From day one, Yamaguchi Tadashi knew that there was something strange about the Karasuno boys' volleyball team.
The thing about it was, he wasn't quite sure how to explain his apprehension to anyone, even Tsukishima. All of the upperclassmen greeted the first years with a smile (well, after Hinata and Kageyama were finished fighting) at their first practice, and he was more than grateful to have accepting, if a little strange teammates.
Even Sugawara, who he saw as motherly and kind, had a dark look in their eyes. In fact, everyone did. Asahi was like a predator when he jumped for the ball, he seemed unstoppable. Nishinoya was vicious, and Yamaguchi felt like he was watching a beast when he dove for the ball. Tanaka and Daichi had nothing short of bloodlust when they spiked. He thought he was imagining it at first, but Narita and Kinoshita shared this look, even during practices. He even felt it when he was benched beside him. It wasn't as obvious with Ennoshita, who always looked tired, with that sheepish smile of his. However, his receives weren't just lightning-quick to keep the ball in play, something seemed off about his posture, and even more so the way he took a tiny two-step after recovering. There was a flash of something, something he couldn't quite place. It wasn't as evident as it was with more intense players like Tanaka and Asahi, but it was there. Everyone had it. Everyone: except the first years.
He tried to write it off as his own silliness and paranoia. Maybe there was just something about serious seasoned players of volleyball that he didn't understand.
Of course, it could be anything like that. There was no reason to suspect otherwise. He wanted to ask Tsukishima about it, maybe he had seen something too, but he also didn't want to bother his fellow classmate. After all, he had no evidence. They hadn't done anything out of the ordinary. They were just playing volleyball. They went to practice, trained on the weekends, engaged in practice matches. There was nothing out of the ordinary.
That was, until one of their matches with another school.
Yamaguchi was impressed by the size of the gym, and the court they played on for their practice matches. A student from the other school seemed to be picking a fight with Kageyama. He knew Kageyama to be intimidating himself, but for the most part, the guy seemed harmless. A genius, perhaps, and a skilled player, definitely. Kageyama Tobio could be called a monster on the court, but he didn't scare Yamaguchi the way the upperclassmen did. Kageyama had a fire and intensity to him when he played, but he didn't have the bloodlust of Daichi and Tanaka, or the ferocious tenacity of Nishinoya.
He didn't fully catch his name, but the kid from the other school was also a first-year. Kindaichi, was it? Apparently, he had gone to Kageyama's middle school. There was definitely a grudge between them, enough that Hinata had to jump in and defend Kageyama at one point, and insist that they all got back to playing. The teams divided into two groups, and Yamaguchi was in the opposite group, who would be playing another practice match on the other side of the gym, so he wasn't able to catch the entire conversation. Eventually Tanaka intervened, and they played their game as per usual. After a while, the second group broke up to watch the practice match at length, since they were keeping up a fierce volley, and Yamaguchi wondered how long it had been since either team scored a point. Nishinoya kept the ball from ever touching the ground on their side of the net, at one point even diving into Daichi to do so. Tanaka called them both idiots for it, and while they very nearly erupted into an argument of their own, the group managed to keep up the ball.
That was, until Kageyama had the ball. It left his hands in a perfect arc, right to the waiting palm of Asahi, who slammed the spike down perfectly.
In the locker room after their match, Sugawara pulled Kageyama aside. Yamaguchi didn't think much of them leaving together, except that Kageyama left all of his belongings, including his still-half-unpacked workout bag. Hinata noticed as well, scooping up the bag and Kageyama's water bottle. He nearly rushed out of the room, yelling after him about the forgotten belongings, but was completely clotheslined by Tanaka at the door, and all of them laughed about Hinata being a klutz, but Daichi chimed in suddenly, his tone flat and ominous that Hinata had better stay here until Kageyama returned with Sugawara, rather than go after him.
After that day, Kageyama didn't seem quite the same. A few days later, they caught news that Kindaichi had gone missing, and there were no leads on his disappearance. Yamaguchi expected a bigger reaction from his classmate at the news, but Kageyama just shrugged. He turned and walked back into the gym, leaving him alone in the hallway with Hinata and Tsukishima, until Hinata practically jumped after him again, yammering on about volleyball in a language of sound effects and dramatic arm movements he doubted that even Kageyama understood.
Kageyama's movements were more fluid now. They were faster, more elegant, and more vicious, but at the same time, he was better at keeping his composure. Yamaguchi wanted to say something to Tsukishima about it, but if he noticed, he didn't say anything about it. Then again, Tsukki never said much about anything. He definitely noticed it; Tsukki was the sort of person who saw everything. He was cold, calculating, and aware of everything happening on the court at once. He could notice a tiny movement that changed an entire play, but he wasn't sure how to bring it up to him.
Things remained that way, until the inter-high.
As per usual, Hinata had horrible luck in the bathrooms at the inter-high. A few kids from another school started berating him after Hinata had exuberantly declared they were going to win and go to the finals. Hinata didn't back down, and a fistfight nearly erupted before Daichi swooped in to interrupt, and Sugawara ushered them away with a calm smile followed by the briefest flash of a glare.
