of thing.”
When Hinata continues to peer at him with a purposefully confused look he explains further. “It shows the routes you have to take when there’s a fire. Since the school is so big and there’s two floors, I wouldn’t be surprised if there’s multiple maps hanging up in different classrooms.”
“Ah!” he seems to understand now. “Those things! I saw them hanging up in middle school. Would they be in an old high school like this, too?”
“Yeah, I guess,” Tsukishima shrugs and then he takes a step back, clearly wanting to end the conversation. “Thank you, Mr. Takeda.” he ends politely.
“Oh, thanks, as well!” Hinata says, bowing shortly.
Tsukishima returns to Yamaguchi’s side and sighs, heaving his duffel bag up over his shoulder, discomforted by both the awkward interaction with his teacher and the weight of his bag. He'd wanted to ask for a map of the mountain itself, but had been bothered by Hinata's presence. Giving away an insecurity of his to someone loud-mouthed like that disturbs him more than the thought of getting lost in the school. It's not like it's that much of an issue, anyway; he figures his sense of direction isn't so bad so as to get lost going from the cafeteria to the bathroom. Tsukishima heaves a sigh, hefting his bag over his shoulder to readjust where the strap digs into his skin.
“When are we going to head inside? I’m tired of carrying this around.”
“Soon probably,” Yamaguchi says casually, nausea apparently gone. “Um, maybe after the others arrive? What were you talking about with Takeda?”
“Maps,” Tsukishima shrugs, not bothering to explain.
“Huh?” Yamaguchi tilts his head, curious. “Maps— of what, the—”
He’s cut off by an excited shout, belonging to no one other than Hinata. Tsukishima turns to glare at him, watching as he shoves a phone into Nishinoya and Sugawara's faces.
“Nekoma and Fukurodani’s on their way! I’m getting pumped up already!” Nishinoya shouts.
“They must have met up on the way,” Sugawara shrugs, a light smile playing at his lips. “I’m surprised that—“
“Awesome, awesome!” Nishinoya jumps, full of energy. Sugawara doesn’t have any time to finish his thought, the libero already running off to Asahi and Tanaka’s side. He watches him with a bemused smile, and then turns his attention back to Hinata.
“When did you get that message?” Sugawara asks as Hinata taps away on his phone. “I don’t have reception here.”
“Oh, way earlier. I didn’t see it until now. Uh,” he makes a face. “I can’t send anything anymore, though! Hey, Kageyama!” Hinata runs off to harass the setter, and Sugawara is left in his dust.
“Geez, some of them need to calm down…” he mutters, wandering off to join Tsukishima where he stands with Yamaguchi. “… seriously… oh, hey. Are you feeling better?”
“Much,” Yamaguchi half-laughs in his politely awkward way. He rubs the back of his head, uncomfortable with the attention. “I really thought I was going to be ill. The view during the ride was gorgeous, but I couldn’t appreciate it at all.”
“I can’t blame you. Even I had a hard time dealing with it. I’m just glad it didn’t sway, you know? I thought the wind was going to swing us around.”
Tsukishima finds his attention caught by the sound of the lifts, the rumble of the motor clear even from the top of the hill. Hinata is already shouting.
“Let’s go greet them!” He’s halfway toward the stairs already and Kageyama gives a passive little sigh, but follows behind him all the same. Tsukishima watches them with distaste, and Sugawara laughs.
“Tsukishima, your face is saying something,” he says, covering his mouth with his hand.
“Everyone, we’re going to go greet the Nekoma and Fukurodani team!” Takeda shouts, making it clear that they have no choice.
In the clearing he finds Daichi and Kuroo shaking hands, Nekoma’s third-years already out of the cable car. Fukurodani trails behind them. There’s only a few of them, just the third years and only half of the second years—no coaches, no managers. They must be on the second car, he thinks idly, giving a small wave to Akaashi, who spots him and waves back before getting dragged to greet the others alongside Bokuto.
It’s not long before the second car arrives. The swarm of teenagers is a bit overwhelming, all excited voices and loud shouts, a swell of nothing but noise. The coaches take to shushing them; since everyone is here now they’re told to head up to the main entrance, where they’ll head inside, put their bags away and then head back out for a meeting. Tsukishima isn’t happy about making the trip up a second time, but he stays silent and trudges up the stairs with a forced expression.
He’s trying to avoid the other rowdy teenagers, but the Nekoma captain spots him as they head up the stairs. He sweeps toward him, a wicked grin unfurling across his face. Yamaguchi mumbles something, but Tsukishima can’t possibly hear him over the noisiness of the teenagers.
“Tsukki!” he parades, clapping him on the back. “How I’ve longed to see you! Have you been well?”
“Er, yes. Just fine. Yourself?”
“Me? I’ve been doing swell,” he grins toothily. “I was glad to hear you’d be coming. Somehow, I thought you’d try running away from a training camp like this.”
Kuroo is as provocative as ever. Tsukishima knows that he’s being teased, but he still can’t help answering in kind. With a scoff, he turns his nose up and gives a surly, forced smile.
“Ah, yes, but you see, my alternatives weren’t promising either. If I hadn’t come, then I’d just be bullied by Hinata.”
“That shortie? He’d bully you?” Kuroo laughs, following at a languid pace as Takeda unlocks the school’s front doors, holding them open for the teenagers. “I guess I can see that. He’s the scary type, isn’t he? Even though he looks like an innocent kid.”
Bokuto ends up at Kuroo’s side, Akaashi tagging along behind him. Tsukishima makes a face when he sees him, and he catches it quickly, to his chagrin. “Hey hey, Tsukki! Your face is saying something!”
“Wasn’t I just told that…?” he mumbles to himself. “Are all third-years the same?”
“Man, what the heck does that mean?! Haven’t I given you tons of knowledge? Young kids like you should be grateful!”
“What knowledge was that?” Akaashi butts in, face a smooth mask, showing neither amusement or annoyance. “Hasn’t Kuroo been the one teaching Tsukishima how to block?”
“Akaashi, you’re cruel,” Bokuto whines. He’s as playful as ever, even as he puts upon a pout.
Akaashi’s brows upturn; he caves and gives a smile. “I think you’re probably the cruel one, Bokuto. I’m sure you have more than that sulky side to you.”
“Just who said I’m sulking?!” Disheartened, Bokuto clearly begins to sulk.
“You’re sulking,” Kuroo chimes in, humming it sing-song. “Sulking, sulking~! Shouldn’t someone who’s almost in the top three be a bit more happy about it?”
“You don’t have to add that ‘almost’!”
Akaashi says something in response, getting another laugh out of Kuroo.
Tsukishima doesn’t hear it, distracted by the interior of the school. The ceiling is vaulted, presiding high over a sprawling lobby. There's couches that actually look comfortable, like he could sink into them and fall asleep— though that doesn't detract from their elegance. Like he'd thought, it feels more like a mansion than a school. There'd been nothing serving as a genkan; they're to wear their outside shoes even in here, by the looks of it.
Tsukishima feels dirty, walking straight from outside onto the clean floor. Though the school is empty and clearly abandoned, the marble floor is polished to an unreal sheen. The room feels as though it would be better suited as a ballroom than an entrance way for a high school. If he's being honest with himself, he isn’t the type to appreciate fine architecture. Still, he can’t deny the magnificence of it all.
Ahead, there’s a room half-walled with glass and oak, two staircases hidden away neatly on either side of the wide lobby. As he gets closer, it becomes clear that it’s an office with bookshelves and a sturdy desk sat along one wall. It looks like it hasn’t been touched in a long time; there’s old trophies and filing equipment still sitting in one of the bookshelves.
Hinata points the room out, inquisitive. Takeda tells him that’s the main office, where the radio and PA system are. Apparently, they still work. It’s a little surprising a place so old is so well maintained, but Takeda is adamant in insisting that it is. It seems that as the owner of the land, he's rather proud of it. Tsukishima can see why. The place is utterly luxurious, almost unrealistically so. It seems more a set for a movie than a place for a few country kids to have their volleyball training camp.
It makes him wonder just how much this place had to have costed. There's no use speculating, Tsukishima figures. It isn't any of his business in the end; they shouldn't be anything other than grateful. That's what the logical side of his mind says even if he's curious.
Ukai says something under his breath to the other coaches. Nekoma and Takeyuki head to the left while Takeda and Ukai take the right, calling out as they do so.
“Follow your coaches; they’ll show you where your rooms will be!”
Akaashi and Kuroo wave, taking to Bokuto’s side to cheer him up again. Tsukishima raises a hand in parting, giving a sigh as he does. The two captains are tiring at times, but he finds himself not minding too much. It’s not like he’s stuck between the bickering of Hinata and Kageyama, who are currently struggling to overwhelm each other’s pace up the stairs. Tsukishima watches in distaste as Ukai scolds them.
This place was meant to display an impressive amount of wealth, he realizes. The railings of the stairs are smooth wrought iron. Tsukishima slides a palm against the cool metal as he makes his way upstairs with the rest of them, coming to landing that is a further absurdity. The marble flooring has given way to a tiled porcelain, shining that lustrous shine, just the same as before.
The elegance is unprecedented to any school he's been in before, but the colors up here are a touch warmer than below, a bit more friendly. The curtains are a chocolate brown, the sofas of a soft, plush beige fabric and the tables of oak. As he'd thought, it's well furnished, to an absurd degree. It seems the area they've come to is a lobby of a sort—almost a library, judging by all the bookshelves and tables.
Further ahead, the lobby lends itself to a hallway, blocked off by a set of glass doors. Tsukishima can't tell, but he's betting that's where the showers and bathrooms are. Should they be just as marvelous as the rest of the place— well. There's no doubt in his mind that they will be.
To their left, the other team emerges from the other set of stairs. Bokuto hoots at them from across the wide lobby and is shushed. Either side of the wide floor plan is mirrored, Tsukishima notes. The other wing must be the same. Their coaches unlock a door and swing it open, and the team is quickly swallowed up.
