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The Strength in Vulnerability

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By hour ten of his twelve-hour shift, Suga was starting to feel the exhaustion creeping in. His feet were sore, his stomach was complaining from lack of sustenance, and he felt the beginnings of brain-fog descending at the edge of his consciousness. Sometimes, his energy propelled him through even the most grueling of shifts at the hospital, but this was not one of those times.

His coworker, Satoko, breezed past the nurses’ station with an armload of charts. “Oh, thank god,” she said when she saw Suga. “Can you handle some of these? I gotta go pull some glass out of a guy’s foot before he wakes up all the coma patients.”

Sure enough, Suga could hear someone wailing faintly in the background. “Is he still in the waiting room?”

Satoko leaned heavily on the nurses’ desk. “God no, I stuck him in one of the family rooms so he wouldn’t spark a rebellion.” The family rooms were supposed to be reserved for loved ones receiving bad news, but really, they came in handy for any situation that required patients’ privacy. And occasionally, doctors’ privacy.

Suga held out a hand for the files. Satoko smiled gratefully, and divided the stack in two, handing one half over. Suga eyeballed his half of the pile, and counted four files. It was a busy night, though by no means the busiest he’d ever dealt with.

“Thanks, Suga-kun, you’re a lifesaver.”

Suga laughed weakly. God, he was tired today. “That’s my job. Now go deal with glass guy.”

Satoko winked and hurried off. Suga looked down at the stack in his arms, reading the post-it note that Satoko had stuck to the top of the pile, with the bed numbers of each patient hastily scrawled beside a very brief description of the person’s symptoms. Broken arm, dehydration, migraine, abdominal pain. Simple enough, and no one seemed to be dying in the next thirty minutes, which was always a good thing.

He visited the migraine patient first, but Satoko had already called the attending doctor, so there was nothing more Suga could really do. The second bed he stopped at was the broken arm, belonging to a sullen teenage girl; Suga inserted an IV just above the girl’s opposite wrist, chatting softly to distract her from the needle, and left her and her grim-faced mother to wait for an orthopedic resident to set the bone. Two down, two to go. The abdominal pain guy had fallen asleep on the bed, his girlfriend absently stroking his arm. Suga asked her a couple of questions, but as long as he was asleep, the case didn’t seem particularly urgent. Suga told her he’d check back in twenty minutes if they hadn’t yet been seen.

That only left dehydration. Suga shuffled through the charts in his hand, shifting the final case to the top of the stack as he strode over to the patient’s bed. Behind the curtain, he could hear arguing in hushed, low voices, and Suga fought the urge to cringe unprofessionally. These were always the worst, the patients who argued. Bad if they argued with the doctors, worse if they argued with their spouses or friends and set off a massive, explosive fight in the middle of the emergency room. And Suga was always stuck with these cases, especially since the other nurses had figured out early on that he was somehow gifted in the art of diffusing patient anger. When it could be diffused, that is; sometimes, there was nothing anyone could do to prevent the patient's emotions from bubbling over like an active volcano.

Suga cleared his throat before pushing the curtain aside, trying to give whoever was behind it some warning of his presence. The voices died an instant before Suga stepped inside.

“I’ve been told you’re here for dehydration, Mr…” Suga scanned the chart to locate the man's name. He didn’t get a chance to find it, though.

“Refreshing-kun?”

Suga looked up, startled. He hadn’t heard that particular nickname in eight years.

Oikawa looked older, obviously, and was a bit more filled-out than in high-school. But in most respects, according to Suga’s memory, he hadn’t changed at all. The hair was the same, complete with the one stray cowlick that couldn’t be tamed even by the hospital pillow he lounged on. He was pale, but that was usually the case with the people who came into Emerg. Beside him, Iwaizumi had his fists in his pockets, jaw clenched, looking just as pissed off as ever.

After a beat, Suga regained his composure. “Long time no see, Oikawa-san. And you too, Iwaizumi-san, how are you?”

“I’m fine,” Iwaizumi drawled, “unlike this idiot. He passed out at work an hour ago.”

“Relax, Iwa-chan, it was just dehydration. I feel way better already.” Oikawa held up the hand where his IV was inserted for emphasis, tubes trailing off the bed.

“Put that back before you pull the tubes out, asshole,” Iwaizumi snarled.

Suga fought the urge to laugh. Eight years, and nothing had changed between these two. “It’s okay, Iwaizumi-san, the IV shouldn’t come out that easily. Though I can tape it down more firmly if you’re worried. When were you admitted, Oikawa-san?”

“So formal, Refreshing-kun. You used to call me Oikawa.”

Iwaizumi rolled his eyes and answered for him. “Around eight, I think.”