In spite of their best efforts, they were eliminated in the third round, but it was at the inter-high that Hinata became a power player. He jumped higher and spiked harder, his face drenched with sweat. Yamaguchi was proud to be switched in for even a few moments, but his failed serve was crushing. It was hot and terrifying standing beside everyone on this side of the line. It was like they weren't human anymore, but a pack of crows, dark eyes and claws and feathers flying through the air, ready to swarm down upon their prey. It was in that moment that he knew he truly didn't belong.
He wasn't one of them. Even Sugawara, who often sat beside him on the bench, reassuring him and pushing him forward, was one of them. Hinata and Tsukishima were the only ones who weren't. Though the two of them were intense, they never seemed inhuman; determined to win, but they never seemed like they'd kill for it. They didn't have a desire to crush their opponents, to obliterate anything standing in their way, taking everything head-on. Tsukki played volleyball with a cold indifference, rather than a blazing passion. He was disinterested, but attentive. Hinata, on the other hand, willingly placed himself in the middle of the fray. Hinata was daring, bold, and flashy. He wasn't vicious, just playful and easily excited. He shone brightly, instead of becoming a shadow that loomed over the net like his fellow teammates. Of course, Tsukki would say that was due to him being short, but it wasn't that. Even Nishinoya, who was even shorter and just as loud and agile as Hinata carried himself with a confidence that felt almost morbid to Yamaguchi. The thought of it made him shudder.
In their final match, Hinata perfected his quick-strike. He jumped higher, moved faster, and was more adaptable than ever. He wasn't going to back down, and the fire in his eyes grew. Despite their loss, Hinata was actually fired up. He was also the first to cry at their loss.
When they were packing up, everyone was somber. Yamaguchi blamed himself for his failure as a pinch server. He could have tipped the scales, but he just wasn't good enough yet. He hadn't perfected his serve; no, he wasn't all power and determination like the rest of the team was. When he thought about it, he was more scared to be on the court with his teammates than he would be in the fray of their opponents. Sugawara rubbed his back and mumbled reassurances to him, but they left before saying much of anything when Daichi called them over. A few of their teammates were murmuring amongst themselves when Tsukishima excused himself, and Kageyama and Hinata wandered off outside.
He sighed to himself. Come on, Tadashi, pull yourself together. Calm down. Maybe some fresh air will do you some good. He sighed, zipping up his jacket. A quick walk was in order. Once his nerves were calm, he'd go looking for Tsukishima.
The air was brisk and he could hear the leaves rustling on a light breeze as he let the door to the gym swing shut behind him. He tried to smile to himself, even though he didn't feel like smiling. It was a beautiful day, but he felt miserable. He blamed himself for not being useful. He blamed himself for not keeping team morale up. Everyone else had to pick up his slack. He kicked a pebble, watching it roll down the walkway, skipping against the concrete until it rolled to a stop. He followed after it, kicking it again, feeling almost guilty for taking out his frustration on an inanimate object. At least it wasn't a person, but no one deserved the brunt of his anger. He went after it again, kicking it hard, hard enough that it bounced away and fell into the grass on the other side of the walkway.
He was a ways away from the gym now, near some other building he didn't quite recognize. He leaned against the brick wall, listening to the breeze and his own breath.
"Are you sure? It looks kind of gross."
It was Hinata's voice.
"Stop staring at it and just eat it," Kageyama's voice scolded, and Yamaguchi glanced up, peering around the corner.
Hinata was leaning against the wall, and Kageyama's hand was dripping red, holding some sort of squishy, ovalesque thing, that he was shoving into Hinata's hands. The smaller boy had a look of mild disgust stretched across his face, but took the offending item regardless. It dripped all over Hinata's hands as well, an opaque red fluid falling from his fingers and onto the grass by his sneakers.
Was that blood...?
"It smells gross too! But I am really hungry..." Hinata grumbled, but Kageyama leaned in closer, and whispered something to his teammate. His hand reached up to touch Hinata's cheek, trailing down it, leaving smeared lines of red where his fingers graced his skin.
"I'll eat it with you, then." Kageyama murmured. "But then you have to have the rest."
Hinata whined, but the noise his stomach made was even louder, and he nodded.
There was a squelching noise as they both bit into it, and Yamaguchi's stomach dropped. It was like raw meat, but it was dark and bloody. He whirled around, determined to make his escape before either of the pair noticed him. He took two steps and promptly crashed into none other than Tsukishima.
"Tsukki!" he half-gasped, half yelped in surprise.
Tsukishima just raised an eyebrow. Yamaguchi didn't doubt he looked frazzled, white as a sheet with only the freckles on his cheeks to punctuate how pale he looked from his surprise and horror.
"Tsukki! I um. Walk back to the gym with me, please?" he begged, determined to get away from the weird bloody-object-eating scene behind him. What the hell were they eating?
