Karasuno House has roses. Not polite little beds of floribundas or climbing forms for the trellises, but actual hedges, heavy orange blooms that drip from the peripheries of the yard in clusters by the dozen. It's too beautiful. Suga doesn't trust any of it. A magnificent man crouches at the end of the walkway with a bucket and a pair of scissors, deadheading the plants with the surety of an athlete. He turns to regard Suga. A bright sheaf of petals slips from a stem, catching in his dark hair, and Suga wants to cry from the beauty of it.
"Sugawara Koushi," he says softly instead. "IH0218?"
The man smiles and strips off one of the gardening gloves, offering Suga a smooth hand. His voice is warm, calming. "Sawamura Daichi. House manager. Can you wait just a moment? I'm almost finished here."
Suga's been waiting for years. A few more minutes isn't going to make much of a difference. He lowers his bag from his shoulder as Daichi seeks out the highest five-leaf sets, trimming the rusted blooms in quick, precise motions. The junctions look so fragile. Suga can barely watch as the discarded flowers fall. He picks up one of the less frayed blossoms and strokes it open, placing it in the top buttonhole of his favorite plaid work shirt. It's too big for him now. It'd fit perfectly the day he'd self-surrendered, and he's probably imagining it, bit it still feels stiff in places with Hinata's tears. He closes his eyes as he brings his collar to his face, inhaling its quiet, distant smell. Daichi watches him, and Suga doesn't blush. He's long since learned not to be ashamed of his tenderness.
"Thank you for your patience," says Daichi, standing. His expensive ecru slacks are stained with grass at the knees. "I wanted the place to be perfect for your arrival. You caught me before I cleaned the kitchen; I'm sorry."
"Inexcusable after my luxury experience in federal prison," says Suga.
Daichi laughs. It's a deep, beautiful sound. "I hope you will be pleasantly surprised by your accommodations. Come with me, please. Mind the step."
He's still got petals in his hair. Suga stares at them as he follows him into the house, hands tight around the strap of his satchel.
Inside is just as beautiful as the outside, clean kitchen or not. It's a large, well-lit space, the pale green carpet still neatly lined from the vacuum, and the furniture is tasteful and abundant. The TV is small, but new. There are three people in the living room—a stunning brunet, a man with a dragon neck tattoo, and a kid who doesn't look any older than seventeen—who all look up as Suga toes off his shoes on the front mat. The brunet mutes the television. His gaze is appreciative but respectful.
"Daichi-san, where do you find all these gorgeous felons?" he purrs.
"Same place I found you," says Daichi. "Standing on my sidewalk with all of your earthly belongings in a paper bag." He urges Suga forward, hand behind his back without touching him. "Gentlemen, this is Sugawara Koushi. Suga-san, Oikawa Tooru, Tanaka Ryuunosuke, and Nishinoya Yuu."
Enthusiastic hellos all around. It doesn't escape Suga that Daichi offered his preferred nickname instead of his full last name; a courtesy not afforded to him by anyone in prison. Hell, he hadn’t even had a real name there: he was just the pretty-boy who'd trade kisses for extra phone time. Suga waves with a single crook of his fingers, not attempting to smile at his new housemates. There'd be too much pain behind it. To their credit, they don't demand more from him than he's willing to give. Oikawa winks. Suga gets the impression that he runs the house as much as Daichi does.
"You're really, really cute," says Nishinoya. There's nothing salacious in the way he says it; his voice is bright, unthreatening.
"You too," says Suga clumsily.
"I love your hair. Have you bought good shampoo and stuff yet? I know where to find some."
Tanaka snorts. "It's not like it's a salon or anything. It's a damn drug store, and you just want to go to see the hot guy who works there." He tips his chin up at Suga. His grin is infectious, but there's steel behind it. "You need anything, Suga-san, you ask one of us. We stick together around here."
"Thanks," says Suga, and means it. He manages a small smile.
"Just try to keep breathing," advises Oikawa. He snuggles back into the couch, locates the remote again, and unmutes the TV. The three of them settle into their show. Daichi beckons to Suga, and the two of them cross the room toward the kitchen.
"Toaster," says Daichi, pointing. "Microwave, fridge—half of this shelf is yours; don't worry, that pudding will be gone by this evening—freezer in the corner. Make sure it shuts all the way. Do you have any food allergies?"
"Glad to hear it. We have family meals on Fridays. Of course, they're not compulsory, but Bokuto is an excellent cook, and most of us find that it's a nice way to unwind after a difficult week."
Suga studies him as he gathers a handful of dirty coffee mugs by their handles and places them in the sink, running them full of dish soap and hot water before turning back to Suga, smiling. There's something in his expression that tips Suga off even more than the group dinners or his casual, inclusive use of the word 'us.' When he moves to pass Suga, Suga steps in front of him, letting his fingers graze Daichi's elbow before dropping his hand to his side.
"You have a record," he says. It's not a question, but Daichi replies anyway, his body language calm and open.
"I did eighteen months for motor vehicle theft as a teenager," he says. "Nothing grand, just my birthfather's old Honda. Threw a rock on the accelerator and ran it off a cliff."
Suga can't help a smile, his first real one in days. "Did he deserve it?"
"I certainly thought so back then."
"How about now?"
Daichi's quiet for a moment. Then he breaks into a grin. "I’d do it again. Especially now that he has a Lexus."
Suga laughs. The sound of it surprises even him, its fullness and sincerity, and Daichi stares at him with a sudden, focused warmth in the instant before he smooths it out to something more neutral and appropriate. For a moment, they're careful not to look at each other. Suga wonders what would've happened if they'd met in a classroom, a coffee shop; somewhere outside a halfway house in a rough part of town. But this was the hand they were dealt, and Daichi simply clears his throat after checking a form in Suga's release paperwork. He gestures to a staircase in the corner. Suga goes ahead, his hand cautious on the creaky railing.
"Your bedroom is the first door on the left," Daichi says.
He stops in the doorway. A bed, a dresser, a tiny closet. A window propped open a few inches to air out the room. It's even smaller than Suga's cell was, but he smiles. It's his. He puts his satchel down, and the rose from the hedge on top of that. There's a safe in the corner for his valuables. That, he decides, is where he'll put his letters from Hinata.
"Everyone here is pretty respectful, but scuffles happen with so many people living in such close quarters," says Daichi. "You get one warning and three write-ups."
"I'll stay out of trouble."
"I'm sure you will." He hesitates. "Off the record, if you need some help and don't want to go through me, Oikawa knows the city. He acts flippant, but he'll take care of you. Tanaka wasn't kidding when he said they watch out for each other in here."
Suga nods. In the silence, a sudden anxiety creeps into him, palpable as if he were shaking.
Daichi smiles at him. "You'll do great here, Suga-san."
Suga smiles back, and there's almost some real happiness in it. "Thank you, Sawamura-san."
"Daichi." He turns to head back down the stairs. "Phone's in the hall."
He could probably see that desire in Suga's eyes. Suga doesn't bother feeling embarrassed by his transparency. He scrounges up a handful of change from his pocket and counts out quarters as he makes his way to the payphone, where a tall, dark-haired young man is just hanging up. His sharp blue gaze sweeps Suga as they pass each other, but he doesn't speak. A second later, his door bangs shut. Suga waits until he hears the click of the lock before lifting the phone off the cradle and dialing.
It rings three times before someone picks up. "Hello?" says a voice, high and breathless, and Suga's eyes begin stinging immediately. He leans against the wall, swallows back a sob, and grins.
"Hi, Hinata. It's Suga. I'm out."
His hair is limp and dirty. There are circles under his eyes, his fingernails are ragged, and his lips are ridiculously chapped. He can't let Hinata see him like this. He's scrubbing his face viciously with hand soap and an old washrag when Nishinoya strolls past the bathroom, whistling, then pads backwards to pause in the doorway. "You got a hot date or something?" he asks.
"No, but—" Suga hesitates. What is Hinata to him? 'Little brother' is inaccurate, and doesn't cover the intensity of their relationship. "It's someone very precious to me."
"Ah," says Nishinoya. "Well, you kind of look like shit. Still cute, but also like shit."
He's not wrong about the 'shit' part. Suga stares helplessly at his reflection. Something about Nishinoya inspires immediate trust, and Suga raises his gaze to meet his in the mirror, clenching his hands around the sink's basin to stop them from trembling. "I just—I don't want him to know. To know what it was like in there, what it did to me. Does that make any sense?"
"Yeah," Nishinoya says, quieter. "You can kinda see it in a person's eyes when they first get out. But that goes away." He brightens suddenly. "You know what would help? An exfoliant! Like, there's this scrubby stuff that smells like fruit, and you rub it all over your face, and—"
"All I really need is shampoo and a toothbrush."
"Well, we can get that, too!" Nishinoya breaks for the stairs, shouting as he goes: "Ryuu! Ryuu, we're going to the store!"
And just like that, Suga finds himself swept up in an excursion to a drug store about three blocks away. Tanaka comes with them, grumbling something about 'keeping Noya in line,' and Suga doesn't understand that until they enter the store to find an extremely handsome man with a bun and a light beard standing behind the counter.
"Asahi-san!" Nishinoya yells, spreading his arms and leaping.
While Asahi engages him in a willing but flustered hug, Tanaka takes Suga to the hygiene aisle. Suga has to pause, overwhelmed. He's still used to the commissary. There's so much color here, so many scents and options that he finds it hard to take even one step forward. Tanaka waits for him with his hands in his pockets, not making a big deal about it. He's tattooed from chin to wrist on his right side, dragons and flowers and the columned lines of a rice field. He holds himself like some of the tougher inmates in Suga's ward, terse and all edges, but there's something about him that sparkles with good humor as he watches Nishinoya and Asahi chat.
"My boy Noya and I are here like three times a week," he says. "I probably could've quit smoking by now if I didn't buy a pack every time we stopped by, just to say we're customers. Wish Noya would hurry up and get laid already."
"Is that all he's looking for?" Suga asks.
Tanaka grins. "Nah, he's gonna marry the guy. Good instincts, Suga-san."
"Just Suga." He studies Noya, his height; his huge, excited movements. There is no way he made it through prison easy, and the way Tanaka's staring at him has got a lot of history behind it. "Did you two meet inside?"
"We were cellmates, yeah. He was in before me, left after me by a few months. I know what you're thinking, but he was the one who took care of me, not the other way around." He pauses. He's eying Suga without aggression or empathy, just candor. No undue pity. "I like to think I'm returning the favor now. He hasn't—what's the word?—reintegrated well. He'll be the first to tell you that little things still fuck with him, like loud noises and the dark and the produce section at the supermarket, for whatever-the-fuck reason. What I'm saying is that it doesn't always make sense. But it's nothing to be ashamed of or anything."
"I'm not ashamed," says Suga, even though he is, and he and Tanaka both know it.
"Didn't think so," Tanaka replies. "Knew you had balls the moment I saw you. Not that having balls and being scared shitless are mutually exclusive."
Slowly, Suga smiles. There are no words to thank Tanaka, but Suga thinks that that's okay, that maybe they speak the same silent language by now. Drawing a deep breath, he takes his first step down the aisle. It's easy. The world doesn't end. He takes another step, then another, then he's walking, and Tanaka is whistling beside him, hands deep in his pockets again as he peers at the rows of products on the shelves.
"What are you looking for?"
"A toothbrush and soap," says Suga.
"Make sure it's good soap," Noya says, materializing behind them with a basket that's already filled with chips and soda. "I swear, Suga-san, you'll feel like a whole new person if you get something that smells nice. But not anything with lime, because that's my scent."
"Your scent is hair gel and unwashed feet," says Tanaka.
"Yours is smoke and armpit!"