Disregarding the lobby for now, Karasuno heads to the room to their right, opposite the one Fukurodani and Nekoma had just disappeared into. The doors are of heavy oak, ones that Takeda unlocks and swings open with some effort.
“This is the western wing. The other two smaller teams will stay in the western wing. Our team has the most attending members. So we get this whole wing to ourselves,” Takeda explains. “Ah, well, the real tour comes later, but… I figured you might be wondering why we’re alone in here.”
Tsukishima’s glaze travels from plush sofas to oak tables to the bookshelves to beyond, where a floor to ceiling window stands, flooding the room with clean light. It overlooks the entrance of the school. It feels clean, here, but not sterile. It is untouched. Perfectly preserved.
It's beautiful. Tsukishima feels a wild jealousy stir up in his heart, and Yamaguchi bumps his shoulder. It breaks him from his trance.
“This place is really something, huh…?”
“Honestly, I’m curious what kind of people went to this school,” Tsukishima mutters with contempt. “It’s way too lavish just for high schoolers.”
“And we’re the ones being spoiled by it now,” Ennoshita chimes in suddenly, catching the two off guard. They look around, finding him eyeing them with a mischievous smile. “Come on, just appreciate it for what it is. We’re used to modern comforts, but a place like this isn’t so bad.”
“I’m not sure what you mean,” Tsukishima glowers, turning away. “I didn’t say it’s not impressive.”
Even turned away like this, he can tell Ennoshita is smiling. Yamaguchi makes a face, but doesn’t say anything.
They’re lead into the dorm room. The oak doors have a brass ornament hanging from the knob; Tsukishima eyes it as they step inside. This room is expansive, but mostly empty—in the corner there’s new futons stacked up high. This has to be the least impressive room by far, meant for sleeping and nothing more. The typical wooden flooring and blank walls is almost a disappointment.
“I bought a lot of stuff,” Takeda says, making a weird gesture. Ukai bumps him, tells him not to, and he stops. “But I figured we could come back here at some point. Even the future Karasuno team could come. My grandfather owned this land and turned it over to me, so I want to make the most out of it. Maybe we could make it a tradition? Ah, but anyway, we’ll be staying here. Just place your bags against this wall. We’ll sort them into the storage closet in a bit.”
Tsukishima is finally relieved of his bag. He sighs, rubbing his shoulder. They’re ushered back down the stairs, finding the other two teams waiting around on the landing. Everyone heads outside.
The coaches rally the captains, gathering them up to distribute something. Just as he’s wondering what it could be, Hinata’s voice distracts him from the gates to the garden, stood alongside several others. It seems like they’re planning to head inside.
Disinterested with their antics, Tsukishima is about to turn and ask Takeda when they’re going to have that meeting and get back inside, but a hand on his back and a voice in his ear stops him short.
“Let’s go see what shortie is doing over there, hmm?” Kuroo says, grin apparent.
“I’m not sure I want to know,” he says, but it’s clear he isn’t going to be able to escape so easily. He tries to get his attention elsewhere. “…what did you get?” he asks, shrugging away from the hand at his back. “From the coach.”
“Keys,” he says, pulling forth a ring of keys from his pocket, dangling them in his face. “Can you guess which one leads where?”
“I don’t think I want to,” Tsukishima is dismissive, though he is rather curious. There sure are a lot, even for a single ring. He shouldn't be surprised— they'd passed by countless doors, all locked, apparently. “And the others got one too?”
“Yeah. Us third-years sure have a lot of privilege. Looks like I can sneak into your room and wake you up if you sleep in.”
“I’m not going to sleep in,” Tsukishima insists. Kuroo cackles without dignity.
“You won’t have to, anyway,” Daichi says, and both of them start, the keys jangling in Kuroo’s hand. The Karasuno captain is accompanied by Sugawara, who smiles. “Even if he were the type, Tsukishima wouldn’t be able to sleep in. We have too many early risers here.”
“What we really have to worry about is those two getting up early and waking everyone else up at five,” Sugawara doesn’t mention names, but it’s obvious who he’s talking about. “I’m still shocked that Kageyama was late.”
“Your setter?” Kuroo asks, curious. “That Kageyama was late? He doesn’t strike me as the type to slack.”
“He doesn’t slack,” Tsukishima bites. His obvious displeasure perks Kuroo’s interest further.
“Oho? So why was he late then, I wonder?”
“He was sick,” Sugawara explains. “He had heat stroke just yesterday—I think that had something to do with it.”
“But of course he still showed up. Karasuno is full of intense people, after all. Kind of scary,” Kuroo quips. The conversation ends like that, their gossiping trailing off as they step up to the gaggle of first years.
“Are we really allowed to go in here?” Tsukishima questions, watching Hinata and Kageyama boldly stride past the gates.
“We are,” Kuroo says, waving Bokuto and Akaashi closer as they approach, clearly curious. “We’re allowed in for now, so don’t worry so much.”
“I’m not worrying,” Tsukishima shoots Akaashi an apprehensive look, hoping for an injection of some sanity. “But weren’t we going to have a meeting?”
“Yes, soon,” Akaashi concedes, noticing his hesitance. “It seems like Takeda is filling our coaches in for now.”
“Is that so…” he murmurs, unimpressed. He doesn’t particularly want to linger outside, but he finds himself swept up with everyone else regardless. He doesn’t understand the point of exploring like this. Weren’t they supposed to find a map?
“Kenma, look!” Hinata’s voice sounds rather shrill, to Tsukishima, but when he looks over Kenma is leaning close to the shrub that Hinata is pointing at. It’s obvious he’s just obliging him.
“Oh. Are these special?”
“No, but aren’t they neat?”
“It’s just thistle…” Kenma murmurs, disappointed. The purple flowers sway sadly in the wind.
“But look, it’s covered in spikes. Isn’t that cool?!”
“I guess it is,” Kenma says, watching Hinata’s display of enthusiasm with light amusement. He catches Tsukishima’s gaze and he averts his eyes with an embarrassed hunch. It makes Tsukishima feel guilty for staring.
“It is cool,” Nishinoya butts in, going to reach out and grab one. Daichi immediately gives a shout, stopping him.
“If it’s covered in spikes, you’re going to touch it?!”
“I’m not scared of it!” Nishinoya responds, bold.
Sugawara facepalms, and their little group proceeds before the rest of them. Kuroo and Bokuto seem equally fascinated with the weed ridden plot and the few older boys leave Tsukishima’s side to follow along with the others.
The walkway becomes smothered in the weeds the further along they go. Bushes spill from either side of the path, roses and lilies long given over to wildflowers and thistle. The reds and oranges and purples impress of a summer sunset, startlingly vibrant.
There's a split that heads off to the right, but wherever it leads is obscured by overgrown bushes and trees. He doesn't give it much thought. Further obscuring the layout and making it seem rather a maze is the wisteria trellis, meant to hang flowers. All it hangs now is weeds and ivy. From what he can see, the metal has long rusted over.
The garden goes on and on. Whatever beauty and coherency it had had in the past has given way to nature. All the same, it still holds a certain charm to it. He can't say he hates it.
Akaashi lingers behind with him, matching his pace.
“This place must have been left for a while,” Tsukishima muses aloud, looking up to where ivy entwines with the trellis into a thick canopy, one that blocks out most of the afternoon sun. Akaashi lifts some hanging branches out of the way for Tsukishima, who ducks his head and steps under gratefully.
“Coach Takeyuki said it was built in the 1980s. I’m guessing this garden was left as it was after they vacated the area.”
It’s not a pleasant sounding thing. Vacated. The word settles on his shoulders like a heavy blanket.
Tsukishima’s obvious hesitance gives Akaashi pause. He corrects himself. “The school wasn’t receiving enough funding. … from my research, it seems like they had far too little students. So they left.”
“… it was a private school, wasn’t it?”
“It was,” Akaashi confirms, stepping carefully over an overgrown plot of wildflowers. It makes Tsukishima self-conscious enough to follow his lead, making sure not to crush a single flower, even if they're just weeds. “It was esteemed. A lot of well-known and respected professors came to teach here. But still…”
“How could they afford to keep this place running?” Tsukishima mutters.
“I wondered the exact same thing…” Akaashi actually stops walking, and lowers his voice. “In honesty, I think… Takeda really isn’t who he appears to be.”
Tsukishima turns to him. The garden stills around them, the drowsy hum of cicadas sounding distant. Akaashi’s eyes meet his in the gloom of the shade.
“… it’s a bit like… he doesn’t seem like the type to have a family history like this,” Akaashi finishes, completely anticlimactic. “Sorry. Maybe I shouldn’t have said that.”
Tsukishima realizes his unease must have shown on his face, misunderstood by Akaashi as distaste for his choice of words.
“No. I thought so too,” The admission is simple, but it dispels him of any unsavory feelings. They continue along, the garden seeming cheery again. “This place is over the top. … I think we all noticed it,” he says, thinking of how quickly Ennoshita had shut him down earlier. To keep him from saying anything unintentionally rude, perhaps.
“It must be difficult to maintain,” Akaashi says, keeping his phrasing polite— avoiding the words expensive. Though Takeda’s hidden wealth was vast and mysterious, they owed him their respect.
“It’s on top of a mountain,” Tsukishima steps out into a patch of bright sunshine. He places a hand at his forehead, looking around with a squint. “A mountain… we’re all the way up here, and yet it’s still hot.”
Just ahead, Kuroo is shouting about something, a lilt of panic in his voice. Their conversation is well and over and so Tsukishima and Akaashi rush toward the source of the noise, both curious and unnerved.
“Hey, Hinata! Stop touching that!”
Tsukishima follows behind Akaashi, coming up to see Hinata pulling away from what looks like lavender. “Why? It’s not like I’m destroying them—”
“Those are poisonous!”
“What?” Hinata jumps away from the flowers like he’s been burned, clearly shocked.
“Well, not the part you were touching— but you shouldn’t touch those anyway.”
It seems like he was just playing. Tsukishima heaves a nearly relieved sigh, and Akaashi scolds the older boy, surprisingly enough.
