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A Talisman For The God At The Spring

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Kageyama would think later that it should have been obvious what Suga was from the first instant he saw the silver-haired god.

He had made it part of his training to jog up a twisty little path behind the school and into the forest once a week. There were ripples of hills, and at the end of the trail lay a crystal clear spring and a small shrine. Each week Kageyami left a wooden talisman for the god that resided there.

The fourth or fifth time he did this someone silently came up behind him and reached around him to take his talisman.

Kageyama whipped around to find a young man a few years older and a few centimeters shorter, reading the prayer he had written.

“This might work better if you said who you wanted to defeat, and at what.”

Kageyama snatched the talisman back.

“Of course, if you’re just doing it to harden your own resolve it doesn’t matter what they say.”

The stranger was wearing a gakuran and might have been an upperclassmen, but Kageyama thought he would have recognized him if they’d met before. His hair shone silver where dappled bits of sunlight touched it. He was grinning, which brightened his face more than the sunlight ever could.

Kageyama stiffened his spine and announced, “I’m going to surpass him with my own power.”

“That’s a good attitude!” He slapped Kageyama’s arm. “Okay, I’ll give you my blessing.”

Kageyama assumed it was a joke, but for the rest of the day he felt energized. For at least a few hours, it felt like his strength would never run out.

After their first meeting, every time Kageyama went up to the spring he found Suga there. He assumed Suga was in charge of tending the shine. Someone must be periodically clearing away the various talismans and tokens people left there, at least. Usually he was warm and calm and had an encouraging smile, and Kageyama quickly realized he wasn’t bothered by the fact that Suga would know which message was his.

Training wasn’t supposed to include stopping to rest at the shrine, but asking for advice from Suga felt more effective than leaving tokens to a god. He went to Suga after his worst fight with Hinata to date and got a thump on the back and firm advice to listen and try to learn his teammate’s pace rather than charging in the opposite direction on his own. He couldn’t get far by himself, could he?

Kageyama had already leaned the last part the hard way.

Sometimes if he wasn’t listening, or even if he was, Suga would slap his back or punch his side. It was playful, but he hit hard and Kageyama felt clearheaded afterward. He felt a lot more clearheaded than when Suga rested a hand on his arm, as if having time to appreciate the touch made his brain slow down.

Maybe this was part of his job too. Suga must be offering advice to other visitors. Once Kageyama even crossed paths with an upperclassman he recognized. Tanaka had been even more energized than usual, and overflowing with confidence.

Kageyama wasn’t exactly jealous, but he thought more and more about if he could see Suga for more than a few minutes a week. Suga didn’t go to his school. He’d checked. He didn’t even know Suga’s full name.

When asked where he went to school, Suga cocked his head as if it was a strange question and said, “I don’t.” He tucked two fingers in the collar of his gakuan and tugged lightly as he asked, “This? The uniform makes people comfortable. Humans like to have context, and I like having people to talk to, sometimes.”

Kageyama didn’t quite get it, except for the fact that Suga wasn’t a student. He discarded where the uniform came from and why as unrelated to what he needed to know.

“Where are you from?”

“Right here. Isn’t that obvious?”

Suga stood up, and Kageyama stood with him. He wanted to ask where did he go to see more of Suga sometimes, but that wasn’t working.

Before he could ask anything else, Suga pushed his back and told him to come back next week.

Two weeks later Kageyama found a nervous blonde girl standing in front of the shrine. She couldn’t seem to decide if she wanted to put her talisman down.

One of the crows that flocked around the shrine landed on the bush beside her, making her yelp. It snagged the talisman from her fingers and flew to the sloped roof of the little shrine, where it cocked its head and looked back at her.

“G-give it back!”

The crow politely dropped the talisman into her hands. She held it to her chest where it couldn’t be stolen again and hurried to put it in its proper place.

Then she turned around and saw Kageyama and shrieked. He hadn’t meant to surprise her, but before he could say he didn’t mind waiting she had bolted past him and down the hill.

Kageyama heard Suga laughing, and turned to find him perched on the shrine with one leg tucked under him.

“I could have timed that a little better,” he said. “Come here.”

Kageyama obeyed automatically, and Suga’s hands landed on his shoulders, using him to swing down to the ground. He weighed very little. Without meaning to, Kageyama caught him, hands around his waist. Suga laughed and asked, “What are you doing?” even though he had an arm still slung around Kageyama’s neck.

For a second Kageyama wondered if he should have noticed something about Suga, but his eyes weren’t a crow’s eyes and his laugh was nothing like a crow’s laugh.

Of course it was a little difficult to think with Suga pressed against his chest and looking up at him with the calm eyes of an animal that already knows how it would take you apart, which was not something exclusive to either humans or crows.

Then Suga let go of him and pushed him towards the spring, as if he had simply gotten bored of Kageyama trapping him up against the shrine. Kageyama’s heart was still hammering.

“Are all the crows here people?”

“Of course they are, they’re crows! Never paid attention to them, have you?”

Kageyama had to admit he hadn’t.

“They pay attention to you, though. If you’re cruel or kind to them, they’ll remember you. Just don’t try to be both. They won’t put up with it. They’re smarter than humans that way.”

Kageyama was trying to figure out how to respond to that when Suga flicked his forehead, making him look up at a cheeky grin. “I don’t recommend being cruel to a crow, by the way. They’re terrible gossips, and they’ll tell all their friends about you.”