Suga flipped his wrist up to check the time. His watch, a gift from Daichi, was made of bright blue plastic. Metal watches were so hard to clean when you had someone else’s blood all over your wrists. “In that case, we’ll keep you here another forty-five minutes, just for monitoring. I’ll be back at nine with your discharge papers.”

“Leaving so soon?” Oikawa’s tone was bordering on flirty. Something twisted in Suga's gut.

“If we weren’t in a hospital now I would punch you,” Iwaizumi said flatly.

“Actually,” Suga put in before closing the curtain, “a hospital is by far the best place to punch someone. If you’re going to need stitches, might as well not have to sign in twice.”

Iwaizumi snorted. “I like the way you think, Sugawara.”

“Mean, Refreshing-kun!” Oikawa whined, flopping around on the hospital bed. “So mean!”

 

*** 

 

When they first met, Suga had immediately disliked Oikawa. The over-confident swagger was a huge fucking turn-off, and that was before Oikawa even opened his mouth. The blinding smiles, the gentility with which he treated his fangirls, it all seemed so superficial. Like he was only a kind person because people expected him to be. Like he would have otherwise cared not one bit about anyone but himself. Suga couldn’t stand that in a person. But if Oikawa truly cared about anyone else, Suga couldn't see it.

On the court, Oikawa was a psychological manipulator, his serves not only physically pinpointed to reduce the opposing team’s defenses but mentally pinpointed as well. He could find a team’s psychological weak spot just by looking at them, and it was, quite frankly, terrifying. Suga had done his level best to raise his team’s spirits during that first official match against Seijoh at the Interhighs, but it hadn’t been enough. They had gotten so close, only to be swiftly crushed in the palm of Oikawa’s hand. And afterwards, in the locker room – Suga had never actually told anyone about this, not even Daichi – Oikawa had caught his eye, and winked, winked at him. As if to say, thank you for fighting and losing. Thank you for giving your all, and still not being good enough.

That was when dislike boiled over into real hatred. Because if Suga had fought hard that day, and he damn well had, it was definitely fucking not for Oikawa Tooru’s sake. He’d ridden home on the bus by himself, refusing Daichi’s usual offer to save him a seat, silently fuming. Fine, then. Oikawa wanted to make this all about himself? Alright, they could make it all about Oikawa. But Suga would make him fucking regret it.

 

 

He couldn’t stop thinking about that day at the Interhighs, not even after Oikawa left the hospital. Suga had handed him the discharge papers to sign with a stony expression that left even Iwaizumi looking askance. When his shift was over, he let Satoko prattle on about her sister’s love life, occasionally offering an absent “yes,” or “really?” in response, but his mind was still far away. He thought about calling Daichi on the train home, but ultimately decided against it.

The Interhighs had only been the start of their rivalry. Oikawa, having sensed a small victory over Suga, had continued to provoke him at every available opportunity. Turning up at Karasuno’s practice matches for no good reason. Nettling him at competitions, when he would whisper snide comments just loud enough for Suga to hear as they passed each other in the halls. He wanted that reaction, that flash of anger that Suga had stupidly shown him after the Interhighs. Suga figured this out pretty quickly, and after that, it was easy to school his features into placid non-reaction. Because he wanted Oikawa frustrated more than he wanted to vent his own anger. It was far more satisfying than giving in, to watch Oikawa squirm when his manipulations were defeated.

Suga got off the train and headed into the night toward his cozy little apartment, replaying every interaction he'd ever had with Oikawa. The last time they spoke was particularly fresh in his mind. It had been rather confusing and lacking in closure for both parties. Or, at least, Suga guessed it had been the same for Oikawa, he had never gotten the chance to offer an explanation for his own behaviour. As Suga got in the door, stripping his winter clothes off with tired, numb fingers, he couldn’t help but acknowledge his own surprise that today’s Oikawa had been so… civil. I mean sure, it had been a ridiculously long time since they’d last talked, but Suga had always pegged Oikawa as the type to hold grudges for life. Maybe, in that final conversation after Spring Highs, something had changed between the two of them. Maybe Oikawa had actually sorted out his own feelings and realized how much of a dick he’d been to Suga.

Or maybe Suga had simply caught him off guard at the hospital, and he hadn’t had a chance to revive his old anger. Both were equally possible. Finally, teeth brushed and pyjamas on, Suga collapsed into bed. It was probably all moot, anyway, it wasn’t like he was going to see Oikawa again.

 

*** 

 

“Do you think he still hates me?” Oikawa mused on the cab ride home. Beside him, Iwaizumi groaned and leaned his head back on the seat.

"It wouldn’t be fucking surprising, idiot.” Iwaizumi ran a hand across his head, stroking back his hair. He’d recently started cutting it super short, in a similar style to the one Watari had always sported. Oikawa had taken to petting him when Iwaizumi wasn’t expecting it, to feel the soft, downy carpet of Iwaizumi’s head. Now was probably not the time for that, though, not when Iwa-chan was already mad about having to race downtown after receiving a panicked call from one of Oikawa’s coworkers.