“Kuroo, you really shouldn’t start yelling about poisonous things up here. You’re just scaring people.”
“Oh,” he has enough sense to look guilty at that and rubs the back of his head. “Sorry, Akaashi. Don’t give me that scary face! No wonder Bokuto listens to you so well.”
“He doesn’t listen,” Akaashi says pointedly, watching as Bokuto hovers closer and closer to the so called poisonous flowers. “Bokuto, you shouldn’t touch those. Kuroo wasn’t lying.”
“Urgh! I wasn’t—“
“Bokuto!” Kuroo whips around. Tsukishima’s head throbs. “Do I have to tell you, too?! You’re a third year! Even though I just told off that shortie!”
“You’re a bad influence,” Akaashi is prompt. Bokuto gives a little dramatic wail of indignation.
“That stings! Don’t say that! Aren’t these obviously just regular flowers?!”
“What do you know, Mr. Slacker?! I bet your grades in science and biology are a disgrace!”
Kuroo is fired up: and so they bicker, Akaashi’s remarks smooth and confident, Kuroo’s chiding, and Bokuto’s terribly loud. The group stays together this time and they continue through the garden like that.
What stops them next is a building; a shed, Tsukishima comes to realize, mostly hidden by bushes. The style is the same as the main structure. Hinata seems to think it’s a secret base of some sort, and creeps around the side to get a better look—only to stumble into one of the bushes with a yelp.
He comes back to the group and he’s covered in burs; Tsukishima thinks they’re bugs, at first, and gives his own yelp. Bokuto and Kuroo wail with undisguised laughter as they help pick the burs off of Hinata’s clothing, a few of them flying Tsukishima’s way. Once he stops laughing, Nishinoya helps. If Tsukishima laughs or smiles, it’s smothered with a hand. Akaashi helps him pick the burs off on their way out of the garden, something he’s grateful for.
As Kenma passes him by, he spots a few burs in his hoodie. It doesn’t seem like he’s noticed, so Tsukishima carefully lifts a few free.
Kenma does notice then, and turns to him abruptly, eyes wide. He doesn’t say anything, prompting Tsukishima into explaining.
“Burs. There were… burs, on your hoodie,” he says, struggling against the intense gaze being focused on him.
“… did you get them all?” he asks, raising a hand to pat his shoulder. Tsukishima nods.
“Oh.” Kenma turns away again and drifts back to Hinata’s side, brushing him off. Tsukishima thinks it bizarre, and almost, but not quite, wants to call him out on it.
“Wouldn’t you normally say thanks…?” he mutters under his breath.
The coaches rally the teens together once they all return. Takeda claps his hands together, calling for silence.
“Ah, well, first of all, I’d like to thank both of your teams for coming to this camp,” he begins, voice carrying. Though he seems timid, Takeda isn’t shy. He’s definitely a responsible person, Tsukishima thinks. His mind drifts back to the uneasiness he’d felt before.
“I know it was a last minute invitation, but you graciously accepted. We’re very glad to have you here! Sadly, a few of our members couldn’t come. We’ll make do for now.
Before we get inside and begin training, I’d just like to make a few rules very clear. The mountain is uncultivated,” he gestures to the wide expanse of forest on either side of them. “And so, it’s dangerous. I’d really prefer for our teams to stay within the school building.
There’s no reason to stray—there’s a courtyard between the west and east gym, if you need fresh air. The track—” he points to the flat stretch of land that stretches between the west side of the school to the forest, beyond. In the bright light of the afternoon sun, it looks cheery, like taking a hike would be a fun adventure. Further, there’s what looks like a gym. Is there more than one…?
“—Is not to be used. We’ll have punishment games for lost matches, like always, but they’ll take place inside. I’d also like to stress one thing. The third gym isn’t to be used. You’re free to wake up early and use the two connected to the school, but that one isn’t in a very good state, so please don’t try to get in! It’s locked, if you forget.”
Hinata raises his hand, standing on tiptoes. Tsukishima notices, so Takeda does too, but he gives a smile, opposite to his scowl. “Ah, do you have a question?”
“Are there panthers up here?” he asks. Kageyama facepalms and Tsukishima restrains the urge to do the same.
“Oh… no. There aren’t any panthers,” Takeda gives a light hearted chuckle, sharing an exasperated look with Ukai. “There aren’t any animals up here but birds. Um, well… I think that’s everything. I’ve given your captains and vice captains keys to the buildings, but please be responsible. Us adults also have keys, of course. We all trust you, so we’re not too worried. Anything you want to add, Ukai?” he asks, turning to their coach.
“You better give thanks to Takeda,” he says, jerking a thumb at their teacher, who goes red. “This isn’t a super special training camp, but it’s a unique experience you’ll remember forever. Hopefully, we’ll come up here again, but appreciate it. Enjoy the scenery, and train hard.”
No one else has any other questions, so the meeting concludes. Tsukishima is glad. He spares another glance toward the abandoned gym, until it passes from view as they step back inside the cool of the building.
Tsukishima thinks of all of the swirling doubts he’d experienced, finding them useless now. The mountain is shimmering and splendid, the air smelling fresh and clean, their future promising.
Kageyama’s words repeat in his head, again and again.
He looks for the head of black hair through the crowd of teenagers, spotting first Hinata, and then Kageyama. He’s got a decisively passive expression on his face.
Nothing is wrong.
Nothing at all.
Chapter 4: Thistle and Thorn
He has these quiet moments, sometimes—in the early mornings, he’d often set out on a jog before the sun even rose. He’d watch the horizon gradually grow hot, murky grays and blacks turning to fiery oranges and purples. He’d found peace in the dawn of the morning, even in solitude. Silence and stillness was always something that had discomforted him, but without fail, the sun would be there to greet him. The sight of it rising into the sky was reassuring, more than anything. Though he’d be alone, he’d never felt lonely.
Takeda gives them a proper tour of the school after they’ve laid down the rules.
It’s been made clear that although the captains have power to go where they want, they aren’t to abuse that power. Takeda seems particularly stern about the abandoned gym—says that it’s locked up for a reason. Hinata isn’t one to doubt his teacher, so the constant reminders aren’t necessary. It makes him curious as to why, if anything. He’d mentioned rotting floorboards, but that doesn’t seem much of a reason. His insistence is what draws out Hinata’s curiosity most. But it’s not like he’s about to purposefully break any of the rules, so it remains just that: curiosity.
The layout of the school isn’t terribly different from their high school back in Miyagi, though it feels a lot grander. The ceilings are arched and the windows are tall, allowing a clear, brilliant, light to shine in, dancing off the gleaming floors and sparkling interiors. Hinata likes the feeling it emits—one of lofty importance. It feels like he’s some kind of VIP.
They don’t enter any of the many emptied classrooms that they pass by, though Hinata is itching to explore. Takeda doesn’t say they’re not allowed in, so Hinata assumes that they are allowed in. Though there’s no time for it now, his heart beats with excitement at the thought of wandering through the old classrooms and perhaps peeking through the desks. It’d be like stepping back in time. A glance through the classroom window confirms that the desks they’d used so many decades ago are still there, seeming in good shape, from what he can tell.
They make their way toward the gyms. They’ll be training soon and they’re not allowed to wander, so he’s eager to finish up with the tour. Takeda is sure taking his time leading them around, he thinks, glancing through the windows to the courtyard.
Hinata takes a minute to pause, allowing a sense of ease to wash over him, excitement dulling into something softer as he peers out into the yard.
He has these quiet moments, sometimes—in the early mornings, he’d often set out on a jog before the sun even rose. He’d watch the horizon gradually grow hot, murky grays and blacks turning to fiery oranges and purples. He’d found peace in the dawn of the morning, even in solitude. Silence and stillness was always something that had discomforted him, but without fail, the sun would be there to greet him. The sight of it rising into the sky was reassuring, more than anything. Though he’d be alone, he’d never felt lonely.
The courtyard enraptures him now. The school has been abandoned for many years, and the outside environment clearly shows that. The courtyard is clean, however, and exultingly simple when compared with the structure of the garden, which had seemed a maze in its bushes and tall, hanging trellis. Just as the floors inside seemed to have been waxed, the courtyard seems to have been weeded. What captures his eye isn’t necessarily the difference in cleanliness, but rather the cherry blossom tree in the middle of the yard.
It must be an older tree, he thinks. It stands tall, seeming proud and refined, even more so than anything else: the garden had given its beauty away to time—the metal of the trellis rusted, and the rose bushes had given way to weeds and wildflowers, thistles and thorns. In comparison to that, this part of the land seems least touched.
Kenma catches his attention, a few of his teammates and friends turned to call out to him, noticing his absence from their side. Hinata shakes his mind free from lingering thoughts of sunrises and thistles and runs to catch up.
“What were you looking at...?” Kenma asks, genuinely curious.
“The courtyard! I thought it was pretty.”
“I see…” Kenma seems to doubt him, but he blinks and turns away, taking that answer. Hinata grins at his back and matches his steady pace.
Ahead, Takeda is taking them into the secondary gym. They open it, finding a familiar sight. It looks just the same as their gym in Miyagi, though a little bigger, the wood flooring a different tinge of orange. Hinata bounces from foot to foot and stills only when Kenma gives him a sidelong glance. He doesn’t need to say anything in order to chastise him. His disapproving look is enough to quell Hinata’s urge to run around with wild abandon.
“… so you’ll just have to get changed. The rest of us will take care of dinner—other than that, everything’s been arranged. The net and the balls are in the storage closets, so just get your captain to unlock it. Ah, hm…” Hinata wishes he would stop talking so they could just play. “I really hope you all enjoy your week here. Well— hmm. How should I say this…” and now he seems tongue tied, after everything he’s said. Ukai speaks up.
“It’s time to train! Go get changed. We’ll be followin’ a schedule, same way we always do during a training camp. We’ll distribute the papers after dinner!”
And the children are allowed to run free. Hinata separates from Kenma’s side to head up to Karasuno’s dorm, the rest of his team following along with him. After they change, Hinata finds Kageyama as they head back downstairs, storming into his personal space with a cheerful yell.