Suga grabs a blue toothbrush and some toothpaste. He reaches for a block of bar soap next, but Noya closes one hand over his to stop him. Suga startles badly. His feet reset automatically into a fighting stance. It takes him a second to come back to himself, to refocus on Noya, who is cataloguing his reaction with dark, curious eyes. Suga yanks his hand away, feeling angry and exposed. "Nishinoya—"
"No bar soap," Noya says easily. "Haven't you had enough of that for one lifetime?"
"It's familiar," says Suga.
"It's weird and waxy. Hold on."
He begins pulling colorful bottles of body wash off the shelves, uncapping them and smelling them and muttering to himself. Suga must have some sort of expression on his face, because Tanaka chuckles and claps him on the back. "Just let him do this," he says. "He's, like, the soap whisperer."
"That's ridiculous," says Suga, but he feels his aggression melting away. Noya and Tanaka are very hard to dislike.
"Ah-ha!" Noya shouts. He shoves a honey-colored bottle at Suga. "Smell. It's sugar and sandalwood."
Suga takes an obedient whiff—and feels his vision begin to blur softly. The sweetness, the earthiness. He might've picked this out for himself years ago, back when he could still laugh freely and write poetry and sing in the shower. It's not precisely a familiar scent, but it's evocative of something. Of the person he never got to be, maybe. He glances at Noya, wondering how much of this he sensed when he picked it out for him, and is met by Noya's knowing gaze.
"Come on, I'll buy it for you," he says. "I bet you're stretched pretty thin money-wise; I know I was when I first got out."
"No, I couldn't let you—"
"Please? It gets me loyalty points."
Noya flashes Suga a winning grin, and when Suga glances over his shoulder for help, Tanaka simply shrugs helplessly. For not the first time, Noya strikes Suga as the type of person who's used to getting his way. He follows him to the checkout line, where Noya begins heaping snacks, toiletries, and, inexplicably, half a dozen AA battery packs on the counter. The attractive cashier, Asahi, smiles shyly at him.
"These can't all be for television remotes, can they?" he asks.
"Nope," says Noya, beaming. "Need 'em for my vibrator."
Asahi flushes spectacularly and begins coughing. Suga would feel sorry for the guy if he didn't look so cute when flustered; his red ears and big, fumbling hands are basically asking for it. His body language remains open toward Noya, nervous and hopeful, as he addresses Suga: "I-I haven't seen you before. Are you new to town?"
"I am. Sugawara Koushi; Suga."
"Azumane Asahi. Nice to meet you." He pauses scanning a bag of sweet potato crisps. "You look very familiar to me."
Suga's a little too tired to joke that he's a famous traveling chef or a porn star or something. "I don't think we've met. I'm sure I would've remembered you."
"Asahi-san is super memorable," says Noya fondly.
It's true, even as Asahi stammers his denial. He's tall and broad-shouldered, antithetically gentle in his mannerisms, and Suga knows already that there is something very special about him. He goes back to ringing up their purchases, blushing. Noya beams at him the whole time, fingers drumming the counter with excitement, color rising in his own cheeks. Asahi automatically throws in a carton of cigarettes for Tanaka. Tanaka sighs.
"I'm gonna wait out there," he says. "Suga?"
Suga doesn't want to leave Noya to pay for his toothbrush, but he doesn't want to cockblock him, either. He vows to pay him back later and follows Tanaka outside.
It's nighttime. The stars are coming out, and the flame of Tanaka's lighter flickers in the growing darkness. He and Suga stand in wistful silence. They do watch out for their own here, Suga thinks. There wasn't this much solidarity in prison, though Suga did have his friends there—Yaku and Goshiki, Tsukishima on good days—and he already misses them terribly. But they wouldn't expect him to visit them. It's an unspoken pact: if you get the chance to run, you run, and you don't look back. Suga doesn't know if it's braver or more foolish that people on the outside always return for each other.
Noya reappears with his grocery sacks, looking subdued. Tanaka waits until the automatic doors slide shut behind him to say, "Everything okay?"
"Yeah," says Noya. "Asahi-san invited me to some street art tour tomorrow, but it's just out of state limits, and I don't have time to get the paperwork done for my P.O. Had to make an excuse."
"Ah, that's fine," says Tanaka. "You can find something to do in town next time."
"He doesn't know you're on parole?" Suga asks.
"No, and don't tell him! He still thinks I'm, like, a normal person."
Suga could take offense to that, but he doesn't. Noya's got a point. Suga nods his promise to keep things quiet, and the three of them head home, conversation moving back to the easier topics of art and food. With Tanaka's help, Noya cheers up quickly. He's grinning again by the time they reach the front porch, but when his hand touches the doorknob, he hesitates. He glances at Suga.
"Uh oh," he says.
"What's wrong?" Suga asks.
"Just—don't freak out; it happens all the time."
"What?" Suga demands again, but Noya's already opening the door.
Immediately, the sound of yelling bleeds out into the quiet evening. Tanaka and Noya step tentatively into the house, backs to the wall, so Suga follows suit—and feels his limbs lock up.
Oikawa Tooru and blue-eyed boy from upstairs are staring each other down, a mere foot apart in the center of the living room. They emanate power and dignity. "All I'm saying, Tobio-chan," Oikawa is saying, voice sweet, "is that we don't need two people in the house doling out advice. That could get confusing very quickly, don't you think? Especially if one of those people is an arrogant, stunted autocrat whose leadership experience amounts to controlling whose turn it is to clean the bathroom. I just don't know if you're qualified, King Kageyama."
"All I did was tell him he should call his brother," says Kageyama. "You would've said the same thing—"
"You have no idea what I would've said."
Kageyama sets his jaw. His fists clench at his sides. "Why do you keep getting in my face? I'm not doing anything. I pose no threat to you."
"I think I've gotten pretty good at deciding who's a threat to me and who isn't," says Oikawa.
"Why? Only one of us can be Prom Queen, is that it?"
Oikawa's beautiful eyes gleam. His fake smile twists away. His hand flashes up, to shove Kageyama or strike him or something—
—but Daichi is there in an instant, intercepting him expertly with one steady forearm, using that leverage to ease them apart. Oikawa subsides, glaring, but Kageyama takes another step forward. Daichi hauls him back by the shoulder.
"Rooms, please," he says, without anger. "Now."
There's a loaded pause. For a moment, Suga thinks Daichi's going to have to repeat himself. Then Kageyama stands down, and Oikawa brushes Daichi away, treating Kageyama to a slow, cheeky wink. "Talk to you tomorrow, Tobio-chan," he says, backing toward the stairs. "Don't go ruining any families in the meantime, okay?"
Kageyama just glares. The fight's gone out of him; he only looks tired now. "Sorry, Sawamura-san," he says, when Oikawa is out of earshot.
Daichi pats his back kindly. "Get some rest, Kageyama."
Kageyama nods and heads toward the stairs himself. Suga watches him go, hyperfocused on his athletic gait, the flattering navy of his shirt. The color's not unlike the denim shade worn by the low-risk inmates who worked the kitchens. Suga didn't see many altercations that involved them—just that one, really. It was in the morning. Suga and Yaku had been returning their trays when the fight broke out beside them. Later, Suga heard that the shiv was the sharpened end of a toothbrush, but the thing that stuck with him most was the build-up—the insults that led to the altercation, the two men standing toe to toe with each other, the guards who reacted too slowly to break it up. Somehow, in the end, that haunted him even more than the blood.
Surely it wouldn't have come down to that between Oikawa and Kageyama, though. Not here. That kind of thing just doesn't happen in the middle of a living room. Suga blinks a few times, and it's only then that he realizes that everything is darkening. He wavers on his feet. Beside him, Tanaka reaches for him, alarmed.
"Suga? Hey, man, are you all right?"
"Yeah," says Suga. "Just—I think I need to sit down."
He's fully prepared to plant his ass on the carpet right where he's standing, but suddenly there's a firm pair of hands on his wrists, guiding him to one of the armchairs in front of the television. He's gently lowered into the seat. Someone calls for a glass of water. A second later, Daichi's handsome face appears before his own, and Suga finds himself staring directly into his dark eyes as he begins to speak.
"Sorry about that, Suga. It's okay. They're grounded again."
Suga chuckles. His vision is slowly returning a color at a time; the first thing that steadies is the honey of Daichi's irises. Daichi takes the cup of water Noya is offering him and holds it to Suga's lips until he starts drawing tiny sips from it. Suga closes his eyes. He feels weak, ridiculous.
"Better?" asks Daichi, when Suga has stopped drinking.
"Y-yes," says Suga. "I'm sorry, I don't know what that was all about."
"It's about you being more fucked up than you thought you were," says Noya.
"Noya," says Daichi severely.
Noya raises his hands. "I mean, you just gotta expect it by now. And no one's judging for it. We don't know where you've been, Suga. We don't know what you've seen."
Suga swallows and tries to nod, but his body won't cooperate. He's so embarrassed. Tanaka and Noya peer at him, concerned, until Daichi makes a subtle shooing motion, and they reluctantly disperse. Daichi waits until they're upstairs before passing the water back. He holds his hands around Suga's until he's sure that Suga's going to support the glass, and Suga almost leans after him in pursuit of his touch.
"I'm ninety-five percent sure that Oikawa and Kageyama are all talk," says Daichi.
"So you're five percent sure that one of them's going to get smothered by a pillow in the middle of the night," says Suga.
"Only if I'm the one doing the smothering. They're exhausting. But they're both good guys, really. Kageyama plays the piano beautifully, and Oikawa would probably take a bullet for anyone here—Kageyama included."
Suga wants to ask about their offenses, but there's no way Daichi would tell him—and it's not as if that knowledge would tell him anything about them, anyway. They're more than their crimes. Out there, Suga's going to be judged by his record for the rest of his life, but here in Karasuno, at least, everyone is united in non-judgement. It's just like Noya said. Suga stands up, and Daichi holds his elbow until he's stable. They're almost the same height. Daichi meets his eyes again with empathy and professionalism.
"Would you like some help getting upstairs?" he asks.
"I'm okay," says Suga. "I'm just going to go to bed. I'm meeting a friend tomorrow."
"I see," says Daichi warmly. "I think that'll be good for you."
"I think so, too." He hesitates. He wants to thank Daichi, but he doesn't know how. "Sawamura-san—"
"Daichi," Daichi reminds him, clasping his shoulder. "Remember, let any of us know if you need anything. We'll be glad to help in any way we're able."
Suga's silent a moment before saying, simply, "Okay." Knowing that Daichi hears in it what he really means to say. "Goodnight—Daichi."
He heads upstairs. It's quiet up here but for the soft sounds of Tanaka and Noya sleepily chatting in one of the bedrooms, and the shower running at the end of the hall. Suga goes straight to his room and eases the door shut. He peers out the window. It's not even that late. He wonders if there's a curfew here that Daichi forgot to tell him about, or if everyone else is as eager to start a new day as he is.
Noya placed his purchases from the drug store just inside the doorway, so as not to violate his space. Suga picks up the soap and inhales deeply. Sugar and sandalwood, then the orange rose from the hedge. Scents he has no business wearing. Maybe Hinata will like it, though. He always thought Suga should take better care of himself, indulge himself once in a while. He used to bring Suga smoothies whenever they met after one of his shifts. Live a little, Suga-san, he was fond of saying, grinning at him around the pink straw of a bubble tea. Be sure to treat yourself and stop worrying so much. It would be tragic if you got wrinkles this young.
In prison, Hinata was his beacon. His letters were like lifelines, increasingly longer and more fervent when he'd realized Suga hadn't put him on his visitor's list. For three years, Suga hadn't had the courage to see him. Meeting with Hinata tomorrow is going to be a harrowing experience—and Suga's going to do everything in his power to make sure it doesn't show on his face.
More friendly faces! Bikini contests! Ice cream!
Thank you so, so much for the amazing comments and kudos. I'm sorry for the slow update--I think my pace'll pick up once I get into the groove. Hope you're having a great day.