The blond only nodded, pushing his glasses up on the bridge of his nose idly, and Yamaguchi let out a small sigh of relief. He wasn't sure what they would have done had they seen him, but he felt safer with Tsukishima by his side. Hinata could probably kick the crap out of him if he tried, Kageyama, too, but Tsukishima was definitely tougher than Hinata, at least.
"Tsukki, can I talk to you? I mean um. Don't you think our teammates are sort of weird?" He was stumbling over his words, and Tsukishima shrugged, stuffing his hands inside the pockets of his jacket. "I mean! Um. I just caught Hinata and Kageyama doing something weird. They were eating something that was all gross and bloody. And I don't mean with chopsticks or forks or anything! With their hands. I don't know. I'm sort of..." he cut himself off. He was rambling, and the whole thing probably sounded ludicrous. It was ludicrous.
"Yamaguchi." His voice was flat, even. "I don't doubt that our teammates are strange. In fact, many of our third years give me the chills. Hinata, on the other hand, doesn't." What he was saying made sense. He was right, after all. "Furthermore, Hinata and Kageyama are completely smitten with one another. I'm not calling you a liar, but I'm willing to bet they're just making out back there."
Yamaguchi sighed. Yeah, they probably were. He was very nearly traumatized by his failure earlier that same day. Tsukishima was right. There was nothing to worry about. Everything was fine. He was probably just seeing things. "Heh, you're right, Tsukki! I'm probably just being paranoid, that's all!"
But that wasn't all.
Weeks passed, and the brightness that had been Hinata was no longer the same. News reached the school that the team who had threatened Hinata dropped out of the inter-high. One of their team members suddenly went missing, and the city was conducting a desperate search, but rumours were that he was merely a runaway. Yamaguchi was certain it had something to do with his teammates.
Specifically Hinata. After the inter-high, he was as fierce and flashy as ever, but something about him likened him to the rest of the team now. He jumped higher, yelled louder, and at the split second before he hit the ball, Yamaguchi could swear that his eyes went dark.
Maybe he had been right. Whatever he saw, it was different. It was dark. He didn't really want to know what the rest of the team was anymore, and he secluded himself, talking mostly only to Tsukishima, who he trusted and always felt safe beside. Tsukki wouldn't let them hurt him. After all, they had never seen any of them hurt anyone, really. He didn't have real evidence that there was any foul play going on in the slightest. He just couldn't shake it off.
He kept up his practicing, and even at training camp he felt unable to breathe. His group was led by Sugawara, whose eyes always went dark when they tossed the ball, calmly and diabolically disassembling their opponent’s tactics with unpredictable strategy and skill. Whenever Yamaguchi had the chance, he'd watch Tsukishima in the other group, cheering him on as best he could.
Tsukishima wasn't incapable of detecting the atmosphere. He knew Tsukishima knew there was something off about the rest of the team, and now it felt like he was the only one on the court who wasn't engulfed by the white-hot intensity of the Karasuno volleyball team. At training camp, he was like a beacon of cold collection, always analyzing, but playing and pushing against his opponents with vague indifference. It actually made Yamaguchi mad. Tsukki had everything. He had height, power, and ability. Why didn't he care? Why didn't he bother to try? He was standing toe to toe with people who could probably be monsters or serial killers or something, and he wasn't even trying to improve?
They lost time and time again, and it was obvious that they were the weakest school present at the training camp. None of his teammates lost hope, all of them constantly pushing forward. They yelled at each other and practically skipped as they ran laps for punishment games, and Yamaguchi slowed to a walk, letting even Hinata pass him, who was yelling something incoherent to Inuoka of the Nekoma team and someone else up ahead. Despite their sinister air, he noted that they didn't seem to bear any ill will towards the opposing teams. In fact, now that he thought about it, if somehow they were involved in the disappearances of the players from the practice match and the inter high, the people who went missing were those who either broke rules or went out of their way to be poor sportsmen. He found something comforting in the thought that they preferred to dominate strictly on the court through volleyball alone, rather than more unorthodox means.
Tsukishima eventually left him alone in the evenings, to practice his blocking with some members of the other teams. He was glad to see him finally making a solid effort, even if it was only for his own inability to decide what he wanted. Whatever the reason, something had finally come over him and given him the drive to improve as a player. It was on one of those nights that Yamaguchi lost him to them as well.
He was curled up beside Tsukishima, whose glasses lay tucked to the side, by their phones. He had an arm slung over Yamaguchi, his face serene in sleep. Yamaguchi noted how he looked so harmless in that state, and snuggled up closer to him. It was just the two of them, now. They were safe with one another, and even if Tsukishima didn't feel threatened by the rest of their teammates, his friend was determined to protect him. He dozed off for a time, but woke to a voice. Sugawara's voice. They were whispering and nudging Tsukishima's arm, and Yamaguchi realized that they were trying to wake Tsukishima without disturbing him.
He watched through half-lidded eyes as Tsukishima stirred, whispered something back to Sugawara, and slid his way out from under Yamaguchi's arm, before grabbing his glasses and leaving with the setter. They were careful not to turn on any lights or make much noise, and Yamaguchi held his breath, waiting for them to leave before springing up and checking the nearest phone. It was Tsukki's, but he didn't care, he knew the passcode. He typed it in quickly, and the screen came to life. 3:31 AM, it read. He stuffed it into his pocket and stepped into his sneakers, not bothering to dig around in the dark for socks, and crept out after them. He noticed the two of them heading outside, towards the woods.