“What?” he sighs, glaring down at him. Hinata doesn’t mind it, finding it familiar. Kageyama seems to be in better spirits than this morning, at any rate.
“What do you think about the school?” Left unsaid is: do you feel better about it now?
“It’s alright,” he grunts, turning away.
“See!” Hinata gives his arm a pat, putting on a winning smile. “It’s so cool, isn’t it? The mountain is awesome!”
“It’s not that bad,” a voice chimes in, Tsukishima sweeping past the two with a smug look. “But I think Kageyama is still scared after all.”
“I was never scared,” he snaps, glowering.
“Oh? But it’d seemed like you’d rather stay at home than come.” Beside him, Yamaguchi stifles a laugh.
“Tsukishima, you’re so rude! Kageyama was sick,” Hinata comes to his defense, not wanting his mood to be spoiled by any teasing. He wants to train, not deal with a grumbling Kageyama. “Give him a break!”
“You’re being oddly accepting of it,” he remarks, eyebrows raised. Unlike before, he doesn’t ignore Hinata and instead focuses on him. “Here I was, thinking you would have scolded him the most. Don’t tell me you actually believe what he was saying?”
“Eh?” Hinata tilts his head, inquisitive.
“About the mountain. You know, about how scared he is—“
“I just told you that I’m not scared,” Kageyama hisses, brows furrowing.
“Oh, that,” Hinata doesn’t seem particularly interested. “Ennoshita said those are called intrusive thoughts. I remembered!” He sticks his chin up, seeming proud. Tsukishima, however, isn’t dissuaded.
“Was that really it?” his gaze travels from Hinata to Kageyama, who he scrutinizes with a scowl. “After getting so worked up it turned out to be nothing, huh?”
“Just shut up—”
“That’s enough you two,” Daichi’s booming voice stops them short. The younger three stop and turn to their captain, who strides past them with a threatening glare, reminding them that now is not the time to argue. “Tsukishima, stop trying to rile Kageyama up.”
“I wasn’t, really…” he mumbles, but he gives up on his teasing, turning away with a childish little twist to his lips. It’s not defiant enough for Daichi to scold him for it, so he doesn’t; Sugawara shakes his head as they pass by and cups a hand around his mouth.
“Hurry up to the gym. We’ll be starting practice soon.”
It’s a murmur, whispered behind Daichi’s back. Sugawara gives them all a wink and hurries alongside their captain, who doesn’t bother to turn back. Tsukishima is obedient this time and doesn’t say anything else to Kageyama—but he doesn’t need to. He’s done enough to rile him up.
“You look constipated,” Hinata tells him in a loud voice, getting an indignant slap upside the head. He’d expected that much. But it allows Kageyama a distraction from the thorn that Tsukishima had pierced into his side. Rubbing his head and pouting, eyes tearing up, Hinata reluctantly presses on. “You aren’t still worried about that stuff, are you? I know Tsukishima was just being mean, but…” Maybe talking about it will make him feel better. So Hinata asks him that, hoping to cheer him up again.
“I don’t think there’s any reason to worry,” is all Kageyama says, like that’s not an evasive answer. Hinata shrugs and accepts it, mercifully. They’re rounding the corner and stepping past the windows lining the courtyard, so Hinata uses that as a distraction, pointing at the tree.
“Look, see—isn’t that tree pretty?”
“Are you stupid?” Kageyama asks, but he’s looking at it. “What’s so pretty about it? It’s not even in bloom yet.”
“Yeah, but it will be,” Hinata says, a skip in his step. “When I see it, I can’t help but feel happy. I really want to see that tree when it’s blooming. I’m sure it’s beautiful!”
“I guess it’s okay,” Kageyama mumbles, unable to trample Hinata’s enthusiasm. “It’s not really that special, though.”
“You just can’t see it! I’m sure when it blooms, it’ll surprise even you! And you’ll eat your words!” Hinata sticks his tongue out at Kageyama, dodging a swipe at his head. He runs away with a laugh, heading into the gym. Kageyama gives chase.
They fall into a routine of practice, the penalties for losing just as harsh as they’d been at previous training camps, though a little different due to their lack of space. It’s harder to balance teams out when they only have three—an uneven, awkward number. They make it work.
When they take a break in practicing to just breathe, Hinata steps out into the courtyard, as they’d been told they were allowed. The tree’s branches sway in the wind, barren and yet promising.
It makes him smile.
By the end of practice they’re rightfully exhausted, more so from the journey to the mountain than by the exercise in itself. Hinata still wants to go, to do more and more until he simply can’t anymore—but he’s dragged rather bodily by his shirt collar by Tanaka, who scolds him for harassing the setters around him for tosses.
The third years are told to go for showers first, so Hinata finds himself pacing the span of windows that open up to the courtyard. He isn’t quite hungry yet, and he’s been kicked out by Tanaka, so he has nothing better to do right now than wander—his pace is agitated and fierce. He’s still so restless.
Eventually, he finds himself thinking of the conversation he’d had on the bus with Kageyama.
While they’d spoken, something had crept up his back—it rests now on his shoulders, a feeling of discomfort that is rather like an ache than anything else. Replaying his words over and over again in his head, he searches for the oddity. What was it that had struck him as strange? He’d felt more indignant than anything, and yet…
Had Kageyama said that he felt there was something wrong with the mountain itself? Or was it about the training camp? There’d been something like that. Kageyama had repeatedly insisted it was just a feeling and nothing more, but there was another phrase he’d used that Hinata can’t recall.
He pauses in front of the windows and sighs, crossing his arms and screwing his eyes closed with a pout. There’s no use thinking about it, even though it’d left a bad taste in his mouth. They’re here now, and there’s nothing wrong with the mountain or the camp and nobody is sick, not even Kageyama—any trace of his weakness from this morning has faded with time. He’d looked so pale. It’d made Hinata feel guilty for not believing him, and teasing him to such an extent. What’s done is done, however.
Hinata’s eyes fly open to Kenma, who stands in front of him with a worried uplift to his brows. He wonders how long he’d been pacing for. Dismissing his restlessness with a smile, he greets his friend.
A blank look. Kenma seems distressed.
“Mmh,” he mumbles in response, fiddling with the device in his hands. It’s his phone. Is he still disappointed about the lack of internet connectivity? “Nothing, really…”
“Is it your phone? You can still play offline games, like I said before.”
“That’s not it… what about you? You seemed to be thinking about something.”
As they talk, they begin to head toward the main lobby. Perhaps they’d head upstairs in lieu of wait for their time to shower. “Hmm, not really! I was just thinking that I’d like to see that cherry tree bloom, is all.”
“The tree in the yard?” Kenma considers that, and then says, “I thought it looked lonely.”
It’s true. The tree was barren, and the courtyard was empty of people for so long. It’d come of no surprise, should it inspire loneliness rather than hope. But all the same, Hinata grins, spreading his arms out wide.
“It’s not, not at all! Just think. Soon, it’ll bloom, and it’ll be super pretty.”
“Sure…” Kenma mumbles, brushing his hair back. “I’d like to see it then, too.”
Hinata grins, and they round the corner. He intends to head up the staircase that leads to Nekoma and Fukurodani’s dorm, but Kenma has stopped in place, eyes fixed forward. Hinata follows his gaze and sees Ukai, standing with Takeda in front of the office. They seem to be immersed in deep conversation.
“Kenma? Are you coming?”
“… just wait,” he says, and then leaves Hinata’s side, headed toward the adults. Hinata tilts his head and then follows after him, completely perplexed.
“Hey, you two,” Ukai says, noticing them as they approach, cutting off from his conversation with Takeda to address them. “Where’re you headed?”
“Nowhere, really,” Hinata smiles and answers for them, not giving Kenma a chance to voice whatever concerns he had approached them in mind with. “Upstairs, I guess.”
“Right,” Ukai nods, gesturing. “Go on, then. ‘N don’t forget to get dinner. It’s ready, if you want to eat now.”
“I had a question,” Kenma says, before Hinata can rush off as told. “About the radio system…does it actually work?”
It strikes Hinata as an odd question. He tilts his head at the other boy, who seems unaware of the sudden strangeness of it. Takeda gives him an equally curious look, but smiles after a beat.
“It does,” he pushes up his glasses and gestures behind him, to the office. “Both the PA and radio system work just fine.”
“… I don’t have any cell service,” Kenma mutters after a moment, almost sadly. Takeda gives a laugh.
“No, you wouldn’t. None of us do.”
“Are you worried?” Ukai asks, blinking down at him. “D’you need to contact someone?”
“No… it’s just… if we don’t have service, then…”
“There’s a landline,” Ukai interrupts him to say, jerking a thumb at the office. “Main system’s real simple, but it works. In house phones, too.”
“Oh!” Hinata shouts as he comes to an understanding. “I saw them. Those phones, everywhere. There’s one in every room, isn’t there?”
“Your schedule’ll list numbers so you can contact other rooms without travelin’ from place to place. Makes things easier.” Ukai explains.
“It was built with convenience in mind,” Takeda nods agreeably, smile wide. “Very smart. It’s convenient to be able to—say, call to your dorms, if there’s a change in schedule. You can call us, too, in our rooms.”
“Ooh, that’s cool!” Hinata bounces eagerly and beams.
“Oh…” Kenma seems disappointed, a contrast to Hinata’s blinding cheer. “I see.”
After a moment of awkward silence in which Hinata looks between the three curiously, Takeda heaves a reluctant sigh. “Ah, sorry... it’d be easier if we just had service, after all. But that’s just not an option up here. You can trust even in older systems. They were reliable then, and they’re reliable now, even if you’re not used to them.”
“Yeah,” Kenma nods, giving a polite bow. “Let’s go, Shouyou.”
He turns on his heel and leaves, just like that. Hinata finds it bizarre, and turns to follow him after bowing— and thanking them, in Kenma’s absence—but he stops short, turning back to Takeda with an exclamation that makes the two adults jump.