Two minutes into his shower, Suga realizes it's not a fluke: the other residents of the house saved hot water for him. Three people had been ahead of him in line, and there were audible yelps and grumbles about the temperature, but Suga's shower is warm and steamy and the stall is preternaturally clean. He immediately turns the cold water back on. He doesn't deserve special treatment. When he exits the bathroom, he runs right into Oikawa, achingly beautiful in skinny jeans and a pale blue t-shirt.
"You guys didn't have to do that for me," Suga says.
Oikawa smiles. "It's your first time meeting with someone on the outside, isn't it, gorgeous? Thought you might need some liquid courage."
"Not what that means," says a handsome, dark-haired man, passing behind him.
"Eat my ass, Kuroo."
"Also probably not what you mean."
Oikawa huffs, crossing his arms. When he turns back to Suga, his good humor has been replaced by poutiness. "Don't worry about it, Mr. Refreshing, and don't get used to it. We're usually pretty cutthroat about our showers around here. But if you want something this week, I'll try to make it happen, all right? First few days are the hardest."
After yesterday, Suga's still a little wary of Oikawa, but he can sense in him a strong, inherent decency—though he suspects Oikawa himself would deny it. Just like in prison, he has a certain image of hard-edged influence to maintain. Suga can't imagine anything more exhausting.
"Thank you, Oikawa-san," he says.
"Don't mention it, and have fun with your friend. Knock 'em dead! Oh—sorry. Phrasing."
Suga freezes, but Oikawa is already turning around, absentmindedly stopping Tanaka on the stairs to discuss something. His body language is all wrong for the comment to have been a provocation or threat. How, then? How had he recognized an allusion to Suga's criminal record? The idiom is common enough, but the honesty and matter-of-factness of Oikawa's apology spoke to something more specific. Suga goes back to his room to get dressed, numb and unsettled. He's so off-balance that he's only just stepping into his pants when someone knocks on his door five minutes later.
"J-just a second," he stammers. He hauls his jeans up and fastens the button, swiping a hand quickly through his hair. "Come in."
The door opens, and Daichi's standing there, smiling his stunning smile. "Good morning," he says.
"Good morning," says Suga.
"You missed breakfast. We saved you some; it's on your shelf in the fridge."
"Thank you." Suga straightens, meets his eyes. He is direct because he somehow trusts Daichi to treat him the same way; no frills, no bullshit. "Did you talk to Oikawa about my rap sheet?"
Daichi blinks, first in surprise, then in alarm. "No. Absolutely not. Why?"
"Something he said."
"I would never violate your privacy that way," says Daichi. "Your files are locked up in my office, so he must've gone online and read your public record. I apologize."
Suga sighs. "You couldn't have stopped him, but that was quick."
"I know there's an unspoken code against that type of action, but he likes to know his charges." Daichi pauses. "Sorry again. I don't mean to imply that you aren't autonomous here. You know, you can reject his authority. As long as you're not Kageyama, he'll respect your decision."
Suga thinks about that for a moment. Oikawa's beauty, his cheeky confidence. His casual, generous decree about the hot water; the way his eyes blazed as he stared Kageyama down. "I think I'm more afraid of not having him in my corner than I am opposed to having him in it," says Suga.
"I hear that," says Daichi. "I hope you don't find it irresponsible of me to allow a hierarchy here."
"I don't." It's what they're used to, after all. Ushijima presided over Suga's prison population with matter-of-fact brusqueness, and Suga has no doubt that there would've been mayhem without him. He kept inharmonious factions separate. He controlled the dangerous contraband. Suga had only had one direct discussion with him, and that was when he'd been asked about what he'd witnessed the day of the stabbing in the mess hall. He doesn't remember much from that interaction, except that Ushijima had been unexpectedly tactful. Not kind, precisely, but sensitive to Suga's trauma. He feels like he could count on the same kind of awareness from Oikawa, if it came down to it. Daichi, too.
"How are you settling in?" Daichi asks. He's still standing outside the doorway. Suga gestures him in closer while he buttons up his overshirt; Daichi takes just half a step forward, so he's barely in the room. "Noya and Tanaka seem to have taken a shine to you."
"I like them a lot," says Suga.
"Most people do. They are very sanguine ambassadors. When are you meeting with your friend?"
"In about forty minutes. We're going to an ice cream parlor. Do I—look okay?"
Daichi doesn't just respond automatically; he actually looks Suga up and down, and Suga finds his cheeks reddening under the scrutiny. When Daichi finally raises his eyes, there's something wistful in them. Soft and hot, like their moment in the kitchen. But all Daichi says is, "You look great." His smile is small, and perfectly professional.
"Thank you," says Suga, smiling back with equal objectivity. "I feel a little better than I did yesterday."
"Good. It takes some time."
"How long were—" Suga swallows that back. How long did it take Daichi to feel normal again? Too personal. If someone ever asked Suga a question that invasive, he'd probably lash out in self-defense. He hopes Daichi didn't realize where he was going with that question. But—
"I saw a therapist when I got out," says Daichi. "It was a condition of my early release, and it helped me tremendously. I've been trying to get a counselor or a psychologist involved in this program, just someone to be available to residents, but—surprise!—felons put up a lot of resistance when it comes to accepting help. Especially when it comes to mental health." He pauses. "Would you be interested in a resource like that, if it were an option?"
Suga wants to encourage Daichi; it sounds like a smart, inspired idea. Still, Suga can't see himself being able to talk to a stranger that openly. "I'm not sure," he admits.
"Well, if you ever decide to try it, I can refer you to some very kind, qualified people."
"I'll let you know." Suga's smiling, and this time he doesn't try to hamper it. Daichi is so obviously a genuinely good man. Suga just wishes he could pursue that. "I'd better get going. I'm taking the bus."
"Would you like me to drive you instead?"
"Thanks, but I'd kind of like the thinking time." Even before prison, Suga would use public transportation to get around the city; it was comforting to let his mind wander as the world passed by behind the windows. He grabs his satchel and swings it over his shoulder. "You're absolutely sure I don't look completely shell-shocked and dysfunctional, as if I'd, say, just gotten out of prison or something?"
Daichi grins. "Well, I didn't say that."
Suga laughs and combs through his hair with his fingers one more time. "I don't think he'll be expecting much anyway."
"You're meeting with—a boyfriend?"
Hard not to read into that, but Suga manages to keep his voice relaxed. "Just a friend. An ex-student of mine."
"I see," says Daichi, with an almost imperceptible exhale. His eyes are thoughtful. "I won't keep you anymore, then. Have a great time."
"Thanks. I'll try."
He slips by Daichi before he has a chance to move out of the doorway, passing within five inches of him, face to face. Daichi respectfully lowers his gaze, but he flushes. Suga could make a sport of this, flustering Sawamura Daichi. He barely restrains himself from running a finger along his beltline. Instead, he scoots past him toward the stairs, which Oikawa and Tanaka have cleared. They're in the living room now, speaking to Kuroo, Noya, and an animated man with sly, expressive eyes. Kuroo immediately extends a hand when he spots Suga.
"I don't think we've officially met. Kuroo Tetsurou, and this idiot here is Bokuto Koutarou."
"Hey," says Bokuto eagerly, unmindful of the introduction. "Wow, aren't you a pretty little porcelain doll."
Suga's been complimented before, of course, but not so many times in under twenty-four hours, and certainly not by people as attractive as Noya and Oikawa and Bokuto. He knows his ears are pink when he returns Bokuto's handshake, which is surprisingly firm. "Ah—I'm not p—thank you," he manages.
"I made breakfast," says Bokuto. "Pancakes."
"Sorry I missed it."
"There're leftovers." He's studying Suga with those piercing, honey-colored eyes of his. Suga senses a simplicity in him that makes him direct, even daunting, and that instinct is confirmed when Bokuto relaxes into a smile and says, "What was your crime?"
"Okaaay," says Kuroo, guiding Bokuto behind him. "Sorry about that, Suga."
Bokuto pops his head over Kuroo's shoulder. "We think you're either a perjury or arson type of guy, since you don't look like a fan of CDSes," he says cheerfully. "I drunkenly broke a guy's legs with my car after he grabbed my boyfriend's ass. Quid pro quo?"
"Quid pro no," says Oikawa firmly. He's the only one who ostensibly knows the specifics of Suga's criminal record, and he's guarding that knowledge carefully—something that makes Suga feel both grateful and wary. Oikawa leans back to address the group, hands on his hips. "No more guessing, no more gossiping, and no more betting pool! As far as we're all concerned, Suga-san is a kindergarten teacher who's volunteering here to raise funds for fluffy baby animals."
"Ooh, defensive," says Bokuto. "Now we're really curious."
"If Oikawa-san says he's a kindergarten teacher, he's a kindergarten teacher," says Tanaka loyally. "Now give me back my money. I had a lot riding on you lying under oath, Suga."
"Why?" asks Suga, confused. "Do I seem like the lying type?"
"No, man, but to protect a loved one or something—a noble lie, you know? And it was more logical than 'first degree tampering in a sports contest.'"
"Bikini contest," says Noya wisely.
"But he would win a bikini contest without tampering," Bokuto points out, making Suga blush.
"Not if his jilted ex were a judge! Furious that Suga-san broke up with him for a kinder, smarter man, he rallies behind a different contestant in the bikini contest, and frames Suga for foul play!"
Suga laughs. He feels a lot better now, knowing that the speculation about him was mostly playful. He gives Oikawa a subtle nod of thanks when Tanaka, Noya, and Bokuto have dissolved back into conversation, but Kuroo is still looking at him, eyes dark and cunning.
"I was the one who had you pegged for an arsonist," he says. "Still think you've got some fire in you."
His gaze is piercing. Suga swallows, feeling suddenly exposed. He opens his mouth to reply, not even really sure what he's going to say, but Oikawa pats him on the back and breaks the moment between the two of them. Kuroo smirks, then turns back to Bokuto. Oikawa ushers them all out of the way of the front door so Suga can reach it.
"Bye, Suga-san," says Tanaka. "Have fun with your friend."
"Hope you're wearing your nicest bikini," says Noya.
"I only own the one," says Suga, and smiles as he hitches his messenger bag back up over his shoulder and opens the door. "Bye. Kuroo-san, Bokuto-san, nice to meet you."
"You know it," says Bokuto.
Suga steps onto the walkway and waits until someone locks the door behind him before beginning his walk to the bus stop a couple blocks north. He's actually vaguely familiar with this part of town; he used to go to the community center nearby to volunteer for Christmas events—decorating trees and feeding the homeless and such. He still thinks that his charity work contributed greatly to his reduced sentence. Even his lawyer had seemed confused that the same person who served turkey dinners to men and women in need would commit a crime severe enough to warrant incarceration. Suga smiles a little, increasing his pace. Proves that you can never really know yourself until you're faced with a harrowing situation.
He barely catches the bus, slipping between the doors as they slide shut. He picks an empty seat in the back and lets his head list against the window, resting. Thanks to his housemates, he's feeling all right: steady, principled Oikawa; unknowable Kuroo; Bokuto and Noya and Tanaka with their wide, honest grins. And Daichi. Daichi's competency, warring against something that is, maybe, a quiet step more than friendly.
If only they'd had a chance to know each other under different circumstances. Suga realizes he's going to be thinking that a lot while they're living together, and ruefully resigns himself to it. Maybe now he'll keep aspiring to be someone better. Daichi serves as great inspiration.
Daichi, and Hinata.
For once, he's early. His bright hair gleams under the late morning sun, and he's wearing his favorite yellow backpack, battered now from years of use. He's staring at his phone, and Suga recognizes the gesture as nervousness. He'd normally have struck up a conversation with someone by now. He was always able to tease a chat out of even the most unsociable of people—just another beautiful thing about him.
Suga stares at him there in front of the ice cream parlor for a long moment, blinking back tears. He hasn't grown much, but he radiates health and kindness, and his posture is more certain. For an instant, Suga wants to turn around and get back on the bus; wants to hide until he feels clean enough to speak to him. But that would be too easy, wouldn't it? Suga takes a few deep breaths, steeling himself. Then he pastes on a smile, raises a hand, and calls out.
