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the Caged Birds of Kirayama

Chapter Text

Tsukishima can’t help but be disturbed by Kageyama’s unease.

He doesn’t like him, but that doesn’t mean he can’t acknowledge his genius, his instinct. Kageyama goes on and on about how the camp makes him feel bad and that is unsettling, more than it is simply annoying. He finds himself foolishly searching for things that could go wrong, coming up with nothing. That should reassure him, but it doesn’t; instead it feels like he’s missed something.

He worries incessantly as they board the lift, but Kageyama is messing around and actually acting normal, so unlike before. He watches as he bickers with Hinata, wondering why his mood has shifted so dramatically.

“You’re feeling better,” he quips, only for his attempt to get anything out of Kageyama to be shut down by their teacher. He doesn’t try again.

The lift could break, he thinks, and we could crash down the side of the mountain to our deaths. The ride goes smoothly, though. The machine seems well oiled and maintained, just like Takeda had said. Either way, Tsukishima clings onto the railing with white knuckles, thinking about how fallible technology is. What had Ennoshita called this again?

They arrive at the station with no problems and when he steps out onto the platform he realizes how stupid he’s being. Kageyama’s delusions have fed Tsukishima nothing but intrusive thoughts of his own, scenarios he now can’t help imagining. He discards his worry for logic. Nothing went wrong and nothing is going to go wrong.

Tsukishima's mind is wiped blank as he scans the clearing they've stepped into— the landscape is so vast that he feels small and insignificant, like an ant on a hill. He tilts his head back as he looks up, scanning the hills on either side of them. There seems no end to the rise of the mountain. The horizon is green, trees reaching skyward where they're carpeted across the dips and valleys of the rocky mountainside. It gives the impression that they're truly in the middle of nowhere, surrounded by nothing but wilderness.

Cutting into the side of the hill is a wide staircase leading up. Tree branches hang overhead, the mountainous territory threatening to overwhelm and consume. Moss has snuck tight into the corners of the concrete, and the railings on either side of the staircase peek just barely out of the bush that threatens to overwhelm it on either side. Ivy has wrapped itself around the ornate, twirling patterns of the iron. It all seems mystical.

It steals his breath away.

He turns back around, looking out across the valleys they'd passed over. The line of cable cars seems wildly out of place, the gleam of metal a bizarre contrast to the uncultivated environment. The cable car platform is at the edge of a cliff—the clearing where they stand is just a rocky outcrop, cut into the side of the mountain, just a small portion of something so much bigger. He's struck with regret; he wishes so bitterly now that he'd kept his head up during the ride.

He can’t see anything that even implies the existence of a school from where he stands, but he guesses it must be further ahead. Takeda tells them they have to wait before heading up the stairs to the school, confirming his assumptions.

The clear hum of the cicadas resonates, here, sounding like a reverent hymn. Tsukishima notices the silence of his team with some surprise. It seems that the majesty of nature has enough power to shut even Hinata up. Of course, something has to shatter that tranquility eventually— the screech of metal on metal signals the arrival of the rest of the team. Yamaguchi steps out of the secondary car looking as green as the scenery. He shuffles to his side and Tsukishima huffs.

“Are you going to throw up?”

“I’m not,” Yamaguchi protests feebly, not convincing at all. He clamps his mouth shut, teeth clacking together. He seems too nauseated to give the environment much thought.

According to Ukai, the other teams will arrive soon. Tsukishima lags behind with Yamaguchi, watching as Hinata and Kageyama race each other up the stairs. Any peace from before seems a lie— they’re unable to relax for even a minute. Even just watching them is tiring.

Tsukishima and Yamaguchi are last to reach the top, and now the grounds are in complete view. Wide and long is the building— the school is two stories, tall two pane-windows opening it up wide to the light of day. It seems refined, more a mansion than a school. It’s so different from anything he’s seen in person before, back in Miyagi or anywhere else. It’s not the gate that stops the team from proceeding, but rather— a sense of wonder.

“It’s so cool!” Hinata says, otherwise impressed into silence. The only person who seems unsurprised is Takeda. He unlocks the chained gate and opens it with a single, forceful shove. To the immediate right of the building there is another gate, smaller, but locked just the same. It looks as though it leads to a garden of some sort, overrun by nature.