“Ah! Teacher, did you find any maps?”
“Huh?” Takeda is befuddled, but he quickly remembers his and Tsukishima’s conversation earlier. He gives a shake of his head. “No, unfortunately. I didn’t—”
“Thanks!” Hinata interrupts, running off to catch up with Kenma.
They lapse into silence as they head up the stairs. Eventually, as they make their way toward Nekoma and Fukurodani’s dorm, Hinata thinks to question the conversation they’d just had.
“Are you that worried about the phones?”
“… it’s not that I’m worried about the phones. It’s just better if we have a way to contact the outside.”
“Oh,” Hinata murmurs, the words striking a chord in his heart. Something clambers up his back. “That’s true…”
“I don’t expect we’ll need to, but it’s better if we have options.”
“… so you don’t have anyone you need to phone?” he asks instead, shaking that feeling off. “Hmm… like a girlfriend.”
“No,” Kenma blurts, turning to him with a shocked expression. “Shouyou…” the tips of his ears seem to be turning red. Hinata grins ear to ear, delighted by the sight. Kenma wasn’t a person he found any inclination to tease, so he doesn’t intend on pushing him—but he still laughs a little, because it disperses them of the awkward atmosphere. “Are you serious?”
“I was just checking!” He turns away from Kenma with a skip in his step, giving him time to allow his embarrassment to fade. They lapse into a half silence, Hinata humming as they approach the dorm, Kenma hiding his face in his hair.
They separate when Kuroo finds them in the dorm room, yelling for Kenma to hurry up and shower, as it was the second-years turn. Hinata gets going, having no reason to linger. He runs into Kageyama on his way down to the gyms. It isn’t long before it’s their turn to bathe, so they head there together. Kageyama finishes washing up before him, and Hinata finds himself alone in the showers. He’d taken his sweet time, but he feels rather unnerved, all alone. He scrambles out upon realizing as much.
After showering he finds himself unexpectedly weary. The excitement from practice and their arrival has faded, so that lingering exhaustion has finally crept up on him. He finds himself slowly marching to the cafeteria, the halls seeming barren and empty in the darkness of the evening. What light had filled the spaciousness of the school has fled, leaving it looking gloomy. It’s a bit creepy. He hurries to the cafeteria, unable to find anyone else on his way there.
The cafeteria’s doors are open—clean, white light cuts into the harsh shadows of the hallways, a reassuring sight that he rushes toward. Within the cafeteria he finds the rest of his team—and the other two teams as well. Tanaka chastises him for being late and across the room, Bokuto hollers something he can’t make out. Akaashi hushes him.
Dinner is a hazy affair, Hinata finding himself yawning in between stuffing his face. Nishinoya laughs at him for it, but gives his own yawn not a moment later, something Tanaka laughs and mocks him for in turn. There is chatter, light and sparse, and then they clean up and before he knows it they’re given their schedules and told to head up for bed.
Takeda accompanies them up, surprisingly enough. He’d mentioned wanting to help them with the futons, but Hinata had overheard Tanaka laughingly whispering about how he simply wanted to avoid drinking with the other adults. It hadn’t seemed like him, so Hinata doubts it to be true. Ukai’s complaints are noisily heard from even across the cafeteria. Perhaps he’d been stuck with the duty of drinking in Takeda’s place.
No matter his intentions, the team is appreciative for his help. They go about setting down the futons in neat rows, Takeda reminding them not to be sloppy. He takes to folding and preparing the newly washed sheets and linens while the children fold pillows into cases and settle the futons into place.
Tsukishima speaks up eventually, starting with something innocuous. It seems idle talk, just to fill the silence. Most of the team is yawning, too tired to think. So Hinata doesn’t really pay attention to what the conversation is about, letting it go in one ear and out the other.
"... Takeda, how long ago did your grandfather pass this land over to you?"
It seems to take their teacher by surprise. He pauses in folding sheets, sitting back on his feet as he thinks it over. "Hmm... several years ago. About three, maybe?"
"Only that long ago?" Tsukishima remarks, raising his eyebrows dubiously. Hinata listens in with only a vague interest, but he comes up with his own question when he hears that and decides it best to just blurt it out while he can.
"How'd he get it?" A pause. Takeda turns to look at Hinata, instead. "Your grandfather. How’d he get it in the first place?"
"Ah... the land?" he asks, blinking idly. "It was so long ago... I remember him telling me quite a tale about it. It took time and effort."
Tsukishima shoots Hinata a look. If the other boy knew how to read between the lines, he'd see it as a warning. Cautiously, he turns back to address their teacher. "That, too. I was curious how he managed to get land like this. It's a mountain, after all. It couldn't have been easy."
"Maybe his grandpa was just that lucky," Hinata says, smiling.
Takeda, however, has focused again on Tsukishima, expression lending to one a bit more serious. Thoughtfully, slowly, and as though weighing every word: "... you're right. The property wasn't easy for him to get a hold on, as you say. I didn't bother saying much, since a history lesson wasn't necessary, but... around the time the population of students here was starting to decline, there was a landslide."
That gets a few head turns. Now not just Tsukishima and Hinata are paying attention, but Sugawara, Daichi and Kageyama, too. Asahi doesn't seem to want to look round, but he does look a little queasy, now. Beside Tsukishima, Yamaguchi pales.
“A landslide?” he asks, voice obviously trembling.
"I-it wasn't on this side of the mountain!" Takeda catches onto the uneasy atmosphere, waving his hands around frantically and babbling out explanations in order to reign in their quick assumptions. "It was on the opposite side to the school. There was an earthquake, but they were smart about where they built the school—it had no effects on the structure, but it was enough to dissuade the few lingering students from staying."
“So... even though it was on the other side of the mountain, everyone picked up their bags and left?” Tsukishima doesn’t make any effort to disguise the uncertainty in his voice. It’s rude to express his doubt so clearly, but he hasn’t seemed to have noticed just how blunt he’s being. From across the room, Ennoshita glares at him.
“Tsukki,” Yamaguchi whispers, shooting him a pointed glance. He seems more nervous than he has any right to be, fraught with tension.
“... no,” Takeda gives a short sigh, patting his thighs and then standing. “The headmistress decided it wasn’t safe. This isn’t official in any sense, but… I always thought that it was a cover up for the lack of funds, here. The earthquake was a convenient excuse to close the school and sell the land. You…” his confidence seems to falter under the scrutinizing gaze of Tsukishima, but it’s a brief thing, a flicker of anxiety that he sweeps off to the side quickly. Hinata doesn’t notice it, for Takeda’s voice firms up quickly after that, sounding every bit the teacher he is. “No one here today has any reason to worry for the land’s integrity. I’ve had it inspected and it’s perfectly safe to be here.”
Behind Takeda’s back, Ennoshita mimes a throat cut, signalling for Tsukishima to knock it off. The blonde boy stares quietly, expression urging, completely ignoring his upper classmate. Even Yamaguchi, who repeatedly throws him worried looks, is ignored. Their teacher has an abundance of patience, but it seems to be growing thin. Even Hinata notices the tightness to his smile.
“My point was that because of the landslide, it was seen as a scandal! So the land fell into my grandfather’s lap. He was looking for a place to purchase and it seemed too good to be true. The price was lowered because of the circumstances at the time… and so on and so forth. Does that answer your question?”
“What did he use the land for?” Tsukishima asks, ignoring Ennoshita’s gestures to knock it off.
“Oh—he had lofty goals, but it just ended up becoming his hunting spot. A place for leisure—”
“Hunting spot?!” Hinata speaks up again, shattering the tense atmosphere like glass. “That’s so cool! What did he hunt?”
“Birds,” Takeda smiles, taken aback. Sheepishly, he pushes up his glasses. “Wild boar, when there were some. There aren’t anymore.”
“That’s so cool,” he repeats, grinning, fluffing up pillows with an over-enthusiastic cheer.
“How was that even legal,” Kageyama grunts, apparently unaware of the quiet that the room was still in. His voice comes out loudly, and he goes red in seconds of having realized it. “Uh—”
Takeda just laughs. “Oh, it was, back then. It was his land and his guns. Not just anyone can access a permit, but he managed it. He was tricky, but a good man.”
Whatever unease had lingered is dispersed easily. A few tense shoulders slump in apparent relief. With that, Takeda finishes folding the sheets, laying them out neatly. “Did you have any other questions…?”
“Erm, no,” Tsukishima manages to stutter out, now apparently all too aware of the foot he’d trodden on. Takeda had sounded scary earlier. Scarily upset with the invasive, doubting questions. “Thank you.”
“Well, I think I’ve kept away from my other duties long enough,” he says, turning to leave. He heaves the great oak door open, the bronze charm dangling and swaying, thunking against the door. “Goodnight. Sleep well, all of you!”
Takeda leaves, the only trace of his presence the hollow sound of the charm bumping against the oak on the other side of the door.
Although most of them had had concerns raised and then flattened, Asahi seems more trepidatious than before.
“So he carried guns…?”
“For birds,” Tsukishima repeats, Hinata unable to make his expression out behind the glint of his glasses. “And for boars.”
“Asahi, it’s like you’ve got a gun to your head,” Nishinoya laughs, smacking his back. “What are you so tense for?! Does the idea of guns scare you so much? Rifles, rifles~ shotguns and pistols~”
“Ah, stop it, stop! I don’t want to think about weapons like that,” Asahi says, patting down his pillow nervously.
“It’s not like there are any on the property anymore,” Daichi says, glaring at Asahi. “... you… you’re really a coward, you know?”
“Ooh, be careful, his grandpa might be lurking in the halls!”
“Noya, you’re immature,” Ennoshita scolds, crossing his arms. “Asahi...” he shakes his head wearily. “I have nothing to say about that. But you,” he adds, suddenly looking furious as he turns to Tsukishima. “You’ve really got to stop being so rude! You could have phrased your questions a bit better, at least.”
“I thought I should be blunt,” Tsukishima mumbles to himself, avoiding meeting anyone’s eyes. Even in attempts to evade guilt, it’s clear he doesn’t regret asking those questions. “... well, we know now, at least. It was bugging me.”