A crow in one of the trees behind Suga called, as if agreeing with him. He did seem to get along with them. Once while they were sitting at the edge of the spring talking, a crow had landed right beside Suga and dropped something into his hand. It was a key, like the key to a bike lock. Suga had laughed and added it to the pile of offerings.

“So they’re shrine crows.”

“Not really. Sometimes little animals fall in the spring and drown because they can’t get out. The crows clean them up, and I’m grateful. Now I’ve been protecting their nests for so many generations they tell their chicks about me.”

“How old are you?”

“Rude!” Suga laughed, and didn’t answer.

Kageyama spent the evening staring at his homework as if he could look through the page and see Suga. Maybe the god of the spring had fallen in love with Suga and decided to keep him there. If gods were going to go around falling in love with mortals then who else were they going to fall for?

Was Suga in love with the god too? He seemed happy where he was.

Kageyama realized that it was one thing to find out the person you are in love with turns into a crow, but it was something entirely different to realize they may already be in a happy relationship with a supernatural entity. Only one of those was a deal breaker. Only one of them hurt.

Visiting the shrine again should have felt as nice as it always did, but for some reason Kageyama couldn’t shake off the feeling he’d had when he first thought of Suga being in love with the god here. Even being quiet next to Suga was making him feel jittery.

He had been up all night thinking about it. If Suga loved someone else, then he might be unwelcome. Was he still allowed to come and see Suga?

Suga, who was leaning casually against the shrine, picked up one of the talismans from the small pile. Kageyama always assumed it was part of his job to clear them away. He was always so free about touching them.

He looked at the piece of wood much longer than it would take to read the short message on it. Then he sighed and took a bite out of the talisman.

The crack of wood grinding between his teeth seemed unnaturally loud. Suga swallowed and licked splinters from the corner of his mouth.

“What? Not many people leave me offerings these days, you know.”

There was nothing Kageyama could say to that.

Suga finished off the talisman and Kageyama sat frozen, listening to the god eating other people’s prayers.

“I won’t eat in front of you if it bothers you that much.”

“I didn’t realize.”

“I wasn’t trying to scold you about the offerings. If you took water without asking I’d be mad, but leaving your feelings is fine.”

It occurred to Kageyama that Suga had been eating his prayers too, and that he didn’t mind.

“I didn’t realize you were the god,” Kageyama muttered petulantly, although it wasn’t Suga’s fault.

“I wasn’t hiding it. Who did you think I was?”

“Someone who was spirited away,” Kageyama admitted.

Suga doubled over laughing and it took a long time for him to subside. When he finally recovered and came to sit beside Kageyama he said, “Don’t worry. I won’t steal you away.”

It hadn’t occurred to Kageyama to worry. He nodded and asked, “What kind of offerings do you like?”

“Interesting things. Foods I haven’t seen before. There was a road through here,” he indicated the narrow path and then off through the trees where there was nothing. “Sometimes people brought things from their travels. But then the road dried up and people forgot about the spring and about me.”

Suga stretched and continued casually, “If you have been small and are fed enough to grow big, it is very hard to become small again. I was hungry for a long time. I had to learn to eat other things.”

When Suga said the last part he reached over and stroked Kageyama’s jaw and something in Kageyama’s hindbrain shrieked danger, predator.

Then Suga laughed playfully and added, “Not the things you’re thinking of. I’m not that kind of god.” He kissed Kageyama’s forehead, and whatever had made him seem to loom threateningly faded all at once. Kageyama’s heart wasn’t done hammering, though. The nerves at the back of his neck were strung tight and wouldn’t let go for several seconds.

Suga was still for a moment, lettering the adrenaline shiver its way out of Kageyama’s muscles. Survival instincts reluctantly let go of the feeling that Suga would pounce and eat him, but now Kageyama’s brain wasn’t working for another reason. Suga was still so close.

“This is a new arrangement for me. In the past few years people have come here to ask for luck in love. I’m not sure where that came from, since I can’t provide either. The best I can give is courage. I can’t guarantee anything in terms of another person’s feelings.”

It hadn’t occurred to Kageyama that the rumor that Suga could somehow ‘help you win over the one you have your eye on’ referred to romance and not to vanquishing a rival. It hadn’t occurred to him that one might require divine intervention for that, but it had never been important to him before.

Some extra courage might be nice, but he had said he would do things by his own power.

Kageyama could write down his feelings for Suga to eat or he could charge in and say, “I love you.”

And just like that, it was out.

“Do you really?” Suga said. His eyes sparkled with mischief.

Kageyama nodded stiffly.

Suga’s hand slipped under his jaw again and the next thing he knew he was being kissed on the mouth. Suga’s lips were soft and cool, and then his teeth tugged lightly on Kageyama’s lower lip and Kageyama jolted backwards almost into the spring.

Suga laughed at him. “Don’t worry. Your feelings are much too precious to eat.”

Kageyama didn’t realize until then that he had actually been hoping for an answer like ‘I feel the same way.’ Maybe Suga didn’t, or couldn’t.

“I told you this isn’t my job, but I suppose there is one person whose love I can promise.”

Kageyama almost asked if it was his, like he had literally given up his emotions to Suga.

“Just my own,” Suga explained. “And just to one person.”

Suga’s hand folded around his, and Kageyama didn’t need to ask who.