The moon shone brightly overhead, illuminating the landscape with a bright blue hue, and the moonlight passed through the leaves and pooled in the landscape, covering the forest floor with flecks of pale light. Tsukishima seemed hesitant about following Sugawara, and stopped occasionally. He'd glance behind him, and Yamaguchi would have to duck behind a tree. Tsukishima definitely knew he was there. He felt his heart nearly stop when Tsukishima glanced behind him, and their eyes met.
Sugawara didn't seem to notice, but Tsukishima tilted his head and made a "go, get out of here," motion with his hands, but Yamaguchi just ducked a little lower, shaking his head no. No, he had to save him. He didn't know what he'd do, but he'd think of something. He hung back for as long as he could, until he was sure they wouldn't see him. Each step he took he was careful not to step on dry leaves or twigs, careful to stay in the grass and avoid rocks or dirt that could be noisy if he accidentally kicked something.
There was a rustling in the clearing ahead of him, and he could see dark, purple eyes through the darkness ahead of him, masses of feathers and voices that sounded nearly inhuman, but strangely familiar, that he couldn't make out. At the center of the clearing sat Tsukishima on his knees, hands dark with something, and he was talking to someone who sounded eerily like their captain. There was a rustling of something that sounded like feathers.
"Disgusting," Tsukishima murmured, and Yamaguchi crept closer, trying to see his face in the pale moonlight. He wanted to run in there and grab him, try to rescue him, but he didn't know what to do. He sank down in the dirt behind an especially thick bush, peering through the foliage. There was someone, some thing behind him, and Daichi looked unlike himself, his eyes dark--not dark as though he were sad or tired, but as though he had no scleras to speak of, and his entire eye was just black.
"Don't be ungrateful--" Daichi began, but Sugawara put up a hand in front of him.
"The whole thing," Sugawara interrupted, putting a hand between them. Their eyes looked the same, and the shadows behind them didn't quite make sense.
"Just finish it already!" Hinata's voice taunted from somewhere nearby. Was he sitting in a tree? He sounded like he was above Yamaguchi. He sucked in a breath, holding it.
"Shut up, I wanna see!" Answered Nishinoya, who sounded like he was somewhere behind Daichi.
"Don't tell people to shut up when you're yelling too," Asahi chimed in.
Sugawara ignored them, turning instead to Tsukishima and knelt beside him, pulling off Tsukishima's shirt. 'You'll want to bite down, or you'll scream." They warned quietly, and placed their hands across Tsuki's back. His pale skin shone in the moonlight as he leaned forward and let Sugawara press against him. Fingers pressed against the skin and delved into it, and Yamaguchi heard a sharp, painful gasp escape Tsukki's lips. He groaned in pain, fighting back the urge to scream, and Yamaguchi couldn't believe his eyes.
Sugawara's hands were inside Tsukishima's back. Suga's hands were underneath his skin. Inside. His. Back. His fingers created a rough raised outline of his hands, visible through the skin.
Yamaguchi wanted to run, but he stayed, staring, rooted to the spot in fear. His feet felt like they had been strapped to cinder blocks, as if everything was moving in slow motion. Maybe it was. His stomach turned over and his face went cold, he wondered if he was going to heave up his dinner right then and there.
Sugawara pulled his hands up and outwards, away from Tsukishima's body, and the blond fell forward, gripping his shoulders, crying out in pain as something dark and bloody emerged from his back in Sugawara's hands. Whatever it was, it was huge, and Sugawara's arms were already over their head as blood dripped down their thin hands and forearms as they tore the huge black mass outwards and upwards.
That was it. Yamaguchi couldn't watch anymore. He took in a long, slow breath and turned, forcing himself to get up, to run, to get out of there as fast as his feet could carry him. He ran and ran, until his throat hurt from the heavy breathing and his legs were sore, until he made it back to the room he and Tsukishima had shared, and climbed into the bed, shoes and all, willing himself to fall back asleep, repeating to himself over and over that this was just a dream, just one horrible nightmare.
No one asked Yamaguchi about that night, a fact for which he was grateful. He prayed that Tsukishima hadn't told anyone, and that no one else had noticed him. The truly horrifying fact for Yamaguchi, though, was that he knew now that he was utterly alone. Whatever horrible things they did to Tsukishima, he wasn't telling him. In fact, he acted like nothing was wrong, and nothing had changed. Yamaguchi tried to deny to himself that anything had happened at first, but he saw the difference.