Hinata whirls around. His eyes are wide. When he spots Suga, he doesn't hesitate: letting out a loud cry, he runs and launches himself at him, throwing both arms around his neck in a tight, shaky hug. He's already weeping. His tears are hot against Suga's shoulder. "Sugawara-san!"
"Hi," Suga says, laughing. "Shh. Shh, it's okay, Hinata."
"I can't believe you're real," Hinata sobs. "I can't believe you're here!"
"I'm here," Suga confirms. He folds Hinata into his arms, breathing in his sweet, warm scent. "Have you gotten taller?"
"You know I haven't. Oh, Sugawara-san—you look so good!" Then, as honesty compels him: "Tired, though. Nothing that a little ice cream won't fix. Do you still like pistachio?"
"Yes, but I'm paying."
"Nope! My treat today." Hinata's already reaching for wallet, a little orange starred thing that Suga has never seen before. "I just got promoted, did you get my last letter? I'm the assistant manager now!"
"That's great!" Suga says. Hinata works at a burger joint in the middle of the city and genuinely loves the people, location, and food; it's a perfect fit for him as he works to rent his own place with his friend Kenma. His original plan was to move in with Suga, before all of this went down. Suga tries not to dwell on that as they move into line and order their ice cream. "Oops, dessert for before lunch. I didn't even think about that when I asked you here; sorry, Hinata."
"I'm not," says Hinata. "I would eat bug sandwiches if it meant getting to see you."
"Bug sandwiches, huh?"
"Bug sandwiches. Big ones. With no condiments."
Laughing, Suga drags him back into another hug. Hinata squeezes him around the waist, not letting go even when their ice cream is served, which leaves Suga to accept both cones from the attendant. They find a table near the back of the shop. Hinata positively glows under the cheery neon signs, tucking into his treat with characteristic enthusiasm. This could just be a regular day, if it weren't for the dread in Suga's limbs. He knows it's going to come up eventually. He tries to delay it as long as possible.
"How is your family?"
"Good, really good. Mom's yakizakana is finally edible, and Natsu's on the tennis team."
"Tennis? She's not following in your footsteps?"
"She says she'd have an unfair advantage in volleyball with all the practice she did with me. So righteous! Sure didn't get that from me."
"You're the most just person I know, Hinata."
"Thanks, but—I'm not. I'm super in favor of my loved ones, always. No matter the case."
Silence. Hinata stops eating first, and Suga follows suit after a few seconds, staring down at his melting ice cream as Hinata fights for a way to say what he means. It feels worse because there's no anger at all in Hinata's gaze—just sadness, uncertainty. He looks almost disappointed in himself, and that cuts Suga deeper than anything that has happened to him in the last three years.
"Did I do something wrong?" Hinata asks. "Was it something I said after, you know, the sentencing?"
"No. No, it wasn't you."
"You didn't say goodbye. You didn't put me on your visitor list, and you never explained anything in your letters. Don't you think—just, can't I know now? Why you did what you did?"
Suga chokes back the impulse to cry. He can't do that; it's not fair to Hinata. Instead, he uses his free hand to clasp his, struck by how small Hinata still is. Not different at all from his appearance at seventeen, innocent and luminous and so, so unaware. Maybe it's wrong or futile, but Suga wants to keep it that way for as long as possible. There are just some things he hopes Hinata never finds out. "I was being a coward," he says plainly. "I was too ashamed to see you after what I did. But I would do it again. And I know it's asking a lot for you to trust me on this, that it's better for you not to know—"
"I do trust you," says Hinata fiercely. "I trust you more than I trust myself, Sugawara-san."
That's more than Suga deserves. The generosity of it leaves him reeling. "But—"
"I won't ask again," Hinata says.
He returns to eating his ice cream calmly, as if he hasn't just shaken Suga's world. Suga just stares at him, mouth slightly open, eyes stinging. When Hinata glances back at him, he begins tearing up, too. He laughs wetly.
"Nooo, don't get emotional! I'll cry!"
"I'll cry first," Suga promises. He smiles, wiping at his eyes. "About your letters—thank you so much for sending them, even though I was being evasive. They kept me going. I saved every one, and the stickers were a nice touch."
"I'm glad we were able to talk that way," says Hinata. "I guess I get why you didn't want to see me."
"Because you look like poo."
Suga laughs. "I'll have you know that my housemates think I could win a bikini contest."
"Wh—I have so many questions, Sugawara-san. Why were you even discussing that? Are they nice? You're living sort of near the community center, right?"
"It's really hard to explain how that conversation came about, but yes, they seem like good people. There are a few guys, Tanaka and Nishinoya-san, who I think you'd get along with very well." He dodges the question about the house's location as subtly as he can, though he thinks Hinata might've noticed, from the slight narrowing of his eyes as Suga continues, "The manager there is—he's been very kind to me. He's been careful to treat me fairly and respectfully. He even gave me my own space in the refrigerator."
Hinata is quiet for a few seconds, just staring at him suspiciously. Then his expression resolves and he says, knowingly, "Sugawara-san has a crush."
Suga's flush is intense and immediate. "Wh-what?"
"You love him. You want to date him."
"I don't! Love him or want to date him!"
"What's his name?"
"None of your business; that's his name!"
Hinata laughs, finishing his ice cream In a few quick bites. He props his chin in his hands and beams at Suga, so full of obvious affection that Suga feels himself warming with happiness. He wouldn't have survived prison without Hinata. Wouldn't have indirectly been in prison in the first place without him, if you wanted to get technical about it, but Suga wouldn't give up his mentorship with Hinata for the world. He'd serve a thousand years if it meant Hinata were always safe and content. Sitting with him now, in this brightly-lit parlor with his cheery yellow backpack, Suga knows he made the right choices in what he did and didn't tell him.
The rest of their day goes by quickly and wonderfully. They take a walk in a nearby park, Hinata catching Suga up on all the good movies and television shows he'd missed in the last three years, and they further ruin their appetites for lunch by buying crepes from a street vendor. Hinata groans that all he eats is burgers and junk food now. "You were supposed to be a good influence," he complains. By the time they have to part ways for Hinata's shift, they're both happy, sentimental, and full.
"So when do I get to see you next?" Hinata asks, pinning on his nametag.
"Soon," says Suga. "Really soon. I'll be in touch."
"Can't I have your number or something?"
"I don't have a phone." He hadn't brought it with him when he self-surrendered, and he hasn't tried talking to his family to retrieve it yet. It's probably pretty outdated anyway. "I'll call you when I get a new one."
"Promise," says Suga.
Hinata nods, satisfied, and pulls on his work visor. It looks ridiculous on him, and Suga thinks it's perfect. They're standing outside his restaurant. Hinata catches Suga in a startlingly tight hug—not taller, then, but a hell of a lot stronger—and gives him a watery smile before he lets go. "I love you so, so much, Sugawara-san," he sniffles, without self-consciousness.
"I love you too," says Suga. "Have a good day at work."
Suga watches him until he's inside and stationed behind the counter, where he immediately begins taking orders with cheer and earnestness. Suga smiles. Even abandoned in such formative years, it turns out Hinata never really needed him in order to become a good person—he was born with an intrinsic goodness that makes Suga burn with pride. He waves at Suga one last time through the window during a quick break in the line. Suga waves back. He walks back to the bus stop under the warm midday sun, feeling lighter than he has in years.
When he reaches the house, Tanaka is cleaning up dishes from lunch, and Kuroo is buttoning up the vest of what appears to be a server's uniform. "Yeah, I wait tables downtown," he says, when Suga asks. "Pull in decent tips, too."
"Because you're so handsome," Tanaka teases, voice syrupy.
"Any luck with Video Game Boy yet?"
Kuroo reddens. "How do you even know about that?"
While the two of them bicker, Suga slips upstairs to change into more comfortable clothes—and pauses. Someone's playing piano behind one of the doors, sweet and certain and virtuosic, and it's enough to stop Suga's breath. He stands there for several minutes, listening. The pianist's tempo slows and swells with emotion, not just cut-and-dry. It's the type of music that's too beautiful to tether to an orchestra. It needs its own room to breathe, like something truly alive.
After a long moment of hesitation, Suga nudges the door open. He tries to be quiet, but it creaks, and Kageyama jumps spectacularly, nearly knocking his keyboard off its stand.
"Sorry, sorry," says Suga, waving his hands.
"You," says Kageyama. He doesn't say it with undue anger—just simple acknowledgement, less annoyed-sounding than Suga thought he would be. Encouraged, Suga smiles.
"You're amazing," he says. "How long have you been playing?"
Kageyama stares uncomfortably at the carpet. "Since I was about four."
"Four. When I was four, I was still trying to eat rocks."
Kageyama huffs a small, nervous laugh, then raises his eyes to meet Suga's for the first time. His gaze is incredibly blue, incredibly intense. Suga feels very small under it, but also privileged: he doesn't get the impression that Kageyama socializes well, and it's perhaps an honor that he hasn't kicked him out of the room by now. "I'm Kageyama," he says formally, without offering his hand, which is clenched tightly around a handful of his jeans.
"Suga." When Suga peers past him, he sees the pile of batteries Noya purchased the night before. "I guess your keyboard runs out of juice pretty fast?"
"It's old," says Kageyama. "And I play a lot."
"I'm glad to hear that. You play brilliantly, Kageyama."
"Ah," Kageyama says, glancing away. He looks subtly gratified beneath the discomfort.
They're quiet for a while. Suga stands there with his hands folded together, and Kageyama turns back to the keyboard, dabbling a few measures of something sweet before his fingers grow still again.
Without looking at Suga, he says, "This is what I missed more than anything. In prison, I mean. More than my family, my friends—I've never really had anyone I cared for more than music. Not being able to play was torture. There were these guys in there—I got in with the wrong crowd, crossed one of them somehow. They threatened to break my hands. I served my last four months in solitary just to escape from them. I don't care if it was cowardly. I just—I couldn't bear to have even less."
Suga's still. He understands without having known Kageyama for even ten minutes that he is sharing extremely personal information—information that he might not have ever shared with anyone else before. Suga doesn't know why Kageyama is trusting him with this, but it means the world to him. He gingerly touches his shoulder.
"I think you're strong as hell," Suga says.
Kageyama's eyes are distant, blurry. "I'm not."
"You are. You did what you had to, and you made it out intact." He pauses. "Physically, at least."
Now Kageyama peers up at him again. He looks like he wants to touch Suga, but doesn't. "Music is my life. It was the only light I needed at the end of the tunnel. As far as I'm concerned, I'm still whole. But guys like you—guys with something to lose—"
Suga straightens, smiling. He knows that he's abruptly tearing up. "It'll get easier every day."
"Yeah," agrees Kageyama. Even if he doesn't believe it himself, Suga appreciates it.
There's nothing left to say, really. Suga nods, and Kageyama nods back, and even though he doesn't smile, there's a new warmth to him that makes Suga feel tender and understood. Kageyama turns back to his keyboard and resumes playing. Something brisk and glimmering this time, hands gliding over the keys. Suga stands and listens for a while before leaving the room and going to his own, shutting the door gently behind himself.
Through their shared wall, the music drifts in, soft as a spell. Suga lies down on his bed and stares at his ceiling, thinking about Kageyama, Hinata, and the day's bittersweetness. And this was the easy part.
This evening, unusually late, Suga has a meeting with his parole officer.
Oikawa would totally date a gay alien.
Instead of waiting for Suga to meet him at the office at seven-forty, as agreed upon, PO Iwaizumi Hajime surprises him at seven o' clock with a grande latte and a checklist to assess the halfway house's suitability. Suga sips confusedly at the coffee as Iwaizumi examines Daichi's certification papers, tests the surfaces for dust, and calls their partnered outpatient facilities to make sure they are reputable. "I know this place was already screened, but I wanted to see it for myself," he says. "How accountable are your residents for upkeep?"
