Somewhere in the back of his mind, Sugawara Koushi always felt like he was fighting time.
He felt it in the 0.45 seconds when deciding exactly where to put up a toss, in that less-than-blink where a game could rest solely on his deft fingertips and stopped heart.
He felt it the moment he realized that Kageyama Tobio, the genius setter of Kitagawa First, was coming to play volleyball at Karasuno High.
But more than any of those, he felt it the very first time he saw Sawamura Daichi smile—when he went home and marked the day of his own far-off graduation on a calendar in red pencil. The very last day he could count on seeing that smile.
He felt it more every day. At some point he started assigning numbers to the feeling. 415 days. 250 days. 183 days. It didn’t help. Neither did Daichi’s head falling neatly onto his shoulder as the bus rounded a gentle curve, the captain too soundly asleep to rouse even at the sudden change in posture. Suga jumped just slightly, but stilled himself immediately, the better to not wake his best friend. He smiled, a little, and it was fond and gentle and soft and he thought his heart might break. 100 days, he realized, against his best efforts.
“DAICHIII—“ Noya popped up over the bus seat behind them, ready to exclaim some wild thought or another, but he was silenced immediately by Suga’s wide still eyes and the finger to his lips.
“He’s asleep,” the setter explained gently, his voice barely more than a murmur. “You guys sure played hard out there today!”
Nishinoya pumped his fists in agreement with a wild grin, but his response was kept to an excitable stage whisper. His arms made up the difference.
“Hah! What a killer third set, we almost had them! Did you see that play from Daichi-kun when Bokuto—fwoosh—right to the back corner?!”
“Of course,” Suga smiled, tilting his head as best he could without disturbing his seatmate. He beamed affectionately at the second-year, eyes squeezed shut. “I see them all.”
It was true, he did. From the bench, he never missed a single play. After all, if he couldn’t support them on the court, he could at least be the first and loudest voice cheering them on every time. He could mine every gesture and dropped ball for the slightest tell that might become an advantage. And when Daichi asked him, at time outs and between sets and after games, what Suga had for him, he could say—
“Me!” This time it was Hinata’s voice that broke the quiet hum of the late-night bus murmurs, sharp and chattering and aggressive as he nearly fell into the seat in front of him trying to grab a magazine from Tsukki’s hand. “Give it to me next Tsukishima-kun! I haven’t got it yet!”
“That’s because it’s mine,” the blond seethed icily, but he was either too tired to really argue or just too tired to pretend he wanted to, because he handed it over with only one roll of his eyes. Hinata cackled greedily and fell back into his own seat, elbowing Kageyama as he pointed out all of the things the other boy could no doubt read for himself over Shoyo’s shoulder anyway. Something ticked away in Sugawara’s chest with a little ache.
The team was incredible this year. If not now, then soon. Suga could feel it, grasp at it maybe even sooner than the rest of them from where he stood on the sidelines watching every moment pass by with a heart so full of joy and pride and anguish he thought it might burst. He remembered with stinging clarity their first practice as first-years—him and Daichi and Asahi—and the heavy legacy that fell just behind them, like a stage curtain nobody ever expected them to be able to pull back again. He remembered feeling that certainty of doubt too, and the moment when it started to enter his classmate’s eyes as well. But now they were all bright eyes and fiery spirits. They had something raw and wild and beautiful here just waiting to blow the world away. And Daichi was going to be the one leading the way. Suga’s eyes welled up a little. He didn’t dare wipe them away for fear of shifting his shoulder, so he just shook his head softly to clear them.
He adored the first-years—he really did. Bold, wild Hinata. Cool, disaffected Tsukishima. Soft, eager Yamaguchi. Even Kageyama, though he wished he didn’t. It would be so much simpler that way. Instead, despite himself, he was deeply fond of the impossible boy. And deeply grateful. With Kageyama on the court, the team kept narrowly scoring wins. And wins meant something that Suga could never give them—
Time for Asahi to fight to win back his confidence. Time for Nishinoya to spend playing with the ace that made him shine brighter than anyone else. Time for Tanaka to sharpen the focus that would carry the team next year. Time for Ennoshita to believe there were things here worth staying for. Time for Yamaguchi to find his weapon. Time for Tsukishima to commit to himself.
Time for...time for Daichi to stand on the court he loved and figure out how to go out with dignity. Time that Suga was never going to be able to offer him. Time that he desperately wanted to, more than anything else.