To most, Tsukishima was hard to read, but not to him. The blond was the sort of person who used his lack of emotiveness, or as Hinata had once called it, "chronic bitchface," to his advantage. He watched everything and took in every little detail of his surroundings, then decided how to use a situation to his advantage. He was cold, quiet, and determined, but he had changed. It was evident at practice. He jumped higher, blocked harder, and at the very moment just as he reached the height of his jump, Yamaguchi could have sworn his eyes went dark, just as he had seen with the others. There were other things about Tsukishima he noticed that were different. At first, he simply stopped eating lunch with Yamaguchi, deciding instead to go out with Hinata, and that was when the bullies moved in. When Tsukishima was near, no one even thought twice about Yamaguchi. He was awkward, alone, and covered in freckles.
Without Tsukishima's otherwise-terrifying presence, he may as well have been wearing a shirt that read "I won't fight back, feel free to make my life hell." His friend still walked him home and made small talk with him normally, but the brunet was more on edge around him than ever.
On a warm Tuesday on their walk home from school, Yamaguchi finally decided to speak up. "Um, Tsukki?"
The blond regarded him with a small nod, and he knew he was listening.
"I have a weird question." he hesitated. He really wanted to ask What are you? What happened to you? Are you okay? He wanted to tell him he was sorry for running away, sorry he couldn't save him. He turned and ran when he should have jumped in and thrown Sugawara and Daichi off of him, grabbed his hand, and ran. Should have. Could he have? "Do you think... I should be afraid of the other members of the volleyball club?"
Tsukishima glanced at him, then looked away. He watched a leaf fall in front of them, and shifted his bag up a little higher on his shoulder. "You're not a rotten person. So no."
"But I'm not a great player or a strong person," his companion mumbled, picking at his cuticles nervously. "You know. You--"
"I what?" The megane asked coldly.
"You. Um. Nothing." No, he wasn't going to just give up here. "No, what I meant was, you know what they're like! I'm more afraid of my teammates than I am of the kids who come harass me and steal my stuff at lunch!"
The taller boy pushed his glasses further up on his face and let out a loud breath. "Don't be. If someone is bullying you, they're truly a rotten person. The volleyball team is full of idiots. They're not rotten. Neither are you."
That was all Tsukishima was willing to say on the matter. He pried at him for the rest of their walk home, but refused to say anything else. Defeated, Yamaguchi finally sighed and dropped the subject, and they walked in silence until they finally parted ways.
Within a few days, his bullies started vanishing altogether. Rather than comforting Yamaguchi, it made him all the more nervous. He didn't want to stop going to practices, either. Maybe they'd catch on and come after him. No, he had to keep up appearances. He was scared and alone, always stealing glances over his shoulder wherever he walked, paranoia following him like his own personal raincloud.
He tried to act normal, not to seem jumpy or easily startled, but the truth of the matter was, anytime even one of his teammates was near, his hair stood on end. Even Tsukishima made him feel uncomfortable. He felt so utterly alone. At practice, he'd hit serve after serve to Nishinoya, more to help the team's libero practice at his receives than working on his own serves. Regardless, he put his all into it. He felt a small spark of victory in his chest anytime he managed to get a serve past the tenacious libero, and was genuinely surprised to hear his senpai congratulating him whenever he couldn't hit Yamaguchi's serve.
He allowed himself a smile that day as he was leaving practice, but when he packed up his clothes and had changed back into his regular sneakers, he couldn't find Tsukishima anywhere. He considered leaving alone, since he had walked home a few times by himself in the past few weeks, but now that all his bullies but one had somehow stopped approaching him altogether, it was lonelier than ever. He wandered around outside the gym, looking for his companion. There was a loud shuffling coming from one of the old supply sheds, where several of the other sports teams stored their extra equipment. There didn't seem to be anyone around, but he wasn't quite sure. He doubted Tsukki would be hiding out in a place like this, but maybe it was someone who needed a bit of extra help with their supplies? The shed wasn't locked, so he slid the door open carefully, but it made a painfully loud creak.
There weren't any lights in the shed, so the sunlight behind Yamaguchi cut through the darkness like a knife, sending beams of sunlight down upon black feathers and wings as tall as he was, revealing five creatures hunched over a pile of meat and bones that had once been a human body. The head was still intact beside Yamaguchi's feet, the familiar face of one of his tormentors screwed up in eternal horror. His breath left him, and he stared, unable to decide whether he should stay or run. All of the creatures had clawed hands, drenched in the blood of their victim. The smallest one gazed at him wide-eyed, eyes lacking sclera or irises, just eerie black orbs, as it clenched a bit of intestine that oozed its contents onto the floor between its claws, with each drop making a wet plop. Black feathers traced down the sides of the creature's face and neck, punctuating the massive wings that burst from his back. Yamaguchi barely recognized him except for the bright orange mussy hair.
A larger one, with dark hair and pale skin, across from him hissed his distaste at their discovery, blood and half of the remains of what had once been an arm hanging loosely from his hand and out of the side of his mouth, which the smaller one dropped the intestine to nip at, nearly on the mangled corpse that was their dinner, burying a claw inside the broken ribcage, sending a spray of blood with a loud squelch (and a crunch as a few of the remaining intact bones snapped) at the human's face. The smell was overwhelming everything reeked of rust and raw meat and vomit all wrapped together. It didn't help that a mixture of it was now splattered across his face and shirt, either.