“You have no tact,” Kageyama says, nostrils flaring. The blank delivery sends Hinata into a fit, rolling over and around in laughter, the apparent irony in saying that flying right over Kageyama’s head. Tanaka and Nishinoya burst into laughter alongside him.
“I don’t think somebody like you should be saying things like that,” Tsukishima bites, anger a flame held just barely at bay. “Your superstitions could have been kept to yourself, earlier, you know.”
“They weren’t superstitions,” Kageyama balks, standing with a shout. “You—”
“Enough!” Daichi barks, commanding voice drowning out their bickering. All chatter ceases instantly, ears finely tuned to obey any orders from their captain. “It’s bed time. Stop bickering. Save it for the morning.”
Like that, everyone returns to preparing their futons, heads turned downward. Sugawara stands up from his futon, sheets neatly folded over a thoroughly fluffed pillow. He places a hand on Daichi’s shoulder and gives a quick squeeze, a brief, firm touch, meant to reassure.
“You already seem exhausted,” Sugawara gives him a sidelong glance and then laughs under his breath. “For a second there, I thought your head was going to explode.”
“This trip is already a disaster,” Daichi answers, rubbing his eyes. “Let’s just hope they don’t kill each other.”
“I think I’m more worried about you,” Sugawara teases lightly. “Are you sure you aren’t going to strangle one of them?”
“No, I’m not,” Daichi heaves a sigh and rubs his eyes as the team lays out their blankets and, one by one, begin to crawl underneath. “That’s what worries me most.”
Sugawara outright laughs at that, striding over to switch off the light. What illuminates the room now and allows him to pick his path out from between rows of futons is the moonlight, clean light that is shadowed as a cloud passes by overhead.
Outside, the wind picks up, storm clouds gathering far to the north.
Chapter 5: A Secret and a Promise
In which Sugawara feels sickened, Kageyama is literally ill, and Hinata just won't stop snooping.
Sorry for such a long wait! I hope the length of the chapter makes up for it. We have Hinata's POV coming up next. A lot of building blocks have been put into place and I'm very excited. Beta'd by both Alana and Miki.
The next update might take a while, again, since I'm moving and have been kept rather busy; I won't have Internet from the 22nd to December 1st.
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.
“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.
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.
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?”
Chapter 6: A Cursed Image
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 been too long, my friends. I intend on having updates either weekly or biweekly from now on, but we'll see how it goes; I have a lot of projects running right now, and although I've had this chapter ready for a while, I kept editing it down and changing details. Speaking of changes, I also edited the past chapters (mainly 3 and 5) rather heavily. I solidified my plans for this story, so there shouldn't be a need for further editing.
And finally: we have our intrigue. Things are just beginning to unravel in this chapter. There is more to come.
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
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.”
“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.”
“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!”
“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.
Comments are appreciated! I'm trying to convey a specific mood, so let me know what you think!
Chapter 7: The Mystery Begins
Silence greets Sugawara inside of Karasuno’s dorm.
No one else is here yet. His relief does nothing to slow the rapid thud of his heartbeat.
He hurries to his bag and stuffs the bronze charm inside just in time. The door behind him opens and a murmur of voices spill inside. He no longer hears the accompanying thunk of the brass against the wood.
Daichi and Asahi wander in together, speaking under their breath, but their conversation comes to a sudden halt when they spot him. “Suga?”
Sugawara turns to them with a smile. “Hey.”
“There you are. I was wondering where you went,” Daichi says, surprised.
“We were looking for you and couldn’t find you,” Asahi explains as he and Daichi drag out their futons, getting ready for bed. “We ran into Hinata and Kageyama, and they were acting pretty strange.”
“Strange?” Sugawara shifts nervously, standing up from where he’d crouched to dig through his bag to help them with the futons. “They were probably trying to sneak into the gym, right?” He tries out a laugh, finding it awkward.
“No, I don’t think so,” Daichi says. “They weren’t anywhere near the gyms. I thought they were with you, so I asked them where you were. They evaded the question… any idea what that was about?” Daichi gives him a purposeful look as they shake the blankets out, and Sugawara avoids looking him in the eye, even as he gives a delightfully puzzled smile in return.
“Hm? I wonder… what could that be about?” He evades it, sounding guilty even to his own ears. They finish with their futons and drag out the rest of them as they talk, preparing them for the other boys.
“I figured you could tell me,” Daichi replies.
“Dunno,” Sugawara shrugs.
Daichi looks like he wants to press the issue when Asahi speaks up again. “Have you been feeling alright, Suga? You’ve had a troubled face on for a while now.”
The question takes him off guard. “Have I?”
“I didn’t want to say anything during dinner... I wouldn’t have wanted to be put on the spot, after all… but I think the others noticed, too.”
Daichi looks over at him and nods. “You’ve been pretty tense since we got here. You aren’t sick, are you? Is it the altitude change?”
“Kuroo mentioned that,” Asahi says. “But… I don’t think it’s that. Suga’s usually the one to joke around, but…” He glances away, like he feels bad for calling his friend out. “You’ve been pretty quiet.”
“True,” Daichi mutters. “You’re usually the least responsible, but you’ve been so serious.”
“I feel like you’re insulting me when you say that,” Sugawara sighs, crumpling against the increased weight of his friend’s concern. ”I guess I’ve had a lot on my mind… but was it really that obvious?”
“Only a bit,” Asahi speaks cautiously, trying not to upset him. “It wasn’t like you were gloomy, per say, but kind of… defeated,”
“Tired,” Daichi nods. “You look worse now than before.”
“Sorry to worry you all,” Sugawara gives a resigned sigh as they sit down together, pulling his knees close to his chest. “But I’m fine, really.”
“Are you sure?” Asahi asks. “If you want to talk about it, it’s not a bother… we don’t mind.”
“You mentioned what Kageyama said on the ride up, earlier. Is that still bothering you?”
Daichi hits the nail on the head and Sugawara can’t restrain his grimace this time. His two friends share a look, surprised. They don’t say anything else—they give him a second of contemplative silence—and that’s all it takes for him to start spilling his guts.
“It’s not that, not exactly. I’ve been thinking about it, but I’ve also been thinking about other things, and… I don’t know, isn’t the atmosphere up here weird? Kageyama even threw up.”
“I haven’t noticed or felt anything,” Daichi murmurs. “I mean, Kageyama is just sick—wait, Suga... does this have something to do with you borrowing the keys?”
Sugawara can’t hide his surprise. “How did you know?”
“I didn’t know. You just told me.”
He groans. “I should probably give those back to you, huh?” As if to make a point, he digs around in his pocket, passing them off with a guilty smile.
“It didn’t help that they acted like they’d killed you and hid your body when I mentioned you,” Daichi deadpans, taking back the keys without much in the way of sympathy.
“So, what were you doing?” Asahi’s innocent bemusement makes ignoring Daichi’s guilting a bit easier. “With Kageyama and Hinata.”
“Hinata wanted to go through one of the old rooms,” Sugawara begins, taking a second to glance over at the door cautiously, worried it might open. He lowers his voice deliberately. “So I took them there and opened the door for him. Kageyama was stuck in the infirmary all day, after all… I couldn’t help myself! It wasn’t fair.”
Daichi has never been more unimpressed. “Like I said, least responsible. And?”
Sugawara’s face drops. He fidgets with his hands in his lap, crossing his legs. “... we found a book. It… gave me the creeps.”
The door opens behind them and Sugawara nearly jumps out of his skin.
“—offered to help, anyway!”
Nishinoya trails in, chattering loudly. A laughing Tanaka follows behind him. “What did you expect to happen? I wouldn’t let you five feet near a stove!”
“I can cook! I cook for myself all the time, and I cook delicious food!”
Tsukishima slips past the two bickering boys, eyebrows raised. “You’ll eat anything. It makes me doubt your standard for delicious food.” Beside him, Yamaguchi stifles a snort of derisive laughter.
“What does that mean? Tsukishima, you got somethin’ to say? And you, Yamaguchi!”
“I agree,” Ennoshita follows behind the first years, walking past the loudly grumbling Nishinoya. “What do you usually make for yourself, anyway?”
“Rice and miso soup!”
“Hinata’s little sister can probably make that,” Ennoshita replies, thoroughly unimpressed. “Is that supposed to be special?”
“You’re going to get it, Chikara!”
Daichi regains Sugawara’s attention with a forced sounding cough. “What were you saying?” His whisper is a polite urge for him to finish explaining.
“Well, we—we found a book. A journal,” He glances at the second years as they rough house, Tsukishima loudly complaining and dodging the attempts to cajole him into joining. As reluctant as Sugawara is to talk about it with the first and second years within earshot, he feels obligated to explain further. “It was… from a student that used to go here.”
Asahi nervously wrings his hands together. “I don’t really like the sound of that. Isn’t it… disrespectful, to dig through people’s possessions…?”
“And?” Daichi prompts Sugawara eagerly, ignoring Asahi.
“It was creepy. I can’t explain it any other way. The contents were… from a disturbed student,” Sugawara sighs, rubbing the back of his neck. Going over it again in his memories makes him feel sick. Asahi was right; it was disrespectful. Sugawara had been too carefree. “They were obviously bullied.”
A silence lapses over the room, and Nishinoya looks over like a cat spotting a mouse.
“What are you guys whispering about?” He asks, bounding toward them with a spring in his step. “Suga, you still feeling sick?”
“H-huh? I was never…”
Tanaka points at him. “There! There’s the ‘Uneasy Suga’ I was talkin’ about. See? Daichi, Asahi, you noticed it too, right?”
“Shut up, Ryuu! You can’t just point it out!” Nishinoya slaps the offending hand away, clearly enraged. “Have some tact!”
Sugawara watches them bicker over the possibility of having offended him and heat rushes to his cheeks. He was bothering them all, wasn’t he? Nishinoya always disguised his worry with jokes and light-hearted antics—the fact that Sugawara has been so transparent that it’s come to this is horrifically embarrassing.