“I wonder if he’d talk to me. If I went back there.”

“That’s your plan?” Iwaizumi raised an eyebrow. “Corner him at work when he’s elbow-deep in someone’s intestines and ask for forgiveness?”

“Iwa-chan! Gross!”

“He’s a nurse, Oikawa, he doesn’t have time for you.” Iwaizumi gazed out the window. “He’s got better things to do, like saving lives or cleaning up bodily fluids or something.”

“Thanks for the vote of confidence. I’m revoking your best-friend status for the night.” Oikawa turned pointedly toward his own window, fogging up the glass with his breath as he sighed dramatically for Iwa-chan’s benefit.

He and Suga-chan had left things weirdly unfinished. He hadn’t expected their last interaction to be, well, the last interaction (until now, at least). It hadn’t felt at all like an ending, but then they had graduated and moved on and whatever was building between them had been left abandoned in the parking lot of Karasuno high school.

He didn’t hate Sugawara. And he had a feeling that, by the end of it, Sugawara didn’t hate him either. If Suga-chan had hated him, he would have yelled. Screamed his head off, maybe thrown a few punches. Oikawa had deliberately provoked him, deliberately tested the boundaries of this strange, hate-fuelled relationship, seeing how far he could push before Suga-chan gave up the façade and fucking fought like Oikawa knew he wanted to. Instead, he'd left Oikawa standing there, alone, feeling like he’d been sucker-punched when in reality, Sugawara hadn’t laid a hand on him.

Refreshing-kun had a nasty habit of overturning every single one of Oikawa’s expectations. First, when they played each other and he showed an unexpected aptitude for game strategy. It had almost cost Seijoh their victory at the Interhighs. That was the first time that Oikawa had been thoroughly unnerved by the unassuming boy with the charming freckles and silver hair. Oikawa recognized, then, the same mask that he wore himself. The calm, carefree, even slightly dumb demeanor he put on to hide the calculations he was making under the table, the reserves of intelligence he drew upon to finish his opponents before they knew he’d begun. Suga’s mask looked different from his own, but he wore it just the same. He was the wild card, the only member of the Karasuno volleyball team that Oikawa couldn’t read like an open book.

The first real glimpse he got of the Suga underneath was in the changerooms after their narrow victory at Interhighs. It hadn’t been Oikawa’s proudest moment, if he were to be truly honest with himself (which he rarely ever was). Iwaizumi would have wrung his neck, had he seen it. But Oikawa really, really needed to see if he could shake this guy’s confidence, so he did the most obnoxious, most knife-twisting thing he could think of; he winked at Suga-chan. And he got his wish. For a moment, pure rage flashed in Sugawara’s eyes. Oikawa knew that look; had seen the same thing on his own face, flipping through the official match photography of his last game with Shiratorizawa. There was one particular photo of Oikawa in the air, palm about to connect with the ball as he served. It was three points before the end of the match, three points from defeat for Seijoh. Ushiwaka wasn’t in the photo, but Oikawa remembered the look they shared before the serve, when Oikawa let his competitive fire kindle low in his gut until he burst into motion, channelling all of his anger, his warrior’s spirit, into that single serve.

Shiratorizawa’s libero had received it, just barely, turning the game toward Seijoh's defeat. But that wasn’t the point. The point was that Sugawara had worn the same look, fingers visibly itching to spike Oikawa’s head like a volleyball into the ground. After a moment, Sugawara had stalked away, white-knuckled, and Oikawa knew he’d won that round.

He also knew that wouldn’t be the end of it.

 

***

 

“Suga-kun, there’s someone here to see you.” Satoko leaned over to whisper conspiratorially in Suga’s ear. “I think he was here last week, too. Did you guys hit it off or something?”

Suga gave her a confused look, then realized who it probably was. Much to Satoko’s confusion, he let out a low moan. Oh please, for the love of god, don’t let it be Oikawa.

Of course it was Oikawa.

“Refreshing-kun!” Oikawa sang, popping up out of his chair. He was less pale this time, and smartly dressed, his black wool overcoat hanging loose over a shirt, vest, and tie combination that would have been very sexy, had it not been Oikawa wearing it. Suga refused to think of Oikawa as sexy. That would be letting him win.

“What are you doing here, Oikawa?” Suga asked, exasperated already.

“Papercut,” said Oikawa, holding up one finger and grinning wolfishly. 

Suga dropped his arms to his sides. He wasn’t in the mood to play along. “What are you really doing here, Oikawa?” he asked, sinking into one of the teal-and-beige waiting room chairs.

Oikawa sat down next to him, looking far too pleased with himself. “We didn’t get a chance to catch up last time. How have you been?”