"I can show you our chore rotation," offers Daichi.
Suga and Daichi follow him toward the kitchen, exchanging a look that is bemused on Suga's part and amiable on Daichi's. Apparently he doesn't object to unannounced visits from well-meaning supervisors—and there's no reason he should. The house is in beautiful shape, his paperwork is in order, and most of the boys are easy enough to corral onto the back porch for cigarettes and coffee. Kageyama stays upstairs, though, whispering Liszt across his keyboard, and Oikawa is washing dishes in the kitchen sink, elbow-deep in sudsy water. When Suga, Daichi, and Iwaizumi enter room, Oikawa half-turns, eyelashes low and sulky.
"Oh, hello. Searching for truffles?"
"A pig joke, that's brilliant," says Iwaizumi. "You do understand I'm not an actual cop?"
"Your reputation precedes you, Iwa-chan. Your job is to police people's lives. Suga-san deserves better than some pencil-pusher with a provisional badge who makes him pee in a cup once a week."
"Suga has no drug or alcohol-related offenses. He only has to pee in a cup once a month."
Oikawa's expression becomes indignant. "I've always been sober! Why does Irihata-san make me do it weekly?"
"Probably because you look shady," says Iwaizumi, to Suga's surprise.
"Mean!" Oikawa accuses.
"You must be a fun PO."
"I am excellent at what I do."
Suga has to agree. He met with Iwaizumi a few times while he was still in prison to coordinate his accommodations after his release, and the man was extraordinarily efficient, stern and brisk and informative. His visit to the house cements his obvious (if gruff) concern for Suga's well-being. Oikawa clearly has him on his guard. But, Suga thinks, maybe there's something between the two of them that smolders softly, not unlike his own interactions with Daichi. Despite their alleged antagonism, Iwaizumi's eyes are reluctantly intrigued, and there's a subtle, flirtatious cant to Oikawa's hip as he leans against the counter.
"I'll be finished here in a moment so you can demand every bit of information short of a rectal culture from poor Suga-san," he says.
"What kind of parole officer do you have?" asks Iwaizumi.
"A very thorough one."
"We can talk in my bedroom instead," says Suga. As much as he respects Iwaizumi, he wants to get this meeting over as soon as possible.
"If that's not untoward," says Iwaizumi.
Daichi, waiting quietly by the table, shrugs and smiles. "Wherever," he says, and Suga wonders if he's imagining a spark of protectiveness in his tone. "Would you like some tea?"
"No thank you," says Iwaizumi. "Sugawara-san, after you."
Suga leads him upstairs, passing by Kageyama, who has moved onto Chopin now. When Iwaizumi sees that there are no chairs available in Suga's room, he opts to stand by the bed as he removes a pen from his front pocket, opens Suga's file, and flips through it.
"I've found some job prospects for you," he says. "There are openings downtown for various waiting positions, and the theater is looking for a projectionist." He pauses, assessing Suga's reaction, then adds, "There's also a veterinary clinic in need of someone to help clean the lobby and care for the animals after hours. I don't know if that sort of work would appeal to you—"
"Yes," says Suga. "Yes, I'd love that. It's not for volunteers? It qualifies as actual employment?"
"It does," Iwaizumi says. "I noticed you did a year in a vet tech program."
Suga is alarmed that his file contains that much of his history, but he's touched that Iwaizumi cared to dig deep enough into his past to find a job that he might enjoy. He'd dropped out of school so he could afford rent and tutor Hinata, but those few semesters were some of the most fulfilling of his life: learning about animal anatomy, x-rays, vaccines, exams—it'd been nice, working toward something that felt like a career. Suga was never aimless, precisely, but his high school years left him with little to show but two ex-boyfriends and a lot of discontent. In some small way, prison was a relief. It meant at least there was a reason he could say his life had stalled. He doesn't have that excuse now, though, and that terrifies him. It means a lot to him that Iwaizumi is around to make it a little easier.
"I'll arrange it," says Iwaizumi. "You'll likely start on Monday evening. Wear casual clothing."
"Thank you," says Suga softly.
He stares at his hands. Kageyama has stopped playing. With the bedroom window cracked, Suga can just barely hear the sounds of conversation floating in from the back porch. Bokuto and Noya's laughter is unmistakable, and Daichi's voice is a deep, kind undercurrent. Again, Suga is struck by the rapport Daichi has built with the occupants here: equal but authoritative; someone who can both break up fights between his residents and chat with them following a family dinner. Clearly Iwaizumi approves, because after making some final notes in Suga's file, he snaps it shut.
"The housing is adequate," he says. "Impressive, actually, aside from the unsavory tenants."
"Oikawa-san is actually quite kind," says Suga. "He had everyone save me hot water this morning for my shower."
"Using his captaincy for good."
"My captain is Daichi, but I'm glad Oikawa has my back." Then, feeling the sort of sudden, irrepressible curiosity that sometimes seized him when he was younger: "I think he must've been the shot-caller where he served. He's incredibly beautiful, isn't he?"
Iwaizumi grunts. A few beats after Suga assumes he isn't going to reply, he says, "I imagine being beautiful in prison comes with more complications than it does boons." You would know, his tone suggests, but he doesn't add anything, and Suga doesn't volunteer any additional information.
Without Ushijima, Suga knows his experience behind bars would've been much different. As it was, the violence was largely under control, and almost entirely nonsexual. Suga was only propositioned once before the decree went around that anyone who touched him would lose his hands. For whatever reason, Ushijima was looking out for him. Maybe his friendship with Goshiki had something to do with it. Either way, when the first man offered Suga his place in the phone line for a kiss, Suga agreed. It was a choice. Ushijima didn't put a stop to it, this chaste kisses-for-phone-time practice, and Suga came out of it feeling clean enough but for the occasional tongue, the occasional wandering hand. Anything was worth it for another five minutes with Hinata. There was no point in worrying about his reputation.
Oikawa, though. Oikawa in all of his strength and splendor and authority. There's no doubt in Suga's mind that he ran his own unit, if not the entire prison population. Suga isn't going to read Oikawa's public file, but he suspects he was serving at least a three-year sentence—enough time for someone so forceful and charismatic to cement himself within a flawed, vicious hierarchy.
Maybe Iwaizumi would've been a good fit as Oikawa's parole officer. Taking no shit from each other, their relationship honest and direct. Then again—there's room for something between them if they don't have to maintain a professional distance. Room for something sharper and more charged. The matchmaker in Suga thrums with mischief for it.
And as they leave Suga's room, they encounter Oikawa in the narrow hallway, and Suga gives Iwaizumi a gentle nudge that he can almost pass off as an accident. Iwaizumi bumps into Oikawa, who milks it spectacularly.
"Excuse me," says Iwaizumi, casting Suga a glare.
"Assault," Oikawa accuses, holding his arm.
"You're a dumbass." Iwaizumi's definitely interested; his cheeks are ever-so-slightly pink as he tries to edge past Oikawa toward the stairs. "Are you just perpetually in the way?"
"Oh, so you think you're entitled to everyone else's space just because you're handsome," says Oikawa.
Iwaizumi gapes, briefly struck speechless. "I never said—"
"You didn't have to. Your pretty eyes said it all."
Suga ignores the withering, almost-desperate look Iwaizumi sends his way as he ducks under Oikawa's arm and heads downstairs to join the others on the porch. It's a cloudless, tepid evening. Daichi smiles at him as he slips through the sliding door, and Tanaka's in the middle of some loud anecdote, gesticulating with his lit cigarette.
"—while Kuroo's stammering his way through, like, some sort of poem or something? Like legit 'shall I compare thee to a summer's day?' shit. And the kid finally looks up from his game, and there's this really long moment of eye contact, then he takes out his earbuds and goes, 'Were you talking to me?'"
Raucous, affectionate laughter. Bokuto slaps Kuroo on the back, and Kuroo, ears red, bows indulgently.
"Thank you, yes, thank you. Definitely one of my smoothest moments."
"He still seemed into you, dude," says Tanaka.
"He seemed into his game. I left my number on the customer copy of his check, but I don't think he even looked at it." For just a moment, Kuroo's shoulders slump. Suga doesn't even have to know him well to recognize his frustration as uncharacteristic. Then he clears his throat and grins, elbowing Tanaka in the ribs. "Doesn't matter; I'm sure he'll be back. He really likes the apple pie."
"Maybe this time you can put the poem in the pie," suggests Bokuto cheerily.
"Yeah, thanks," says Kuroo. "That's very helpful."
"How did you land your first boo, Daichi-san?" asks Noya. "You seem like quite the Casanova."
Daichi blinks, startled by the attention. "Oh—no, I don't have much dating experience. I had a girlfriend for part of high school, then a boyfriend for a month that following summer, but I haven't really had the time to maintain any romantic relationships since."
"Too busy picking up strays with criminal records," says Kuroo, gently teasing.
"Your harem of hooligans," Tanaka says.
Wincing, Daichi laughs. "Let's not phrase it like that, please."
"I don't know, I think it's apt," says Suga. "Harems were historically places of privacy and protection. I'd say you do a pretty good job taking care of us that way."
"Without the sexual connotations," Daichi says quickly.
"Yes. Without those."
Suga glances at Daichi, unable to keep his smile from being shyly suggestive, and Daichi stalwartly looks the other way. This moment differs from their others, though, in that they have an audience this time: Kuroo smirks, eyes shrewd, and Noya and Tanaka glance between the two of them as if deciphering an especially exciting puzzle. Daichi claps his hands unnaturally, coffee mug still clasped in one fist. "Time to go inside," he says briskly. "It's getting dark."
They follow him inside after extinguishing their cigarettes, indulgently and without comment. Daichi immediately begins gathering cups and washing them, back turned. In the entryway, Oikawa and Iwaizumi are still bickering, angled toward each other even as Iwaizumi jams his feet into his dress shoes and gathers his coat from the closet.
"Grays," Oikawa is saying. "Not gays, though obviously I have no objections to dating either. Or one entity who covers both of those bases at the same time."
"You want to date a homosexual alien," Iwaizumi clarifies.
"I'm just saying I wouldn't say 'no' to one."
"I don't feel as if I'm in good company amidst your other self-proclaimed conquests."
"Oh, I know I've won nothing of you yet, Iwa-chan," says Oikawa, snagging his jacket out of his hands so he can hold it open for him. "You're not that easy, are you?"
Iwaizumi looks torn between yanking his coat back or relenting and putting it on while Oikawa's offering it. Eventually he settles on turning and threading his arms gingerly through the sleeves, careful not to touch him. He hitches it up onto his broad shoulders. Suga can see Oikawa's eyes carefully tracking the movement of his muscles beneath the fabric. By the time Iwaizumi turns around, though, Oikawa's grin is bright and guileless.
"Goodnight," he says cheerfully.
Iwaizumi grunts, then raises a hand to Suga in farewell. "I'll be in contact with Sawamura-san once I've finalized the details of your employment. Until then, try to get a phone."
"Okay," says Suga. "Thank you again."
Suga sees him out and watches him until he's safely in his car, then shuts the front door. For the first time in ages, he feels a little undercurrent of hope for his future. The job at the clinic is something he can actually look forward to. He doesn't even realize he's smiling until he turns around and finds Oikawa mirroring his expression with surprising softness, deportment relaxed, no longer posturing.
"Guess he's not so bad after all," Oikawa says. "Good thing about a guy like that is he knows what you've done, and he still wants you to make it."
"Yeah," says Suga cautiously. Oikawa knows what he's done, too. Is he going to bring it up, or—?
Oikawa cracks up. "We talked about astronomy. He says 'uranus' like 'your anus.'"
Suga laughs too.