Yamaguchi stepped back with a gasp, unable to stop staring, but it wasn't the two bickering ones, nor the two sheepish-looking ones sharing the fingers of a hand beside them that terrified him, but the creature at the back. His claws were drenched with blood, in his hand lay the half-eaten human heart. It had been eating calmly, delicately ripping the soft organ apart with his teeth, but stopped when his eyes fell on the brunet. His wings were spread out behind him, dark feathers and empty eyes behind familiar sports glasses and short, blond hair. When their eyes met, it made his heart stop.
He wanted to scream, but all of the air left his lungs simultaneously. He felt like he was going to throw up, and he felt it rush up to his throat, but he swallowed it back down, taking a step back. His world spun, and he wasn't sure when or how he fell, but he was certain everything went sideways before one of them bounded forward.
"Oh shit, it's Yamaguchi!"
"Congratulations, you can recognize faces. Do you want a prize for it, shorty?"
"Is he dead?"
Yamaguchi opened his eyes to find himself staring at the ceiling of the gymnasium. He was laying on his back, with the concerned face of Daichi hunched over him. A damp cloth had been draped over his forehead, and he realized he was lying on the floor. He sat up slowly, and the captain reached out a hand to steady him.
"Tadashi, are you okay? You took a really nasty fall there."
"H-huh?" Fall? What fall? He didn't remember falling. Oh wait, outside, in the extra supply shed. Those bird-monsters. But how did I get back inside? he wondered.
"You were pegged in the side of the head by one of Asahi's spikes," Daichi explained, helping him to his feet slowly. A distant "Sorry!" echoed across from the other side of the gym, no doubt from Asahi himself, and Tadashi's mind flooded with confusion. "You were out for nearly two minutes. Tanaka almost called for an ambulance."
"I'm fine, I think I'm okay," he murmured, dusting himself off. The blood on his shirt was gone--actually, this was a different shirt than he remembered wearing to practice entirely.
So was it just a dream? No, he wouldn't dream something like that. He saw them. He knew he saw them. Narita, Ennoshita, Kageyama, Hinata... and Tsukki. They killed someone! They killed one of his classmates and turned into monsters and ATE the corpse! No, it was crazy. It sounded crazy and he knew it. There was no getting help for this, no way to get out. He was trapped in his own personal nightmare now.
At first he felt like he was being left behind, but as time passed, he instead felt like he was alone in a den of monsters. Monsters, that while they had no interest in hurting him, made him beyond terrified. If they had any intention of killing him, he was certain they would have pounced on him and eaten him alive that day in the supply shed behind the gym. All of that, and no one seemed to act like anything was out of the ordinary. If nothing was out of the ordinary, then he certainly was going crazy. Paranoia had long since set in, and he was fully aware of it now. He jumped and rushed ahead a few paces anytime someone approached him from behind, and bristled with fear whenever someone turned their attention to him, even if it was just to ask for help on homework or to toss the volleyball their way for practice.
And practice he did. Somehow he hoped deep in his gut that if he practiced hard enough, he could show them he was strong. He could show them he wasn't afraid of them, even if, in all honesty, he was terrified. You're not a rotten person, Tadashi. He thought. You're alive!
They were invited to one last practice match against Nekoma before the tournament, and Yamaguchi considered turning down the invitation and letting the rest of the team go without him. Considered, but somehow he still found himself on the bus with his teammates, and filing into the gym at Nekoma High School, determined to get one more shot at a chance to play, even if he was just a pinch server.
Late in the first set, they were losing by only three points, when they pulled him into the game. He hadn't been expecting to play, and even as he stepped forward, switching out with Hinata, his stomach dropped and his breath was caught in his throat. It was hotter on the court, and everyone's eyes bore down on him. When playing volleyball, you watch the ball, the other players, everything. But at the moment of a serve, all eyes are on the server. The ball in his hands felt heavy, and he wondered when he had started sweating enough to see a drop slide from his nose and fall upon the ball in his hands.
Before him, were his teammates, beasts in human skin relying on him. Though now they had no wings or claws or fangs, they were just as ominous as ever, as driven as predators to seize the ball. If he could just make this serve, they'd dive upon their opponents. On the court, they would show no mercy, but they respected their the other team. He realized then that he was holding their chain. He could release them upon the world. He was the only one they were looking to, not because he was prey, but because he was an ally.
They feast upon the rotten. You don't need to worry about Nekoma's safety, Tadashi. He reminded himself.
Nekoma's not rotten, either. Your teammates protected you in their own twisted way. You're their family, and crows protect their family.
He drew in a breath, and released the ball, watching it as it flew to the other side of the court. Time stopped as it reached the peak of its arc, and he drew in a breath, praying that it would be in. It slammed down on the floor on the opposite side of the net before the team's libero could slide in to receive it.
I may not be strong like them, but I unleash this flock of crows!
They won the set, but lost the game. Regardless, spirits were high when they left the locker room that evening. Hinata, Nishinoya, and Tanaka were yelling about food as they shoved over each other to get outside, but when they reached the edge of the parking lot, their bus hadn't arrived yet. Coach Ukai muttered something about traffic and pulled out his phone, shooing everyone off to find something to do until they could get their ride situation sorted out.
