It took them a long time to notice it. After all, what are some more bruises on his arms and legs? They had assumed all of them were consequence of his constant training and reckless movements. They all assumed and never asked him. They would ask him if he was okay after a nasty fall or whenever a rival’s spike hit him on the face. Other that, they were used to the black, blue and green that adored the young libero’s skin.
“Why do you smile so much?” Narita questioned him one afternoon after a big game.
Nishinoya smile grew even wider but didn’t dare to look him in the eye. “Because that’s what the team needs.”
People assumed deep down that because he was their guardian deity, he was some kind of a superhuman. He was always cheering them on. He was the one that always raised the mood and held them high when they felt like crumbling down. He was small but his presence filled the whole court. He seemed fragile but was the stronger person inside the team. He was amazing. He was a genius in his own category. The second best libero even after playing a third of official games the first place did during the season. His only defect seemed to be his clumsiness.
“Do they hurt?” Ennoshita tried to reach Nishinoya’s arm but he stopped himself before he could make actual contact with his skin.
“Not really. I usually never realize they are there in the first place.” He shrugged but pulled his arm closer to his chest without really noticing it. “I guess is just another perk of the job.”
“You should be more careful.” Kinoshita added with a huff.
Tanaka behind him snorted a laugh. “We’ve tried to tell him that countless of times. I think it would actually be easier to cover the court with mattresses.”
Nishinoya always tried to be the loudest inside a room. It was something completely unintentional but he found that leading people to pay attention to his voice made them forget about everything else. If he was jumping around the place, messing around with Tanaka or just hitting the floor over and over, people seemed to forget the void that could be seen inside his pupils.
“You can trust me.”
There was just one person in his life that didn’t fall for his charades.
“Yesterday we didn’t have practice.”
Nishinoya was unable to be louder than necessary in front of him, and that only lead to trouble.
“That bruise is new.”
“You must be confused.”
“I’m not.” Nishinoya looked down. How could he shrugged this off when the bruises looked like fingers around his wrists? “Please, don’t lie. Not to me.”
“I’m not lying.” he crossed his arms up to his chest. “These ones are old.”
A long silence. Was he finally getting tired of him? The only thought of that scenario gave him chills.
“Okay…” his voices sounded so defeated, so sad. “Since when do you practice judo?”
Nishinoya couldn’t look him in the eyes.
“I don’t know what you are talking about.” Bullshit . “I mean it, they are nothing.”
His bigger body towered him making him seem smaller than usual.
“Okay… I trust you.”
Nishinoya finally looked up and found Asahi looking down at him with a sad smile. He could have sworn he heard his heart crash into a million pieces.
The bruises got worse during his second year. Tanaka was the first one to notice it but he immediately believed his story about trying to be able to save blocked spikes. It was a half lie, considering he had indeed practiced during his suspension, but being honest, most of them were from another source.
“Nishinoya embraces his marks like trophies.” Suga commented to the first years.
Hinata’s eyes went directly to his legs and saw the different patterns on his pale skin. Kageyama saw his arms and noticed that the most prominent ones were on his forearms. The pair observed him play inside the court with such amazement it made Nishinoya’s cheek blush.
You are so strong , he had heard those words so many times in his life he barely paid attention to them now. It doesn’t hurt ? Other things hurt, stinged and ached more than just an ugly fall or a fast ball hitting his naked skin.
“But you should be more careful.” Hinata commented one night. It was the second day of their training camp and they were the only ones still awake after a long day. “One day… Maybe… you could really hurt yourself.”
Nishinoya stretched his arm and, almost by instinct, he caressed Hinata’s cheek. The boy didn’t flinch or moved away. On the contrary, he seemed to relax with the sudden contact.
“I’m your senpai. I should be doing the worrying around here.”
“But we are friends.” He didn’t say teammates. “We should all care about each other.”
“I promise I’ll be careful in our next game.” Nishinoya retracted his hand and heard a faint sigh coming from the younger player. “I mean it.”
He was surprised to realize how much he had missed seeing Asahi so close to him. Maybe it was just his back (he actually didn’t see the libero during the games), but Nishinoya felt safe behind that enormous shadow.
“He was going to quit.” Daichi said. Asahi turned around dazzled. Nishinoya was chatting with Tanaka and Kageyama next to the bus. The sun was starting to set and they needed to go back home.
“He said…” Suga was having trouble getting the words out of his mouth. “That it would be wrong to keep playing if you weren’t there.”