He goes bright red, and not a second longer do they argue before Nishinoya spots it and smacks his friend with a “Ryuu, look!”, effectively drawing his attention to their upper classmate’s embarrassment.
“... Suga? What’s up, man?” Tanaka asks, real worry etched in the furrow of his brow, the downturn of his lip.
The room is quiet and stays that way until Sugawara speaks up.
“I’ve been really selfish, huh?”
The second years are quiet. Everyone is quiet. Yamaguchi and Tsukishima glance over from where they stand by their bags.
“What was in that book?” Daichi weighs every word with a deliberate caution. The other boys stare at him, but don’t say a word. It lances Sugawara through the heart that even though the second years don’t get it, they don’t ask for clarification. They just wait.
“... whoever wrote it was clearly bullied. They detailed several events… me and Kageyama read them aloud.” He expects judgement for the callous act, but no one says anything—no one makes a face at him. “And there were these pentagrams, these circles… there were things written in a different language.”
“What language?” Asahi asks, clearly unsettled.
“I don’t have a clue; none of us could tell.”
“None of us—meaning you, Hinata and Kageyama?” Ennoshita asks from Asahi’s side, having drawn closer during the course of Tanaka and Nishinoya’s arguing.
He nods. “One was on the front page of the book, and the other was on the back of a polaroid. The journal was full of pictures. I thought he must have been a photographer, but… I don’t know. He never mentioned it. Over time, the photos… started to change. It’s hard to explain.”
“They got creepy,” A voice mutters from the shadows, and everyone jumps a half foot in the air.
“When the hell did you two sneak in?!” Tanaka shouts, a hand clutching his chest. “Nearly gave me a heart attack…” He grumbles, trailing off weakly.
Kageyama and Hinata stride forward from the shadows of the doorway, both seeming nervous, but determined.
“Sorry, you two,” Sugawara murmurs, flush creeping up his neck. “I ended up spilling it myself.”
“No, I would have told somebody anyway,” Kageyama admits without hesitation, or even the barest hint of guilt. Sugawara decides not to say anything about that.
Reluctantly, Asahi asks: “What do you mean by ‘they got creepy’?”
“I don’t know,” Kageyama shrugs. “They just changed.”
“The quality of the photos degraded, and some of them were marked. Like I said, one of them had a pentagram on the back. I… don’t remember what that one even looked like. I avoided it,” Sugawara explains.
“Nishimoto said he hid things, in the floorboards and closets and stuff,” Hinata pipes up, filling in the missing blank that Sugawara had struggled to avoid remembering—or mentioning.
“Like what?” Nishinoya is curiously calm, contrary to the wary caution of the others. “Did it say?”
“Stuff like knives,” Hinata says, and Sugawara wishes he hadn’t.
“Knives?” Daichi is incredulous—and by rights, he should be. Sugawara can’t believe it, and he’d read it himself. “What do you mean, knives?”
“It sounded to me like he wanted to kill somebody,” Kageyama says, speaking in Hinata’s stead. “He was bullied by a girl and her classmates, so he probably wanted to get rid of her.” When everyone stares at Kageyama blankly, he scratches his cheek awkwardly. “... I was just following the narrative.”
“Even if I am kind of proud you know what that means, it’s not a story on a test,” Ennoshita scolds him gently.
“Are you sure it wasn’t a novel after all?” Tsukishima speaks up, discontent with staying silent now that Kageyama and Hinata have joined the discussion. “You didn’t pick up a book and mistake it for a journal, did you?”
His snide attempt at mocking Kageyama’s intelligence even now irritates Sugawara more than it should. He shuts it down as quickly as he can. “It wasn’t a novel. The way it was written was unmistakably from a student of this high school. We found a photo album with his name on it.”
Hinata gives Tsukishima a haughty smirk like he’s trying to say take that! and Kageyama doesn’t even spare a glance his way.
“So you found this journal and read it—then what?” Nishinoya asks, bringing their focus back around.
“That’s just it. Nothing. We just put it down and left. I didn’t want to stay there anymore.”
He looks around at the faces of his teammates—everyone is unsure, shifting around and looking at each other like they’re not quite ready to take things seriously yet, still expecting someone to spout an answer, or laugh and say ‘we got you!’, but there is no punchline, and as far as Sugawara can tell, there is no answer to this mystery.
“Well, it’s not like we can do anything about it now. Even if he was planning on killing someone, that was twenty years ago.” Tsukishima summarizes Sugawara’s thoughts and delivers the blow in a smooth, nonchalant tone of voice, like they’re discussing the weather.
He can’t leave it at this.
“There was… something else,” Sugawara starts, glancing over to where his bag sits with a sense of both guilt and deep dismay. He wants desperately to ignore it, or pass over it—but there’s something inside of him telling him that doing that is wrong. It assaults him like a headache or a sickness, slowly strengthening his resolve. “There was a brass charm. It was… hanging on the door knob. I took it off.”
Nishinoya breaks the tense silence following that. “I never noticed something like that... why did you take it off?” He sounds innocently curious, and somehow, that absolves some of Sugawara’s shame.
Without a word, Sugawara stands and makes his way over to his bag, fishing the ornament out and bringing it over. He sits with his legs tucked neatly underneath him and places it in front of him. Hinata makes a small noise, recognizing it instantly.
“That’s like the other circles,” He says, and Sugawara sweats. “I knew I saw something like it before! But it’s not really the same… it’s got a picture of a scorpion?”
“Is that what it is?” Kageyama tilts his head. “It looks like a lobster to me.”
“Kageyama, you idiot, how the heck is that a lobster— ouch! Don’t hit me out of the blue!”
“Knock it off,” Daichi warns before returning his attention to the charm. He picks it up to examine it, and everyone draws closer like that’s permission to inspect it themselves.
After a long moment of silent contemplation, Tsukishima speaks up. “The writing is in hebrew.” Everyone looks at him in astonishment, and he seems almost—put off? “Don’t look at me like that.”
“How can you tell?” Sugawara asks, stunned.
“I’ve seen it once before. I’m really just guessing,” he adjusts his glasses with a surly shrug. “This isn’t a pentagram, though. Is this really what the other circles looked like?”
“They had triangles in them and stuff,” Hinata says, peeking at Tsukishima with an undisguised curiosity. “You know everything, don’t you?”
“I know more than you,” He says, and he’s so smug it should be annoying but the pinch in Sugawara’s chest lessens, just a bit, the tension of the atmosphere easing with that small interaction between the two of them. He lets go of the breath he was holding. “Anyway, this is a pentacle. Don’t ask me to read it.”
“Just read it, you show off!” Nishinoya cheerfully bumps Tsukishima’s elbow.
“I can’t read hebrew.”
“Well, that’s lame. Anyone know what it means?” Nishinoya asks, and everyone shakes their head—no. No one has a clue what it means. “Okay—so maybe someone from Nekoma or Fukurodani would know.”
“If you’re going to ask someone, it should be Takeda,” Tsukishima says, giving a nasally little exhale, like it’s obvious.
“But we snuck into that room?” Hinata points out. “We would get in trouble.”
“That’s something you should be used to by now, though.” Tsukishima deadpans.
“Suga,” Daichi begins, tapping the charm. “This was on the knob of this door, right?”
“Yes,” He nods, warily looking between him and the charm. “It was.”
“Then you could ask,” he says, “since it wasn’t in that room, no one would get into trouble.”
“It would be hard to explain,” Sugawara rebukes that suggestion, but it’s not like he isn’t considering it. “... but you’re right.”
“Listen,” Ennoshita starts, and everyone does listen, turning their heads curiously at his suddenly strict tone. “I’m not saying it’s not creepy, but if someone put that there, then they probably did it for a reason. I think we should put it back where it was.”
“I agree,” Asahi immediately says, sounding horribly nervous. “This is like—like kokkuri, isn’t it? Or—”
“That’s an urban legend,” Daichi says, sounding exasperated. “This is something different. I don’t have a clue what, but it’s not that.”
“Isn’t it kind of like witchcraft?” Yamaguchi suggests timidly. “The writings, and the circles and stuff, I dunno… it’s spooky, isn’t it?” He looks at Tsukishima helplessly. Tsukishima doesn’t say a thing.
“Then if it’s witchcraft, we really shouldn’t anger anyone,” Asahi mumbles, growing frantic. “Seriously, guys, let’s put it back. What if we get cursed?”
“Man up, Asahi!” Nishinoya shouts, making the older and bigger boy jump in fright. “That stuff isn’t real! Curses don’t exist, and witches don’t either. That stupid charm doesn’t scare me, and it shouldn’t scare you, either!”
“But, I mean, what if, there’s a chance after all, isn’t there—”
“There’s no chance!” Nishinoya is getting heated. “If I can’t see it, it isn’t real!”
“I agree,” Tsukishima mutters in a monotone. Nishinoya turns to him and pats him hard on back.
“See, Tsukishima’s a real man!”
“Don’t make it angry!” Asahi shudders, wrapping his arms around himself defensively. “You shouldn’t mess with spirits...!”
“Even I can’t say we should inflict curses on ourselves,” Tanaka grumbles, not quite nervous, but not nearly as assured as he’d usually be. “It’s kind of creeping me out, too.”
“We’ll put it back,” Daichi announces, voice booming. That shuts everyone up; he turns to Sugawara with an apologetic smile, lowering his voice. “... I’m sorry, Suga. I know you don’t want to, but… I don’t think we should touch this. Whether or not there’s anything spiritual going on.” He gives Asahi a piercing glance, as if to tell him to shut up. “It’s more likely to upset Takeda if he notices it missing.”
“No, no—I’m fine with it. I was acting on impulse when I took it down, so—I’m sorry to inconvenience you all.” He forces himself to smile. He’s exhausted with this, and he doesn’t want to think anymore. “We should go to bed and forget about all of this.”
Even saying it feels wrong, but no one protests to that. He stands up and, with Daichi, steps outside. They wrap the charm back around the door knob.