Yamaguchi set down his bag with a few of the others, opting to sit on a grassy hill that oversaw the parking lot behind the gym. The sun was just beginning to dip beneath the edge of the horizon, splashing the landscape with oranges and yellows. Tsukishima sat beside him, resting his elbows on his knees, and Yamaguchi instinctively leaned against the taller boy's shoulder.
The wind blew, sending his bangs waving across his face, and he brushed them away idly, wrapping his arm around his companion's.
"Nice serve," Tsukishima said coldly, but Yamaguchi knew he meant the compliment genuinely.
"Thanks. It's the least I can do." He lifted his head a little, smiling sheepishly. "You were awesome out there too, Tsukki."
"Don't make this about me. You should be proud of yourself. You've gotten stronger. Strong enough."
Yamaguchi blinked, but then his stomach growled, ruining the moment. He laughed nervously, settling back in beside him. "Not really. I'm happy I just got to play."
Tsukishima raised an eyebrow. "Is that why you didn't quit?"
"You didn't quit the team. After following me into the woods. After seeing us feed on a human. You didn't leave. You never ran away." Tsukishima's voice was even, his eyebrows furrowed. He was watching him, gauging his reaction.
"I was scared, at first. I still kind of am. But I keep reminding myself of what you said about me not being rotten."
"You're part of the murder, of course you're strong," Daichi interrupted, and the freckled first year turned to see the rest of his teammates standing behind them. They really looked like a horde of crows, standing over the two of them in the fading sunlight.
He stood, with Tsukishima beside him, dusting himself off. "The murder?"
"A flock of crows is called a murder," the blond explained.
"A murder of crows," Yamaguchi whispered, shrinking back a little. He let his foot slide back, ready to run, to flee with all of his strength if he had to, but Tsukishima intercepted him, grabbing his wrist. He stared down at it, and it dawned on him that he was next.
Are they going to kill me? No, they just told me I was part of their group! But Tsukki. Tsukki would never hurt me!
"You're hungry, right?" It was Sugawara, who they parted to allow to approach, signature soft smile spread across their face. In their hands was something reddish brown, dripping. They handed it to Yamaguchi, who stared at the object in horror. It was a little bigger than Tsukishima's fist, large enough to sit in both of Yamaguchi's cupped hands.
It was a human heart.
His stomach dropped, but Sugawara was somehow right. He didn't just feel hungry, he was ravenous, but this was disgusting! He couldn't eat a heart!
Tsukishima loosened his grip on his arm, turning to him. He imagined that to his friend, it probably looked delicious. He thought of the way he had looked in the shed, holding the half-eaten heart, mouth dripping with blood, those cool brown eyes he always found solace in nothing but completely black orbs. Tsukki threw up a hand, as if to tell them not to come closer, and turned his attention solely to his friend.
"I can't," he whispered.
"You can," Kei whispered back, placing a hand beneath his, the blood dripping between both of their fingers falling to the ground in thick drops.
"No, no! I can't!" he insisted, his voice quivering, but Tsukishima took his chin between his thumb and forefinger of his free hand, pulling it upwards slightly so their eyes met.
"Close your eyes and take a bite. I'll bite it too, if you want. We'll eat it together."
Yamaguchi swallowed, raising the offending organ to his lips slowly. He tried to imagine that it was an apple, or just some gross prank-food Tanaka had made, and took a bite.
It tasted like beef, but it was slightly sweeter, and maybe tangier. It was softer than pork or chicken, and the soft flesh tore away easily between his teeth. He willed himself to take another bite, then another. There was less blood than he expected, mostly because bleeding mostly was a result of blood flowing past a wound, and the blood dripping into his mouth and hands and down his forearms was just what was left inside.
He raised his head, offering it to Tsukishima, who leaned in and took a small bite, wiping the blood on the back of his palm.
"Take your shirt off," their captain interrupted as Sugawara stepped forward, and Yamaguchi looked to Tsukishima nervously.
"It's fine, do it."
He nodded, unzipping his jacket and dropping it at his feet, then pulled his tee shirt over his head. A pair of hands pressed against his back, just beneath his shoulder blades as he dropped his shirt, letting it fall into a pile on top of the jacket. His companion nodded to him reassuringly, pressing the remains of the heart back into his hands. "This is going to hurt," he whispered. "Bite down."
He did as he was told, biting again into the remains of the cardiac muscle, leaning forward into Tsukishima's arms.
Something felt weird, something felt wrong. Like his skin was too tight and he was going to burst out of it. His back felt like something was stabbing against it, something that wasn't Sugawara's palms and dexterous fingers. There was a pressure he had no idea how to describe. It hurt, but it also felt like something was shifting inside of him. His bones ached, like the way he felt when he had a fever, but the pain was sharper, concentrated along his back. He whined through his teeth when the hands pressed down, and there was a wet tearing noise as he felt like something was pulling on him. The setter behind him pulled again, and he cried out in pain, tears welling up in his eyes. When he pulled a third time, it felt like something snapped, extending out behind him. The pressure was relieved, but he felt like they had just ripped something out of his body. His back still ached, as though someone was sitting on it with all of their weight.