The tears were falling more quickly now, streaming down Sugawara’s face as his shoulders hitched just once with a silent sob.
“Suga...? Whoa, hey, Suga!”
Daichi was suddenly awake, his drowsiness having dissolved in an instant into alert concern. He draped one arm around the silver-haired boy, placing the other hand on his closest shoulder, and Suga fell into his chest without resistance.
“Shh. Hey, Koushi-kun, I’m here. I’m here, what’s wrong?”
100 days, he thought but couldn’t quite bring himself to say. He stiffened up his shoulders and breathed deep, pushing off of Daichi’s chest with a certainty he absolutely did not feel and smiling through the last of the tears as he wrangled them back with a wipe of his warm-up jacket sleeve.
“Ah, it’s nothing, Daichi. I’m sorry I woke you. Please, get some rest. We’ll be home soon.”
Daichi’s eyebrows furrowed deeply, reading Suga with an intensity that made him shudder, then those quick precision eyes darted around the bus as if searching for the offender that had dared to make the setter feel this way. Suga couldn’t help but laugh weakly knowing that he wouldn’t find much without a mirror. Whatever conclusion Daichi came to, it must have been one that he felt deserved discretion, because he let his back fall against the seat as he fixed Suga with that powerful gaze again, and nodded with what he no doubt thought was understanding.
“Let me walk you home tonight?”
As if he were even capable of saying no.
“Sure, Daichan,” he smiled pleasantly, waving off both the inquiry and the weight of his heart in his stomach. “If that’s what you want.”
Satisfied at least for the moment, Daichi nodded once and crossed his arms against his chest. After a few moments of half-hearted conversation, he fell back into a doze. Suga both regretted and thanked several of his ancestors that Daichi stayed upright the rest of the way home.
100 days. His thoughts were in much the same place when they pulled back up to the school. He knew, on some level, that if he ever managed to tell anyone, they’d all give him the same advice. “You should just tell Daichi-san how you feel!” But it wasn’t that easy.
Right now, he had 100 days. Tomorrow he would have 99. The day after, 98. That was a countdown, but it was also a guarantee—sure and reliable as the setting and rising of the sun. 100 days with Daichi. If he told the other boy how he felt...well, maybe—maybe—he could stretch out those days. Maybe he’d get an extra Christmas, another summer, some stretch of time beyond that he couldn’t dare to conceive of for fear of the much more likely truth, which was waking up and having far fewer days than he had planned on. 100 days wasn’t much. But it was certain. If he told his best friend that he had been in love with him for almost three years, he couldn’t even guarantee that tomorrow would be 99 days anymore. Could he really handle finding out he’d already spent his last day without knowing?
“I think I know why you’re upset.” They had barely waved goodbye to all the others and gathered up their bags, turning in their respective directions and setting foot into the warm, breezy night before Daichi spoke up.
“I’m not upset,” Suga responded placidly, more out of habit than anything.
“Don’t insult me!” Daichi punched him lightly on the shoulder, with a smile that was equal parts offended and affectionate. Suga rubbed the spot melodramatically, laughing as he put on a wounded expression.
“Daichan, please, have mercy! You’re scaring me!”
“I’m your captain! You’ll show the proper respect!” Daichi was using the same scary face he put on whenever he was making fun of Kageyama at practice breaks, the one that always made Suga laugh until his stomach hurt. He liked to believe that’s why Daichi kept doing it.
“Apologies, senpai! I didn’t mean to dishonor the great name of Sawamura Daichi, the great Captain of Crows!”
Daichi puffed his chest and grinned broadly, playacting the part of the swaggering captain in a way that somehow managed to remind Suga of all of their colorful rivals at once. The act only lasted a brief instant before both boys fell to giggling uncontrollably, leaning on each other for support as they caught their breath and wiped away tears. Sugawara continued to let his head rest on Daichi’s powerful shoulder as they walked on, feeling a warm glow in his chest. I can’t give this up, he realized. It’s not worth the risk. He needed to wake up tomorrow and know he had all 99 days left. Besides, Daichi deserved to finish out this season with his best friend. He didn’t need to deal with Suga’s selfish feelings or whatever awkwardness might come after. And he had an important responsibility. The team needed Daichi, and Daichi needed him. It would have to be enough.