They stare at it together, transfixed by the swaying motions. It doesn’t look right. The knot in Sugawara’s chest tightens. This can’t be right.
His anxiety is asphyxiating him, and Daichi can tell.
Daichi rests a hand on the small of his back and steers them aside, away from the door, allowing Sugawara a quiet moment to lean into his shoulder.
“Are you really okay?” He asks, just resting his hands on Sugawara’s back.
“Give me a second.”
He does. Daichi gives him a second. They breathe together in the serene darkness of the empty common room and Sugawara empties his mind of everything. Of the journal, of the photos, of the fragmented worries and the restless anxiety swirling in his head. Bit by bit, breath by breath, it seeps out of him and into the open, empty air.
It’s so cold. He shivers faintly. The moon is obscured by clouds. It’s so much darker without it.
“I’m okay,” he says, pulling away reluctantly and only when he knows he’s overstepping his bounds by lingering further. Daichi raises a hand and touches his cheek, and then his warmth is gone.
“Then let’s go back in,” He smiles, genuine and heartbreakingly fond. Sugawara follows, as he always has—and as he always will.
Outside, it begins to rain.
After the Karasuno team clears out of the cafeteria, the Nekoma and Fukurodani teams gather together. The other coaches wave goodnight, leaving Nekomata to lock up after the children.
Nekoma eventually realize it’s about time to head up to bed when their coach wanders over and takes a seat at the end of their table.
“How do you boys like it here?” He asks, drawing their attention.
“Hmm, it’s cool,” Inuoka says, excitedly gesturing. “I really like it here! I’m just glad to be playing against Karasuno again!”
Nekomata is nodding. “They are a strong team, and we were lucky Takeda was able to secure this place for the camp. But he did owe us one,” Nekomata laughs dryly, the comment going over the team’s collective head.
Kenma raises his head as if he wants to say something, biting his lower lip in hesitation. Nekomata notices his unusually strained expression and calls out to him. “Kenma, what’s the matter?”
After an awkward beat of silence, he reluctantly speaks up. “I… had a question.”
“Go on then!”
“Why is the abandoned gym locked up?”
Nekomata hums thoughtfully, placing a hand on his chin in consideration. “I’d say it’s because you aren’t allowed in. It’s not safe. You should remember what Takeda said about it.”
“I do remember,” Kenma murmurs. “But it’s excessive… the padlock is extreme.” A pause. “That’s just what I think.”
“Ah, that, eh? I guess I should have expected one of you to notice it eventually.”
He pauses after an uncomfortable laugh. Kenma doesn’t say anything, and it’s obvious he wants to ask more or push further. His silence is just another way of doing that.
“That’s just to keep people out,” Yaku tries to fill the awkward silence, aware that Kenma isn’t particularly skilled at talking to adults. “It might look a little extreme, but if it’s for safety…”
“No, it’s not necessary at all,” Nekomata’s blunt admission takes Yaku by surprise. He places both elbows on the table, drawing their full attention as he leans in conspiratorially. He lowers his voice to a whisper.
“Okay. If I tell you boys a secret, can you keep it?”
Yaku glances over at the Fukurodani team, bustling with laughter and chatter. He nods—everyone does. Kuroo crosses his arms with a complex expression on his face, as if interest and doubt are pulling him in conflicting directions.
“The truth is…” Nekomata taps the table with his index finger. “This place has a lot of bad rumors. You’ve all heard the ghost stories surrounding our school and other schools, I’m sure.”
“Those are just urban legends,” Kenma mutters. Yaku supposes he must feel made fun of, for something like this to be brought up. “They aren’t real.”
“Oho, but that’s where you’re wrong! The curses that unhappy spirits leave behind are strong. They’re stronger than any of you realize. An evil spirit can grow stronger just by having their name spread around in the form of myth, or legend. There will always be those who believe, even if they say they don’t.”
At that, he gives Kenma a pointed stare. The young setter shifts uncomfortably and looks away.
“Disbelief is powerful, but belief is even more powerful. Really, kids your age are the most gullible… that’s why ghosts gather in schools and why a lot of urban legends are told to children.”
Kuroo smirks dubiously. “Then how could a place like this be cursed? I haven’t heard a single rumor about this school. Following your logic, the more people that know about it, the more real that curse becomes, right?”
“Oh yes,” Nekomata nods deeply, flitting over Kuroo’s obvious derision. The other team’s chatter has lulled to a suspicious quiet. “I’m about to tell you that rumor now. If even one person knows, it always spreads, after all. I’m sure by the time you leave, you’ll have an interesting ghost story to tell your friends.” A rumbling laugh. “Are you all listening?”
Absorbed in the atmosphere, everyone leans in, even Kuroo. Yaku wonders if that was enough to convince him.
“I read up on this place as soon as Takeda told me we’d be coming up here. There were mostly news reports on the landslide, as you already know, but when I dug deeper, a few other things came up—”
“The landslide was just one part of why everyone left, right?” Yaku murmurs, remembering the conversation they’d had before heading up the mountain. “That’s unsettling by itself.”
“Exactly! It’s worrying. You don’t need a curse or a ghost to be unsettled by this place. That alone is enough to create an energy here.”
“An energy,” Yamamoto repeats, surprisingly captivated. “For, what, the spirits to feed off?”
“An energy is just that—an energy. All large buildings or gatherings of people have energies built up, from emotions and experiences of the people there. But that’s not the point.”
“That’s kind of cool, but mostly scary,” Inuoka says, transfixed.
“Terrifying! Anyway, after the landslide, the consensus was that the mountain itself was cursed and that the next time a disaster occurred, it would hit the school itself. Now, now, don’t worry; that just won’t happen. The mountain is safe. Those were just a few baseless rumors. But there were different rumors. Children had supposedly been spirited away. I thought that it was nonsense… but,” He taps his finger on the table again. “I found the ‘reality’ behind the rumor of the curse. There was a record of missing students.”
“Wait,” Yaku blurts. “You’re saying a few kids actually went missing?”
Nekomata has a gravely serious expression on his face. He nods slowly. “There were detailed reports. It happened days before the landslide.”
“What… how did they go missing? Did they run away?” Inuoka’s voice quakes uneasily.
“That’s just the thing, you see? I also thought that perhaps the children had run away, and that the idea of a curse was facilitated by the school and the media to hide that truth. But the police investigation went nowhere. They managed to determine a few things: it happened in the middle of the night. No one saw or heard anything, and there was no evidence of foul play. The student’s bodies were never found.”
“They disappeared into thin air?” Inuoka breathes.
“They were spirited away,” Nekomata solemnly nods. “That was exactly what happened. No evidence of their departure.”
“Are you saying a ghost did this—what, placed a curse on the mountain to punish intruders?” Yaku asks, clearly skeptical.
“I’m not saying anything. But it’s interesting, isn’t it? Mysterious, how they just disappeared. What could have caused that other than the supernatural?”
Their coach leans back, as if to allow that information to settle in. The smile he wears is smug, but the information is admittedly scary. Yaku crosses his arms, thinking it over. He’d heard about this sort of thing before, even mentioned it to Sugawara, but the fact that it’s being brought up for the second time today, and by their coach… it makes him feel uneasy.
“You are saying ghosts are real.” Kuroo sounds distinctly unimpressed.
“That’s up to you to decide.”
Nekomata looks around at them all, serious expression wavering. He breaks the sullen silence with a roar of a laugh, slapping his knee with a good-natured grin.
“You’re all so young and so gullible! That’s the story of this school,” He says, gesturing to the space around them. “But that kind of rumor is a rumor you can find anywhere. Truly, truly, it’s something you have to decide for yourself.”
Kuroo seems put out. Inuoka is stunned. Across from them, Fukurodani is muttering amongst themselves conspiratorially. Nekomata stands from his seat, cracking his back with a groan. “Now, I believe I’ve left everyone waiting long enough. You should all get a good night’s rest.”
“Wait,” Kenma softly protests, meeting his coach’s eyes over the heads of his muttering teammates. “You never answered my question.”
Nekomata’s smile doesn’t falter, but it no longer reaches his eyes. “The floorboards are rotting. It’s a precautionary measure against nosey kids who want to wander around even when they’ve been told they’re not allowed to. We have a liability to keep you safe.”
Kenma holds his gaze for a long second, seeming undisturbed by the bustling chatter of his teammates, who are all busy discussing the story. He shrugs, eventually accepting it. “I see.”
Nekomata waves goodnight to the remaining students still paying attention to him and leaves without another word. Kenma’s eyes follow his back until he disappears.
Beside him, Kuroo heaves a dramatic sigh, languidly stretching. “Ah, geez! Now everyone’s going to have nightmares about getting cursed, huh?”
“I don’t think that will be a problem,” Kenma murmurs, drawing the attention of his friend and his teammate, Yaku. The others continue to blabber worriedly. “It might be exciting to talk about, but until a ghost appears in front of us, I don’t think anyone would be likely to believe something so juvenile. Um,” He looks up, watching as Inuoka clings to Yamamoto as he tries to stand from the table, blubbering shamelessly. “I’d want to think so, at least...”
“True,” Kuroo laughs. “It’s hard to believe in urban legends in this modern world if you’re not a little kid or a delusional adult. It’s impossible to take seriously.”
“Do you think it’s true?” Yaku whispers. “I mean, the part about the missing students?”
“I dunno,” Kuroo shrugs in response, a worried look on his face. “Maybe. Even if we look it up when we get back, there’s nothing we can do to confirm it right now.” He glances over at the Fukurodani team and groans. “That old man had to put ideas in their heads, huh? It seems like even Fukurodani heard. I don’t want to hear that owl crying about ghosts.”
“I’m more worried about how everyone else is taking it,” Yaku agrees. “Once you hear a story like that it’s hard to forget, even if you don’t think it’s real.”
“It is kind of scary,” Kenma murmurs.
Kuroo peers at Kema, a complex expression on his face. “Kenma, don’t tell me you’re taking it seriously?”
“No, it’s just… I think it’s kind of fun,” He smiles. “To pretend that it’s real.”