Tsukishima took his hands in his own, holding them tightly. He kissed the back of his palm, rubbing circles in it with his thumbs, and Yamaguchi cried out again, hearing his own bones crack and shift. There was a rustling behind him, and he felt like someone was stroking him, but not on his back. As though it were on his arm but-- not quite. Like there was another limb behind him. His eyes widened, and he looked over his shoulder to see both Sugawara and Asahi behind him, running their fingers over something large, black and feathery, peeling off a thin, gooey membrane that was coated with blood. These feathers weren't those like the ones he saw on the monsters in the shed, they were mostly black, with small flecks and patches of white on some of them, arranged in a seemingly-random pattern across the bottom rows.
"They're beautiful," Tsukishima breathed.
"What?" he asked, gasping for breath.
He very nearly stumbled forward into Tsukishima's arms when they released him, and he collapsed against the middle blocker's arm, but something told him that they weren't through with him yet. His feathers ruffled, puffing up to show how scared he was instinctively. His fingers and hands ached, and he grabbed onto Tsukishima nervously. His neck and face itched, but Tsukki reached up and stopped him when he tried to scratch it.
He sank lower into his arms, letting Tsukishima lead him forward and they knelt, the crows spreading out around them to give them space, revealing the body from which the heart had been torn. It was a teacher he had overheard some of the Nekoma students whining about earlier, who falsified grades to make them lower and hold students back from pursuing sports. He was inwardly grateful that the victim hadn't been anyone he knew personally.
"Come on! Let's all feast! I'm starving!" Hinata exclaimed, nearly jumping forward, but Kageyama pulled him back. He was practically vibrating, mumbling something akin to "Meat, meat, meat," over and over.
Yamaguchi gasped, burying his face in Tsukishima's chest, and the other's wings spread out, surrounding them both into a comforting dome of black feathers. He tried to pull his own wings in, and they felt heavy and sore, which he tried not to think too hard about. They responded to his commands just how his arms or fingers would, folding back against his back. "I can't. I can't do it. I can't eat a person, It's cannibalism, it's wrong. This is so messed up," he whispered.
"Stop. Yes, it's messed up, but it's not cannibalism anymore. Look at yourself." Tsukishima's voice was softer than usual, though to Yamaguchi he looked horrifying. His eyes were empty again, the edges of his face outlined with black feathers that traced down his neck and beneath his shirt. His eyes strayed down to this hand. One was wrapped around his shoulder, helping to hold him steady, while the other was holding his own. At the wrist it had a small band of black feathers, which faded into his skin as they ebbed into his hand, familiar fingers curled and shaped into a powerful claw, holding a similar, smaller claw in it. A claw that was attached to his own arm.
You're part of the murder.
His claw flew to his face, meeting soft feathers outlining his cheek and neck.
"You're a crow."
He could see his reflection in the taller boy's glasses as he unfolded his wings, revealing the two of them to their teammates once more. The face of a creature with nothing but black for eyes, freckled cheeks accented with feathers around them, giant black, white-flecked wings behind him.
He looked from Tsukishima, to the body, nervously reaching a claw down to tear away a tiny piece of flesh beside the gaping hole (most likely formed by the larger claws of Daichi or Asahi), and took a bite. The slightly-sweet taste, almost like veal, almost like beef, flooded his mouth, and his stomach begged for more. His hunger flared up again, and he reached forward, digging a claw into the corpse, handing another piece he tore off to Tsukishima, who took it, nodding his gratitude. More. He needed more.
Within seconds, the crows had swarmed the body, ripping it apart piece by piece, scraping and biting and ripping, tearing flesh from the bone with claw and tooth alike. They shared their favorite bits and gorged on their meal with gusto, and Yamaguchi even dared to steal a piece right from Tsukishima's mouth when he had taken a bit of rib he wanted.
Back in the parking lot, Yachi fiddled with her pencil nervously. "They've been gone awhile, shouldn't we head back soon?" The bus is finally here, and it's getting late.
Ukai shrugged. "I have a feeling our team will be back soon."
Takeda looked at his watch, then pushed his glasses up anxiously. "They have a tendency to run off after away games. But, there's no harm in waiting."
The coach nodded, slapping their teacher on the back. "Yeah, that's the spirit! Let them have some fun. They're just a rowdy murder of crows."
"Murder? That sounds a bit morbid," Yachi interjected.
"Yeah, it does, doesn't it? But that's just how crows are," the coach answered, glancing up at the hill knowingly. "It comes with the territory."
"Why would you say something like that, Ukai-san?" the manager asked.
"Well, I went to Karasuno too. I know what it's like," Ukai said with a grin, waving as he watched the members of the Karasuno boys' volleyball team make their way down the hill. The sun cast long shadows behind it, and Takeda squinted as he watched them descend. Their shadows made it look almost like they had wings.