It's almost eight. There are still some residents whose names he doesn't know yet, and they trickle in without introducing themselves, walking upstairs with purposeful avoidance. Suga stays in the living room for a bit to chat with Tanaka and Noya, who work together in a bowling alley during the day. "Nights on Fridays, though," Noya says. "Cosmic bowling. Blacklights that pick up incriminating crotch stains."
Ever friendly and open, they even manage to get Suga talking about Iwaizumi. They agree that he sounds like a good guy. Their own PO, Ukai Keishin, is apparently the grandson of Daichi's ex-parole officer—something that confirms their knowledge of Daichi's record. So he's open about it. That warms Suga somehow, makes him realize that there might be less to be ashamed of here than he thought there was. He briefly describes his relationship to Hinata and how their afternoon together went, and Tanaka and Noya are fond and supportive, patting him eagerly on the back.
"Nothing to keep you in line like an impressionable young disciple," says Noya.
"I hope he's not a disciple of mine. I have nothing good to teach him."
"You'd be surprised, what kids latch onto and admire," Tanaka says. "So you did some time, so what. You're still decent and trustworthy and cool. I suspect you were once pretty parental, too, before prison made you all cynical and shit."
Suga considers that. Was he ever parental? Hinata used to jokingly call him 'mom' when they first began their tutoring sessions, and the younger members of high school volleyball team looked to him for a certain type of guidance before he graduated. He has always aspired to be a role model, which obviously went to shit after his arrest. But if Tanaka can see something in him that still speaks to some sort of leadership—that's as heartening as the vet job. Maybe he can eventually be who he wants to be, rap sheet or not. Or at least a little closer to who he used to be.
While the others settle down to watch some television, Suga heads upstairs to read before bed. He's about halfway through a novel he began in prison, and it's weird immersing himself in it now, without the activity of the courtyard or the clack of polished shoes on the tile as the guards did their rounds. He misses the noise, somehow. He was many things behind bars, most of them negative, but lonely was not one of them. Suga gets through about a page and a half before Kageyama begins playing the piano again, volume considerately lowered. It's exactly the type of white noise Suga didn't know he needed. He reads until he falls asleep, still in his day clothes, which smell of ice cream and sun and Hinata.
The electronics store in the mall downtown is loud and lit by fluorescents, like his cellblock was. Suga feels wary and off-balance as he steps inside and heads towards the phones, set up in neat, shiny displays. They all look so sleek and futuristic. He doesn't even know where to start. He's just reaching for the first one when someone says, "Not that one, Sugawara-san. The battery life is terrible."
Suga turns. Before him stands a short boy in one of the red employee polo shirts, eyes pale and prophetic, blond hair growing in dark at the roots. Despite presumably being on the clock, he's holding a game console. Suga is reminded suddenly of the boy in Kuroo's story.
"Do I know you?" he asks.
"No. I'm Kozume. Kenma."
The name rings a bell. It takes Suga a moment to place it. "Oh—you and Hinata are working on renting an apartment together. How did you recognize me?"
"I've seen pictures. Shouyou shows me tons of them." Kenma tucks his handheld back into one of his pockets and heads closer to the end of the displays, picking up a thin silver phone and passing it to Suga. "This is a good one. Huge display. In-screen fingerprint reader. The camera's good, too, and has software with all of those ridiculous cat-ear filters, though I sorely hope you're not that type of person."
"Good. We can still be friends." Kenma's voice is dry, not without humor. He nods toward the phone. "What do you think?"
Suga examines it. "How much is it?"
Kenma points to the price tag.
"Oh," says Suga, putting it down fast. "Not this one."
"On a budget, then." Kenma moves further down the line and selects a different phone. "This one's got a slightly smaller screen, but the camera is decent in low light, and it comes with a cooling fan attachment. It's probably the most cost-efficient one there is. I'm supposed to upsell, but it's not like we're paid on commission here, so..."
"It texts and stuff?" asks Suga, hoping he doesn't sound too out of the technological loop. Kenma gives him an almost imperceptible smile, not unkind.
"Yes, it texts."
"What's this little hole for?"
Suga turns it over in his hands. He likes it. It's unassuming and comfortable. He doesn't expect to talk to many people beside Hinata and Iwaizumi on it, but it'll be nice to have the option to call his parents if he ever works up the nerve. They didn't speak at all during his incarceration. Suga knows that their relationship is probably irreparably damaged. That, however, is an issue for another day, because right now, all Suga can literally afford to worry about is how he's going to pay for this phone.
"Come with me, Sugawara-san," says Kenma. "Let's go set up a payment plan for you."
In the end, Kenma gives him his employee discount and finds him the cheapest and most reliable service package. Suga thanks him as he explains the rest of the phone's features, and tries not to make things awkward by letting on how truly moved he is: all the people he's met since he got out have been incredibly kind to him. He's received nothing but support. He takes Kenma's number after programming in Hinata's, memorized from years of punching it into the prison payphone. Kenma gives him that small smile of his as he rings up the purchase.
"No cat-ear filters," Kenma reminds him. "Promise me."
"No cat-ear filters," Suga agrees, laughing.
He walks away conscious of the fact that Kenma never even mentioned his record.
The bus ride home is quiet. He fiddles with his new phone, taking pictures through the window and of the graffiti on the seat in front of him. He's excited to ask Hinata for a photo the next time they meet up. It'll be nice to have something more visual than his letters to fall back on when he's feeling low. By the time he reaches the house, he's still got some (non-cat-ear) filters to play with, so he sits down on the front porch's steps to experiment with them. It doesn't take long for Noya's face to appear in one of the frames.
"Whatcha got there?"
"New phone," says Suga.
"Who dis," Noya and Tanaka say in unison.
"Don't worry about it." Noya oohs and aahs over it, insisting that Suga take pictures of him and Tanaka. Suga is happy to oblige: the two of them are marvelous subjects, attractive and animated and endearing. He's glad to have them on his phone. He realizes with sudden warmth that he would already call them his friends.
"I like that one," says Tanaka, pointing to the picture of himself with his arm slung around Noya's shoulders. "Can you send it to me?"
"I'll try. What's your number?"
"Add me, too," says Noya.
They rattle off their digits, and Suga thumbs them in, smiling. Four contacts already. Who knew being a parolee would be so good for his social life? A joke, of course: Suga was well-liked in high school. By the volleyball team, yes, but also the debate club and his choir. A good guy, they said of him. Someone you can count on. Suga doesn't remember proving his dependability beyond giving a few pre-competition speeches and fetching a drunk underclassman from a rest stop, but apparently that was enough to give him a reputation for being reliable. He likes to believe he would've earned the Least Likely to go to Prison superlative, had it existed. As it is now, he's happy to have Tanaka and Noya crowding him and laughing, pointing to the pictures—
"Hey, Daichi! Come look at this!"
—calling Daichi over as he passes by them on the walkway to fetch the mail.
Suga subtly hisses and shakes his head—he looks horrible right now; his hair is uncombed and he's wearing the same ill-fitting pants he wore yesterday—but Noya and Tanaka are insistent, and Daichi wanders over, his smile characteristically dazzling.
"Good morning, Suga," he says. "New phone, I see."
"Yeah," says Suga. He feels his ears turning red. Seems like he's fine flirting with Daichi on his own terms, but the instant he's caught off-guard, he can't really walk the walk. "I'm, um, not really sure how some of the features work yet. Everything goes into this high-contrasted, blue-tinted mode sometimes—it keeps asking me if I want to upload the pictures to my Instergrim—"
"Oh, Suga, you're like a little baby bird trying to fly for the first time," Noya coos, petting his hair.
"I think I have a similar model," says Daichi. "Want me to take a look?"
Suga's blush spreads. "Y-yes please."
Noya and Tanaka back away so quickly and obviously that Suga wants to throttle them, but Daichi simply sits down beside him on the step and gently takes the phone. This close, Suga can smell him: wood, sunlight, and fresh deodorant; nothing flashy, just human and low-key and masculine. He gazes at Daichi sidelong as he adjusts the phone's settings, his mouth set in an almost-shy smile. After a moment, he passes it back.
"There," he says. "Should be fine now."
"Thank you," Suga says. He's incapable of looking anywhere but his hands.
"Hey, you should exchange numbers," says Tanaka cheerfully.
Suga whips his head up and glares, but Daichi is already nodding. "That's a very good idea. Iwaizumi needs a way to contact you, but he suggested using me as an intermediary until you grow more comfortable with each other."
"I'm comfortable with him—" Suga begins, but Noya overrides him with, "Yeah, that dude can be scary. Daichi, give him your digits."
"Ready?" asks Daichi.
Suppressing an embarrassed swallow, Suga pulls up his contacts list. "Ready."
Daichi recites his number, and Suga enters it, fumbling twice. His fingers are actually a little shaky, what the hell. In his defense, anyone would be nervous with Daichi sitting so close, devastatingly handsome and kind-eyed and reciting numbers in his deep, strong voice. "Thanks," Suga says at last, reaching to tuck the phone back into his pocket.
"Hey, take a picture to go with that," says Noya.
"Noya," Suga begins, growing close to outright distress, but Daichi laughs.
"Okay, but I'm not photogenic," he says.
Suga finds that very hard to believe.
After Daichi has finished patting down his hair and swiping his t-shirt free of wrinkles, he scoots back and waits with anticipation as Suga slowly navigates back to the phone's camera and raises it in front of him. Through the display, Daichi already looks fantastic. "Say 'conviction on a new misdemeanor offense,'" says Suga.
"'Conviction on a—' wait—" says Daichi.
Suga takes the picture. It catches him with his mouth in a tiny, understated O, and Suga has to laugh aloud at the confusion in his eyes. After he recovers, Daichi laughs too, jokingly reaching to confiscate the phone from Suga's grasp.
"No fair," he says. "Take another."
"Nope," says Suga. "This picture will appear on my screen every time you call me for the rest of our lives."
"You had your chance. You said you're not photogenic, anyway."
But of course he is. Even with his baffled expression, Daichi looks gorgeous in his picture, sweetly innocent and beautifully backlit by the early afternoon sun. Suga's heart starts pounding as he looks at it. He's still looking down when he hears a low shutter sound from beside him, and glances up to find Daichi holding up his own phone with a soft smile on his face.
"Hey," says Suga, laughing.
Daichi chuckles, paging to his photo album—and Suga can actually see his breath catch. He's quiet for a long moment, just staring at his screen. Then he raises his eyes, just his eyes, and studies Suga with something that feels very loaded and very, very hot. For the first time since they met each other, the look borders on inappropriate.
"Suga," he says.
"Now you've both got blackmail material," says Noya suddenly. "Just don't make monetary demands so it's not punishable by state law."
They both look up at him, blinking. They'd forgotten that he and Tanaka were there. And Suga is intensely grateful for their intervention: he doesn't know where that moment with Daichi would've gone, right here in public view on the front porch of the halfway house, but it can't have been anywhere good. Suga's throat tightens a little with the realization of their close call. They're playing with fire, here, him and Daichi. Whatever this is between them, they need to slow it down before it gets them—before it gets Daichi—into serious trouble.
"I think Bokuto's starting lunch," says Tanaka. "Want to go in?"
"Yeah," says Daichi, standing gracefully, without haste. He doesn't offer Suga a hand to help him up, but he waits for him. "Let's discuss this vet job of yours."
"Okay," says Suga.
Daichi, Tanaka, and Noya go ahead of him. Suga stays on the porch for a bit longer, breath still shuddering a little, and waits until it's under control before following them inside.
Bokuto gets a little airtime. A sexy nightgown is purchased.
I never really addressed this before, but this story takes place in America, within an American penal system. Sentencing, parole, and rehabilitation facilities are all based off of United States-based research. I hope people don't find that too disenchanting or intrusive.
Group dinner on Friday is about what Suga expected, now that he knows the house's principal residents.
"I can't believe I have to say this to a twenty-six-year-old, but Nishinoya, please stop playing with my food," says Daichi. "Bokuto-san spent too long on the curry for you to be serving it to me in the shape of a penis."