Asahi looked down at his feet, unable to face the halo that now seemed to surrender Nishinoya with the sunset hitting his back. Without noticing he avoided his confused expression when he passed next to him and entered the bus without saying a word and then his pained expression after finding someone else sitting next to him. Without noticing, his reluctance to accept that he was actually an important part of Nishinoya’s life stung the smaller boy worse than any other punch or slap he had ever received.
Things got complicated when the black and blue reached his face.
“That wasn’t a ball.”
Nishinoya shook his head and raised his chin high.
He wears those bruises like trophies.
“Now you are speaking to me?”
Sometimes things got to be too much. Sometimes Nishinoya hid his cries with his pillow. Sometimes he punched the bruises to make them bigger, to make them take the form of a volleyball.
“One more!” he was out of breathe. His muscles aged, but he needed to keep going.
“Nishinoya, I don’t want you to hurt yourself.” Daichi said softly. Nishinoya raised his eyes from the floor where he was kneeling. “Go home and rest.”
“One more time…” even Hinata and Kageyama were exhausted. “Please, just…”
He looked around trying to find some back up, but everyone was just staring at him with worried faces. Nishinoya dropped his head between his shoulders. I can’t go home…
That night he slept inside the club changing room. Before that, he saw the two exams burn before his eyes in a little self-made fire.
Asahi found Nishinoya sitting inside the gym already with his sports uniform. They still had 30 minutes before morning practice but this kind of situation wasn’t weird anymore.
“Hey.” he greeted the boy.
Nishinoya looked up and smiled at him. He was always smiling. “Good morning.”
He sat next to him and offered him his silence. Nishinoya thanked him by leaning over his arm and closing his eyes. Ashi passed his hands through his messy hair; it was greasy and wasn’t as high as it usually was.
Nishinoya had drifted off at some point without Asahi noticing. “I’m here.”
Something inside of Asahi always told him something was off.
“A ball can’t cut your lip.”
Asahi’s hand looked enormous as he took him by the chin and made him look up. His eye and lip were sollen. He could also see the hint of dry blood on the corner of his nose.
Nishinoya sighed and shook his head. What was the point of lying anymore? “So?”
“How did you get it?”
The chilly night seemed the perfect setting for that conversation. “Sometimes I´m not what my parents want me to be.”
The truth hit the two boys at the same time. When you talk about it, you make it real . Nishinoya closed his eyes trying to escape the other’s sad gaze.
Asahi knew, he knew deep down, that something was wrong. And he did nothing. How could he ever forgive himself?
“I’m sorry I called you…” his voice sounded so fragile, so unsure. “But… I didn’t want to see anyone else right now.”
I didn’t want anyone else to see me like this.
But at the end everyone found out. Nishinoya felt like he was about to die.
You told them . He could only recall fragments of the fight. Ukai sensei… Takeda sense… they can't even look me in the eye anymore . But it wasn’t Asahi’s complete fault. He wasn’t able to hide his black eye. He wasn’t careful enough. Now they think… Did he really cared that much what the other’s thought? I’m Karasuno’s guardian deity. He couldn’t be weak. If he wasn't strong enough… who would encourage the first grades? Who would make Tanaka smile during a hard match? Who would take some of the weight off Daichi’s and Suga’s backs during hard times? Who would support Asahi if he ever encountered another impenetrable wall? I’m not weak! I’m okay!
“NO, you are not!”
The counselor’s office was cold. Nishinoya was sitting on a chair next to Takeda-sensei, waiting for the worse. Ukai was standing up with his back pressed against the wall. The principal seemed annoyed by all the fuzz. The young boy took a deep breathe. Let me be brave .
She came in 10 minutes late; alone.
“We just wish to know if everything is alright at home.” Takeda said with his usual soft voice. “We want to know if Nishinoya is staying in a safe place.”
His mother’s eyes got through him like bullets.
“Is that what he’s been telling you?”
Nishinoya looked down, ashamed, cornered…
“Is what he have seen so far what worries us.” Ukai barked.
“He is a clumsy boy.”
His eyes became watery. His breath was uneven. Was the room becoming smaller?
“A mark with the form of a slap is not clumsiness.” Ukai sounded so mad.
The woman seemed to be holding back a laugh. Again her eyes went back to him. “You haven’t told them the whole truth yet?” Nishinoya winced at her voice. “Why does your father has to punish you?”