“Busy, actually. Considering the fact that I’m still at work. I thought that might have been obvious to you.”

Oikawa was undeterred. “Fine, fine,” he said, holding up his hands in mock surrender, “I’ll let you get back to your sick and dying patients. They’re clearly more important than your oldest and dearest friends.”

“We weren’t friends, Oikawa. And certainly not oldest and dearest.”

Oikawa looked affronted. “That doesn’t mean we can’t be friends now, Suga-chan! I’m hurt that you would cast me off so easily.”

Suga had to end this. He had patients. And zero energy right now to be dealing with Oikawa, of all people. “If I promise to meet you for coffee, will you let me get back to work?”

Oikawa brightened visibly. It was impossible to tell if his smile was sincere, so Suga didn’t bother to decipher it. “Coffee would be wonderful! There’s this new café a couple of blocks north that I’ve been dying to try out, I’ll take you there! When are you free?”

“Text me,” Suga said, “here’s my number.” He rattled it off far too quickly, but Oikawa got it down anyway. Suga sighed and hauled himself to his feet. He was probably going to regret giving Oikawa his phone number, but at least he could go back to work now in peace. Suga waved goodbye over his shoulder, without even turning around.

 

 

When his shift was over, Suga checked his phone. As expected, he had a message.

 

From: Unknown Number

> Coffee with Refreshing-kun, how exciting! Let me know when you’re free! ヽ(゜∇゜)ノ

 

How the hell did he even make that emoji on a cell phone? Never mind, Suga didn’t want to know.

“So,” Satoko purred in Suga’s ear, “who are you texting? Is it the guy from earlier?”

“The guy from earlier,” Suga said, shoving his phone in his pocket so he could cross his arms, “is my sworn enemy. Unfortunately yes, I’m also texting him.”

“Sworn enemy, huh? Sounds hot.”

Suga shrugged on his coat. “You’re the worst, Sato-kun. The absolute worst.”

“You going to see him again?”

Suga closed his eyes and rubbed his face. “Yes,” he muttered.

“Hah! Knew it!” Satoko giggled and dodged Suga’s swipe at her. “So tell me, how did you become sworn enemies?” She gasped. “Have you two had steamy hate-sex?”

“Oh my god, Sato, no. We have not had hate-sex. Just the hate, there was no sex involved.” Suga thrust his hands deep into his coat pockets, willing his face not to flush with embarrassment.

“If you say so,” Satoko chimed, pulling her arms through the sleeves of her bright purple jacket. “I’m still waiting for that story, by the by.”

Suga tucked a stray lock of hair behind his ear. “Remember when I said I was on the volleyball team in high school? He was from another school, we played them a couple times in competitions. The same position too, we were both setters.”

“Oh, so you were like sports rivals?” Satoko hummed thoughtfully. They stepped out of the hospital doors into the night, flurries of snow blowing past. Suga huddled into his scarf, hunching his shoulders against the cold.

“Not exactly.” That had been Kageyama, not Suga. Suga couldn’t even hold a candle to Oikawa’s setting skills. “We just developed this antagonism off the court, I don’t really know how it happened.” Yes, he did actually. It had started with that infernal wink, the one that had played on loop in the back of Suga’s mind since Oikawa had shown up in the ER the other day. He just wasn’t fully ready to talk about it, especially not with someone as perceptive as Satoko.

“Antagonism?” Satoko prodded.

“Yeah, it was the weirdest thing, too. I could never tell if he was trying to threaten me or flirt with me, it always felt like a bit of both. All he wanted out of me was a reaction, though, so I never gave him one.” Suga looked up at the sky, letting a light smattering of snow fall on his face. He blinked to keep the snowflakes out of his eyes. “But he wouldn’t leave me alone, and eventually it started getting out of hand. My teammates got involved, and I had to shut it down. That was eight years ago, and I hadn’t spoken to him since. Until now, I guess.”

“Ten bucks says he had a crush on you,” Satoko said, flashing Suga a grin.

Suga laughed outright. “Could be, I honestly have no idea. You can never tell with Oikawa.”

“That’s his name? Oikawa?”

“Yeah, Oikawa Tooru. We used to call him the Grand King of the Court. He was pompous enough to deserve the title, that’s for certain.”

Satoko pulled her keys out of her pocket and unlocked her car. Ten feet ahead of them, her headlights blinked. “Well, this is me. Remember, if you see him again, I want a full run-down, no details spared. Promise?”

“Sato-” Suga whined, playfully.

Satoko pulled him into a brief hug. “No. Details. Spared. Okay? Goodnight, Suga-kun.”

Satoko got into her car and pulled away. Suga turned and headed for the train station, playing absently with his phone in the pocket of his coat. Something was going to happen with Oikawa, he was fairly sure of it. But with more questions than answers at this point, he wasn’t sure he wanted to promise Satoko anything just yet.