"I don't mind," says Bokuto. "Kind of flattered, really."
"Well, I mind."
"Come on, Daichi-san," says Noya. "Relax and literally eat a dick."
Daichi takes his plate and pokes his chopsticks into the curry, stirring it until it less resembles a phallus. He even dismantles the rice scrotum. The others sigh in disappointment.
"You were so much more fun back when you were really into that show about that sexy naval officer," says Oikawa. "You kept calling the kitchen 'the galley' and making disgusting creamed beef and hard biscuits and that bean soup thing that exploded and took off the microwave door. Now you're too glamorous for cock-shaped curry?"
"I've reformed," says Daichi.
"You're just trying to impress Suga-san with your non-existent maturity and sophistication," says Kuroo, making Suga and Daichi flush.
"S-so?" Daichi stutters. "What's wrong with not wanting him to know I'm a loser?"
Immediately, everyone changes their tune, fussing over him loudly and apologetically. "You're only occasionally a loser," Tanaka says reassuringly as Noya seizes Daichi's hands and declares, "You're the second coolest guy I know!" Bokuto plops another ladleful of curry onto his place in condolence. Oikawa coos and pets his hair. Only Kuroo stays silent, leaning back in his chair and smirking. Suga's discovering that he and Daichi have a different sort of relationship, lax and easy and unspoken, evidenced in the way Daichi shoots him an 'I know what you're going to say' look that Kuroo responds to by holding up both hands in peace. What Suga would give to know how that exchange would've gone down. As it is, he has to satisfy himself with the sweet, rueful smile Daichi sends him.
"Sorry, Suga," he says. "This wouldn't be happening if I just caved and let you see my lame, geocaching, magic trick-performing self in full."
"You do magic?" Suga asks.
"Well, basic pick-a-card stuff. I'm still learning."
"So for your next trick, you can't make Kageyama magically appear at the dinner table?" asks Bokuto.
"A little out of my purview, yeah."
"Damn. I miss that sullen little bastard. Too bad someone—" here Bokuto turns to stare piercingly at Oikawa, "—makes him feel unwelcome by relentlessly criticizing what beverages he takes with his meals."
"Who the hell drinks milk with cheeseburgers?" Oikawa demands.
"I mean, it's not like we can have beer here," Noya points out, which dampens the mood a little; the reference to Karasuno being a sober house. Suga has never had problems with alcohol, but he suspects that some of the other residents have (though he doubts Kageyama is one of them). Noya smooths over the gaffe with a warm peal of laughter. "I think we should imbibe everything by bendy straw now. In honor of Suga-san."
"How does that honor me?" asks Suga, laughing.
"It's youthful. You're a kindergarten teacher, remember?"
"Oh, that's right."
"I feel like I should be in on this joke," says Daichi.
"Don't worry about it," Suga says, patting Daichi on the arm. The contact sends about a million little charges of excitement down his arm, and Daichi doesn't contain his grin, but Suga is careful to keep his responding smile calm and controlled. Don't do this. Don't put Daichi-san in a bad position just because you're selfish. He clasps his hands before his food and lowers his head. "Itadakimasu."
"Itadakimasu," the others echo.
Not for the first time, it occurs to Suga that he's lucky to be part of a predominantly Japanese community now. Of course, the angle is intentional—America's Asian prison population is low enough that Karasuno is the only halfway house in several states with this particular ethnic specialization—but Japanese ex-inmates are disproportionately represented here. There are a few Korean and Chinese residents that Suga doesn't see often, and half-Russian Lev, who is young and dauntless and so busy with work that Suga has only spoken to him once. Suga wonders how Daichi managed to get such a specific and inspired idea off the ground. He hopes he's proud. He certainly would be, if he'd achieved something so personal.
Tanaka and Noya, wearing matching employee shirts with bowling ball patches on the pockets, have to eat quickly in preparation for their evening shifts. This doesn't stop Noya from talking, mouth full, about a cute couple he saw at work a few days ago: "They were deliciously terrible bowlers," he says. "They tied with a score of sixty-nine, which I hope they took as a sign."
"I wish my job were that interesting," Bokuto sighs.
"You work at an amusement park," Tanaka reminds him.
"Yeah, but I don't actually get to ride the rides, do I? I just do safety checks and the, 'Place all loose articles in the cubbies' spiel. Oikawa is the one with the fun job."
"What do you do?" Suga asks him.
Oikawa beams. "I'm a live presenter at the planetarium. I work with schools to set up field trips and teach children about constellations. I run the Saturday Evening Star Show, too. Pretty good for an ex-con, right? What are you going to do for work, Suga-san?"
"Iwaizumi-san got me a job at a veterinary clinic," Suga says, feeling a little silly. Oikawa sounds like he has an actual career; all Suga has is a kind PO and a few credits at a technical school. "I think it'll mostly be cleaning cages and setting out food dishes."
"That sounds like lovely work," says Oikawa, without sarcasm. "It takes a special type of person to work around animals."
"Animals hate Oikawa," says Tanaka, snickering.
"They do not!"
"Statistically, I don't think there's a single person on the continent who gets dive-bombed by crows more often than you do."
"They're attracted to shiny things!" says Oikawa, preening. "I'm shiny!"
"You're an idiot," says Kuroo affectionately.
"But a shiny idiot!"
Suga laughs. He was right about Oikawa's constitutional integrity; he is a generous, intelligent, wholehearted man. More than ever, though, Suga burns with curiosity about Oikawa's sentence. It can't have been too violent if he's allowed to work with children. And how had he served his time? There's no way he wasn't a player. He's too magnetic, too commanding to not have had a say in his facility's operations. How had he adapted to life on the outside? What habits and survival instincts carried over into his job at the planetarium, standing day after day under a dome of stars?
Sitting beside him at the table, Daichi is listening to his residents with a fond expression. Suga eyes him sidelong, struck suddenly by the weight of what Daichi must know. He has all of their files. He has the names of their prisons, their charges, their infractions, their backgrounds. All that, and he can still look at them that way—like he's proud of them. It stuns Suga. He misses something that Noya asks him; when he tunes back in, everyone is staring at him expectantly.
"Sorry," he says. "What did you say?"
"Was wondering if you wanted to go clothes shopping sometime," says Noya. "You've been wearing the same shirt since you got here."
"Oh—yes, that'd be nice," says Suga, embarrassed. "Um, do—do I—?"
"You don't smell or anything," Bokuto reassures him quickly. "We just noticed because everything's kinda hanging off you. Did you lose a lot of weight in prison? Food's not gourmet or anything there, I know."
"Y-yeah." Suga didn't spend much time in the mess hall after the stabbing. They were supposed to take their meals together, but Ushijima must've pulled some strings, because the guards let Suga skip when he wanted to and sit in the courtyard with a book instead. Suga misses the softness in his hips and thighs that he'd had when he was first incarcerated. His pants are too big now; he has to keep hiking them up. "I'd really like to get some clothes that fit."
"Cool," says Noya. "Tomorrow?"
"Don't thank him," Kuroo warns. "He's been looking for an excuse to dress up his little doll ever since you got here."
"Me?" says Suga. "I'm not exactly the best model."
"Are you kidding?" says Oikawa. "Suga-san, you're stunning. Isn't he stunning, Daichi-san?"
"Stop," Daichi whines in response, adorably crossing one arm over his face and making Suga want to pull it away to kiss him. So he's not unaware of all the matchmaking everyone is trying to do for the two of them. When he peeks back at Suga, his ears are red. "Yes, you would be a delight to buy clothes for. Do you need any money? I can let you borrow some; I know your commissary hasn't come in yet."
"We've got it," Noya says, indicating Tanaka, who nods. "We know you're good for it, Suga-san."
"I appreciate it. I'll be frugal," says Suga.
"Just make sure you get something in pale blue," says Oikawa. "Another bikini, perhaps."
"Okay, now I really know I missed a conversation," Daichi says.
"Don't worry about it," say Suga, Noya, and Bokuto in unison, then exchange high-fives.
Daichi laughs, warm and rich. "All right. I don't need to know all of your secrets, as long as they don't involve contraband. 'Bikini' isn't new prison slang for 'bourbon,' is it?"
"Yes, Daichi," says Kuro, straight-faced. "I'll take a bikini on the rocks."
"Hey, I don't know what you young folks are saying these days."
"Not so young," says Tanaka slyly. "You and Suga are the same age, aren't you?"
This forces them to look at each other again, and the gaze catches, like it has so many times before. They stare for a few beats longer than they should. Suga looks at the space between Daichi's lips, moist and unknowable, before he clears his throat and smiles. "I don't know," he says. "Are we?"
Daichi's returning smile is soft. "Yes. We are."
The rest of the meal passes quickly. Tanaka and Noya leave for work, and Bokuto carries the conversation with stories about his job and boyfriend. Suga deeply appreciates the food. It's the first home-cooked dinner he's had in years, and Bokuto's curry is flavorful and perfect. When they finish, Kuroo insists on doing the dishes. "Daichi is not allowed to help with cleanup, and it's your first week here," he tells Suga. "Go relax." And against Suga's wishes, he complies. He goes upstairs. If he has to spend any time with Daichi alone, he's going to fling himself into his arms and refuse to let go.
In the hallway, Suga can hear Kageyama playing the piano again, something Suga actually recognizes from a French film he enjoyed before his incarceration. He knocks quietly on the door.
"Come in," says Kageyama, without pausing.
Suga inches his way into the bedroom and stands beside him, watching his hands float across the keys. He plays with his eyes closed; he's that attuned to his instrument. He really is a gorgeous young man. Suga wonders about his prison experience, how he managed to fall in with the wrong inmates and serve a third of a year in solitary without losing his goddamn mind. Kageyama slips into something hotter, more sensual. Suga watches the tension slowly melt from his shoulders.
"We missed you at dinner," he says.
"No, you didn't," Kageyama says. He doesn't even look up.
"Well, Bokuto-san and I did. The others too, I think, besides Oikawa."
Kageyama stops playing. The electronic keyboard allows for no echo, the sound ending abruptly and with finality. "I don't know why he hates me," he says in a low voice. "I used to admire him. I still do, and I wish I didn't."
Suga hesitates. He's so new to the situation that he doesn't know if he can offer a fair assessment, but he also knows that his objectivity must count for something. "I think he's jealous of you," he says.
"No, I mean it. You're handsome. You're young. You have an extraordinary talent, which not many people can say after years behind bars—prison kills something in you, bleeds something out, but you came through it with something beautiful to fall back on. Anyone would find that enviable. I know I do."
After a long moment, Kageyama says, "You're kind."
"I mean it," says Suga.
"No, I mean—you're a good person. How did you do that? Stay compassionate?"
"The others are compassionate. Tanaka and Noya—"
"Not when they first got out. I was here. Tanaka-san was resentful, had a chip on his shoulder the size of New York, and a few months later, when Nishinoya-san arrived, he was downright cruel. Daichi-san was the one who got through to them. I don't know what he said, but they changed practically overnight. You wouldn't have recognized them."
Suga considers that. The idea of Noya and Tanaka being anything less than upbeat and benevolent is a strange one. Then again—Daichi. Daichi is their common denominator, charitable and thoughtful and resourceful, and if anyone could break through to a group of hurting ex-cons, it's him. Suga smiles a little just thinking about it. Teasing him is a delightful activity, and he's glad the rest of the residents seem to agree. They're all united in respect and affection for their house manager. Suga doesn't think it's possible for anyone to be better suited for his job.
"Be careful," says Kageyama.
He blinks. "Sorry?"
Kageyama looks reluctant. "I don't mean to lecture you, Suga-san, but people talk. About you, that is. And about Daichi-san."
"Shit," says Suga softly. He hasn't even done anything; how are rumors already spreading? He likes Kageyama too much to be dishonest with him, but he closes the door partway and lowers his voice. "We're not doing anything. Daichi would never allow it, and I wouldn't put him in that position."