“Miss, I think we have to clarify the differences between punishment and abuse .” Takeda tried to interfere but she didn’t let him.
“He has a deviation.”
It was out. Finally it was out to everyone to see and judge.
“When you say “deviation”, are you referring to…?”
“We just want the best for his future.” she leaned on her chair as she crossed her arms up her chest. “That kind of desires would make him an outcast; a pariah to society. He is not that smart, all he has is that stupid sport but I don’t even think that will give him good chances of getting somewhere in life. Add to that his problem… We are just doing what is best for him.”
The rest of the meeting was a blur. He could recall some shouting and, after a while, a hand grabbing him by the arm and making him leave the place. Nishinoya wasn’t able to look up or face any of their superiors. He didn’t dare to see what they thought of him now.
He missed school the next day and the day after that. Even breathing hurt too much.
“Yuu…” Asahi was sure he was on the edge of having a heart attack. Tanaka, Suga and Daichi were behind him, walking slowly and steadily towards the boy. Nishinoya stood on the edge of the building looking down. His broken body hid under an oversized hoodie(Asahi’s) but everyone could see how bad he was shaking. “You don’t want to do this.”
“Because it’s not the end of the world.”
Nishinoya half turned his head to their direction. The four boys stopped walking. “How would you know? Everyone loves you.”
His hands were clutching tightly to the sleeves of the hoodie.
“You are loved too.”
The boy shook his head. He knew what was coming. He was going to be taken away and put into an institution. And everyone was going to find out.
“I’m sick of it, you know?”
“Of what?” Suga asked softly. Asahi saw Tanaka and Daichi start moving to the sides, slowly.
“I didn’t ask to be this way.” his voice broke. “I never meant to disappoint them.”
“What do you mean Nishinoya?” Silent tears ran down Suga’s face even though his voice stood steady and firm. Asahi couldn’t even cry. He was petrified.
The boy finally turned around and faced the group. Daichi and Tanaka stopped moving but Nishinoya’s eyes were fixed on Asahi. The boy sighed. He was tired of lying and pretending. He was tired of being scared all the time.
“Asahi.” Nishinoya sobbed. “I know it’s not fair for you. I know I shouldn’t even say this but…” he paused for a moment. With his hair down he truly looked like a kid. “But I love you.” his voice shattered inside his throat but he kept talking. He needed to get it out before… “And not in a I love you, bro way, okay? I mean: I love you want to hold you hand, and be all the time with you and kiss you and I know it is not right. I’m aware I’m deviant because it’s wrong and… I don’t know what I’m supposed to do.”
He was now shaking dangerously and moving back and forth unable to control the spams of the sobs.
“Yuu…” Asahi took two steps forward. “Yuu, can you look at me for a second? Please?”
He didn’t move for a second. But then he did, and when he meet Asahi’s eyes something told the older one it was safe to keep moving.
“Please, don’t do this. There is no one waiting for you over there. I’m here. I’ll always be here.”
He took a another step and stretched his hand.
“We love you, so much you can’t even imagine.”
Yuu started raising his hand, doubtfully.
“I love you.”
Nishinoya’s eyes reminded him of a scared and wounded animal. Unsure about trusting whatever was before him.
“I love you so much Yuu I can’t imagine a life where I don’t have my guardian angel beside me. I need you. So please…” The boy stretched his arm a little bit more. Nishinoya was just inches away from touching him. “Come back to me.”
The moment Nishinoya’s hand grasped Asahi’s, he pulled him away from the edge and surrounded him with his arms. Awkwardly, the two teens stumbled down and fell. Tanaka ran towards them and hugged his best friend over Asahi’s arms. Behind them Suga collapsed on the floor while Daichi stared at the scene unable to process what had just happened.
The room was full with all sort of noises: little kids cries; older kids arguments and some screaming from the grown ups. Nishinoya sat on the bed in silence. With his back pressed against the wall and his knees touching his chest, his eyes were focused on nothing.
“Yuu?” The woman’s voice startled him. When he turned towards the door he saw the young lady that was in charge of the institution standing on the doorframe. There was a man beside her.
“Get your stuff.” Ukai-sensei ordered him but Nishinoya wasn’t able to move fast enough. “We are leaving the moment the paperwork is done.”
The room suddenly fell silent.
Ukai’s expression softened. “I’m sorry it took me so long, but the bureaucracy in these places is a little more complicated than what I remembered.”