“It’s me, isn’t it?” Daichi broke the peaceful silence.
“Hwa—?!” Suga jumped straight up, startled beyond belief as his heart jackhammered wildly. He knew?!
“And Asahi!” Daichi clarified, waving his hands nervously to clear what he assumed was a misunderstanding. “We’re both out on the court, fighting for our dream, but...it was supposed to be all three of us. That’s why you’re upset.”
Sugawara smiled, a deep bittersweet sigh escaping his lungs. He felt equal parts relieved and disappointed—but of course that’s what Daichi would think, wasn’t it?
“Mm. You’re right,” he admitted, settling for the convenient half-truth. “But I don’t regret anything. The team deserves to be the best it can be. Kageyama is the right choice to give you and Asahi and everyone else what they’ve worked so hard for. And that’s what I want for you!” He pumped his fist in determination but could feel the tears stinging his eyes again.
Daichi’s eyes seemed to be watering too, no doubt moved by the display of support. He clapped a hand firmly on Suga’s shoulder and met his eyes with a certainty that made him shiver again.
“It is what we deserve,” the captain agreed with a hard nod. “All of us! And that includes you, Suga-kun! The season isn’t over yet. We haven’t played our last game!”
Suga placed a hand on top of Daichi’s and smiled softly.
“You haven’t played your last game, Daichan. I think you’re going to go all the way to Nationals! But I probably have.”
“You don’t know that—“
“No, it’s true. The further we go, the more important it gets, right? Every time Karasuno wins a set, it becomes more and more vital to keep Kageyama on the court. I might hit a chance serve or two if things get shaky, but the truth is, Captain...I probably played my last real game sometime last year, without knowing it.”
He realized suddenly that the world was blurry, and his hair was in his face. He was almost doubled over, clutching the stomach of his t shirt, tears welling up that he couldn’t manage to stop anymore.
“I just...I wish I’d known then...so I could...I thought I had more time,” he managed through the sobs. “I thought I had more time.”
He took a deep, wracking breath to steady himself, and the air he breathed in smelled like Daichi, and the arms wrapped around his waist were Daichi’s arms, and the chest his face was suddenly buried in was Daichi’s chest, and the fingers in his hair were Daichi’s fingers, and Sugawara thought it was all just more than he could possibly take. He cried and cried, horrible shuddering sobs that ripped up his lungs and pulled his abs inside out. Daichi said nothing, just held him, and waited. When Suga felt the ground beneath his feet again, and his breathing started slowing to even, labored pants between shaky gasps, Daichi finally spoke.
“Koushi...is this still about volleyball?” He kept the other boy firmly wrapped up in his embrace, not forcing Suga to meet his eyes just yet, which he was grateful for.
“No,” Sugawara whispered. “It’s not.” He laid his head against Daichi’s chest and listened to the steady heartbeats against the silence of the universe.
“Then...what is it about?”
“You,” he managed, his voice barely audible.
The heartbeat skipped.
“...and the rest of the team?”
Suga shook his head.
“Not really. Just you.”
He might not have been imagining the way the heartbeat sped up in that moment, but he didn’t have any more room in his hollowed-out chest for something that felt like hope. For just a second, Daichi’s grip tightened, then tentatively loosened just enough to allow Suga to pull back if he wanted. He didn’t.
“What…” Daichi hesitated, testing the waters. “What did I do wrong?”
Suga thought he might cry again, but instead he just shook his head and laughed softly.
“Hah?!” It was Daichi’s turn to be utterly taken aback. Suga let the embrace fall and stepped back, daring to look up at the other boy just in case it was the last chance he got. He felt the corners of his mouth betray him.
“You smiled at me, the first time I saw you. And that was all it took. I never stood a chance. But it’s okay!” He held up his hands reassuringly. “You’re my best friend, Sawamura-kun, I don’t expect anything. I just want you to have a nice final year and—“
“The first time?” Daichi looked at him with wonderment, his eyebrows knit together in that same way he had whenever he was snapping all the pieces of a great play together in his mind. “The very first time? That long?”
“Yeah,” Suga admitted with a helpless shrug. “And...probably for a long time still. I’m sorry, I—“
Before he knew what was happening, Daichi closed the gap between them and pulled him into a deep, firm kiss, strong arms steady against his back as Suga’s eyes fluttered shut.
And for the first time in his life, Sugawara Koushi felt time stop.