"You lit up when I mentioned him," says Kageyama. "Every time you two are in the same room together, the air between you feels charged."
"I'm not going to get him in trouble," says Suga firmly.
"I understand my circumstances."
"I know. You both do. That doesn't mean he wouldn't—I mean, I don't know what people would give up for each other. I've never been in—just—realize that you're not as powerless as you think you are. You're still thinking of yourself as a con, but that's not who you are anymore. You're a good person with a good heart and Daichi-san can see that the same way the rest of us can. And I don't want either of you to be in a position where you'd have to choose between two things that you care about."
Suga's quiet. He stares at Kageyama steadily, trying not to let the uncertainty show in his expression. Two things that you care about. For Daichi, that's Suga and his job. And for Suga, that's Daichi and—what? Normalcy? Suga doesn't want to be at Karasuno House. He wants to be living in his own apartment, working a job because he enjoys it, not because the state mandates it. Are those conditions and Daichi really mutually exclusive?
Is he actually greedy enough to ask for both?
"I'm sorry, I've overstepped," says Kageyama, dipping his head low into a bow.
"Not at all," says Suga. "Thank you for your candor."
"Don't listen to me. I don't know you or your situation."
"In some ways, you know me better than I know myself." Suga smiles at him. It still hurts, but it feels nowhere near as unnatural as it had when he first got here. "I'm going to go read and unwind. Tanaka and Noya are taking me clothes shopping tomorrow."
Kageyama groans. "Do not let them get you in the sleepwear section."
Puzzled, Suga nods and exits the room, pulling the door shut behind himself. After a moment, the piano resumes. Something busy and bright this time. Suga stands there and listens for a minute before returning to his own room, opening up the novel he's been working on. In it, the protagonist is shopping for a ring with which he plans to propose to his girlfriend. It's so ironic that Suga sighs and picks up some Bradbury instead. Nothing like a little sci-fi to get your mind off of beautiful house managers.
He gets so involved in reading that almost an hour has passed by the time there's a soft knock on his door. "Come in," Suga calls, expecting Daichi or Kageyama, but it's Bokuto, and his typical infectious grin is cracking around the edges.
"Hi," says Bokuto. "Can I, like—just sit in here with you for a bit? I promise I won't be any trouble."
Suga doesn't know why Bokuto trusts him with this, but he gets it. It's quiet here at night, a little private and a little dark, and Suga's already feeling heavy with some of that strange loneliness. Prison, if nothing else, was a community. He likes his autonomy here, but the evenings are very, very still.
He pats the bed next to him. Bokuto scrambles to join him. It's a tight fit, but they manage, Bokuto already perking up as he curls beside Suga. "Thanks," he says.
"No problem. Thank you for dinner."
"What's your favorite food? I'll cook that next time."
"Mapo tofu," says Suga. "Super spicy."
Bokuto keeps to his promise of not interrupting his reading, though Suga wouldn't have minded a chat. He likes the other man a lot, his cheer and emotion and the effort he puts toward always having a ready smile. His vulnerability does not negate his confidence. Suga appreciates that. He reads in silence, Bokuto a warm, welcome weight beside him, and succeeds in not thinking about Daichi until he falls asleep a few hours later.
"—needs something less heavy."
"Like what, Noya? A fucking crop top hoodie?"
"He has a coat."
"A jacket is a lighter version of a coat."
"Okay, I'm calling bullshit on that one."
Suga's standing inside one of the dressing room stalls, snickering as he pulls off a blue Polo patterned with little rosebuds. Noya and Tanaka have already found him several shirts and pairs of jeans, and now they're working on outerwear, and seem to be having artistic differences.
"A pee coat?" Tanaka shouts.
"Pea! P-E-A! They used to be worn by English sailors with epaulettes and gold buttons, but now they're classic and chic and sometimes even come with hoods."
"You sure know a lot about clothes for someone who owns a shirt that says, 'Yas Queen,' another that says 'Power Bottoms for Jesus,' and a sweater with a slit across the pectorals."
"That sweater got us a free nacho platter at Shimada's—"
"—that I couldn't even eat because I was so distracted by your pointed lack of cleavage. Like, I guess you owned it, bro, but I really wish you hadn't tried."
Suga's officially laughing so hard he can't continue to try on the clothes that Tanaka and Noya keep flinging over the top of the door. He sits down. He can't remember the last time he felt this good, and the best part is that Tanaka and Noya are approaching this shopping excursion with the utmost sincerity. He listens to them bicker outside. Thing is, he doesn't even need a coat this time of year. The weather outside is gorgeous, and it still feels miraculous, waking up each morning to sunlight.
He and Bokuto had actually slept the entire night together, which earned them some vicious ribbing before Kuroo badly burnt his toast and took up their mantle as the butt of Karasuno's jokes that morning. Suga's glad that no one gave Bokuto undue shit for sharing a bed, but it seemed like everyone was used to his occasional fragility. Bokuto himself was grateful and fond and chipper; after the kitchen was aired out, he made Suga a breakfast of the most beautifully poached eggs he'd ever seen. Suga officially has more allies now than he'd had during or before his prison sentence. He was popular in high school, but there was a measure of distance in it—more of a mentor than an equal. He likes where he is now. He likes having friends.
"Okay, so we agree that a coat of any kind is unseasonably warm," says Tanaka outside. He raps lightly on the dressing room door. "How you doing in there, Suga-san? Need different sizes of anything?"
"No, everything fits, thanks," says Suga. He redresses quickly and joins them outside. "I think I'm all set. I have outfits for nearly every occasion."
"Betta fish funeral?" asks Noya.
"The dark wash jeans and black button-down."
"Seduction of a clown at a child's birthday party?"
"The pink scoop-neck with the white cutoff booty shorts."
Noya and Tanaka cling to each other, beaming proudly. "You're ready to face the world in style now," Tanaka declares. "Just one more stop: sleepwear."
Kageyama's warning rings in Suga's head. "Why?" he asks suspiciously.
He gets his answer ten minutes later, as Noya is holding a sheer, flimsy teddy against him and critically examining the lace embellishments. "Too much?" he asks Tanaka, who shakes his head.
"No. It'll look good. I mean, it's easy to overplay the angel theme with him, but if the nightgown fits—"
"—wear it," they finish together, and cackle as they set to work looking for a silk robe to match.
"Does everyone in the house have sexy nightwear, then?" asks Suga, picturing Noya and Tanaka in matching chiffon thongs. It's not a terrible thought. "Does Kageyama? Oh my god, does Daichi?"
"Hate to disappoint you, but Daichi is not invited to our sleepovers," says Noya. "Twice a month, some of us guys dress up real pretty and smoke on the back porch and play cards. No real gambling allowed, of course, but we bet with chores and candy and whatever else we have on hand. Tanaka once lost a completed frozen yogurt punch card to Kuroo, who ate two scoops of blueberry pomegranate right in front of him the next day."
"Dude's twisted," says Tanaka.
"And what inspired this tradition?" Suga asks.
"Got pretty tired of toxic masculinity while we were doing time. This was a nice way to get some of that out of our systems." He pauses, staring wistfully at the lacy racks of sleeping gowns. "When I first got out," he says, with easy dignity, "I was a real piece of work. Couldn't stop getting into fights and posturing and shit. Almost got my ass sent back to prison. So when Kuroo approached me with this idea, this wear-something-cute-with-us thing, I nearly decked him. It sounded like a bad fucking joke. I thought he was making fun of me."
Suga imagines a younger, angrier Tanaka, how scared and lonely he must've been. It makes him ache. "What changed your mind?" he asks.
Tanaka grins. "I saw him in lingerie and high heels."
Suga laughs. "God, I bet he looked great."
"Better than you can imagine."
They beam at each other. Noya places one hand on each of their arms, linking them, and the three of them share a soft moment right there in the women's sleepwear section of the department store. Tanaka looks like he's itching for a cigarette. He taps the box in his breast pocket, bites his lip, and smiles.
"I was in for stripping cars," he says. "First I was just trying to get the parts for a working vehicle, get away from my stepdad, you know? But then it turned into something I did for sport. Steal just because I could do it, because I was good at it. Fuck up a nice Mustang. Get paid. When I finally got caught, I thought, 'Now I'll be where everyone told me I'd end up,' and it felt good to finally meet their expectations. That Tanaka Ryuunosuke, trouble from day one."
"Ryuu," says Noya gently, "they didn't know you."
"Right. Right," says Tanaka, shaking his head a little. He grins at Suga. "We've been through this; I've worked a lot of this shit out. Still gets to me sometimes though, yeah?"
"Yeah," says Suga. He reaches out and squeezes Tanaka's hand.
"I don't know what you were in for, but I can see it clinging to you like a shadow," says Tanaka. "We're here for you, you hear that? For whenever you feel like you can talk about it."
It moves Suga so deeply that it takes him a moment to respond. "Yeah. Thank you. For—for trusting me, and for letting me trust you."
"We care about you, Suga. And not just because you'll look good in a teddy."
In the end, the clothes ring up cheaper than Suga expected them to. Noya and Tanaka know how to spot a bargain. Suga can't wait to get his commissary and start working so he can pay them back, as insufficient a currency as money feels by now. They carry the bags out to the bus stop together. Tanaka isn't allowed to drive, but Noya and Suga have those privileges if they ever gain access to a car. Maybe that's something to think about later. Until then, they'll share a bus seat. Tanaka falls asleep on their way back to Karasuno, and Noya sings a little in his good, textured voice. And when the broken-hearted people living in the world agree, there will be an answer, let it be.
Just inside the house, Daichi is standing by the staircase, sorting through the mail. He looks up and smiles as they return. "Find anything good?" he asks.
"So many beautiful clothes," Suga says. "You won't even recognize me."
"You're pretty unforgettable," says Daichi, casual and teasing enough that Suga almost can't detect the note of longing in it. His throat tightens. Tanaka and Noya have already bailed on him, clearly bound by none of Kageyama's misgivings. Before Suga has to reply, though, Daichi passes him an envelope. "This one's for you. It got forwarded from the prison."
It's decorated in foil star stickers. One of Hinata's. Suga smiles, pressing it close to his chest. Even having seen him in real life since, the letters inspire in him a full, inimitable warmth. "Thank you," he says.
"You're welcome," Daichi says. He returns to the mail. Suga watches him for a moment before going upstairs.
Alone in his room, he sits down by the window and slips the letter open. Hinata's scent washes over him. He smiles, inhaling, and unfolds the sheet of notebook paper in the milky white light of day. Every time, his hands tremble when he reads.
How are you? This is going to be a short one, sorry, I'm on my way out to check out an apartment with Kenma. I got promoted!!! Between us, we're making enough money now to rent a small place, as long as we agree to share a bathroom. You've told me repeatedly how overenthusiastic I am with the toothpaste. I hope Kenma can take it!
I was thinking today about that time we went to the lake together. We both got so sunburnt, remember? The best part of that day was sitting in the boat for so long that the water around us got really still and glassy. You wanted to go over my multiplication tables, and I told you to be quiet. It's the closest I've ever gotten to telling you to shut up, I think you were so surprised that you actually did it. You looked beautiful. The sun was shining on your hair and your eyes were so, so happy.
Neither of us wanted to fish. We didn't want to hurt something like that, just for the sake of having it and keeping it. I love that you felt the same way I did. "Freedom is the best gift you can give someone," you said. I think about that a lot.
You're not free right now. But you will be. You'll probably never tell me why you did it, and I'll probably never stop asking, but we both know it's none of my business. If you sacrificed your freedom for it, it must've been important, and that's something I truly believe. I believe in you, Sugawara-san. Don't forget that for when you get out and start wondering if you can even believe in yourself. You can. And someday, when things are easier for you, you will.
It's raining today. Tomorrow it'll be bright. I hope wherever you are, you can see some sun.