Spiked fences line the edge of the property, pinpoints gleaming under the afternoon sun. A canopy of trees hangs over the entrance and the shade covers where they stand by the gate, cloaking them in shadow. To the left is a track and athletic field and beyond that is the encroaching forest. The ground is level, as though it had been carved out of the surrounding rocky landscape.

Tsukishima stares out at the mouth of the forest as a cloud passes over the sun. Blanketed by shadows, it looks rather lonely. Were there trails for the students to travel on? For such a luxurious piece of land, he can't help but assume there is— or were, rather. If left uncared for, it wouldn't be any surprise if such trails were now merged completely with the forest once again. What he'd seen thus far had given the impression that the mountain was reclaiming itself, nature an overwhelming force when combined with time.

The thought brings him to a bigger question, that of navigation. The school is large, indeed; the western build gives it a sense of grandiosity, though Tsukishima is unsure whether or not it's any bigger than their modern high school. Mansions were a confusing maze of wide hallways and overly furnished lobbies, useless rooms meant to impress, but not to fit any particular form or function. Though this seems a similar structure to a mansion, the layout inside is hard to discern from the outside.

Looking out at the school, Tsukishima feels distress crop up at the thought of navigating it. And further, still— the garden, the athletic field and the forest— it all intimidates. He's not scared as much as he's discomforted by it. Miyagi isn't exactly a city, but... it's still friendlier than the wilderness here.

He looks around for their teacher, spotting him quickly. Takeda stands at the front door and Tsukishima makes his way over to him.

“Excuse me,” he intones, politely detached.

“Oh, Tsukishima? Is something the matter?”

“No. I was curious…” he pauses, catching Hinata slinking closer in his peripheral vision. Undeterred, he continues on. “Is there a map for this place?”

Hinata joins him, tilting his head. Tsukishima shoots him a glare, like Hinata’s a fly he wants to swat.

“Oh?” Takeda notices Hinata and smiles. “Were you curious too, Hinata?”

“Yeah! It’s so big… I feel kind of daunted!”

Tsukishima is caught off guard, but he supposes Hinata is just being nosey. It’s annoying. He glares at Hinata, meeting his eye and receiving an indignant little huff.

With nothing to be said, he turns back to Takeda expectantly.

“Ah, well, there might be a map available for the layout of the school, but I’m not sure where it could be. I don’t have one on me,” he explains, looking between the two curiously. “Oh, but there might be a basic blue print included in the safety manuals.”

“Safety… manuals?” Hinata repeats, unsure on what he means.

“Instructions for fire exits,” Tsukishima explains for him. “I suppose even an old place like this required that sort of thing.”

When Hinata continues to peer at him with a purposefully confused look he explains further. “It shows the routes you have to take when there’s a fire. Since the school is so big and there’s two floors, I wouldn’t be surprised if there’s multiple maps hanging up in different classrooms.”

“Ah!” he seems to understand now. “Those things! I saw them hanging up in middle school. Would they be in an old high school like this, too?”

“Yeah, I guess,” Tsukishima shrugs and then he takes a step back, clearly wanting to end the conversation. “Thank you, Mr. Takeda.” he ends politely.

“Oh, thanks, as well!” Hinata says, bowing shortly.

Tsukishima returns to Yamaguchi’s side and sighs, heaving his duffel bag up over his shoulder, discomforted by both the awkward interaction with his teacher and the weight of his bag. He'd wanted to ask for a map of the mountain itself, but had been bothered by Hinata's presence. Giving away an insecurity of his to someone loud-mouthed like that disturbs him more than the thought of getting lost in the school. It's not like it's that much of an issue, anyway; he figures his sense of direction isn't so bad so as to get lost going from the cafeteria to the bathroom. Tsukishima heaves a sigh, hefting his bag over his shoulder to readjust where the strap digs into his skin.

“When are we going to head inside? I’m tired of carrying this around.”

“Soon probably,” Yamaguchi says casually, nausea apparently gone. “Um, maybe after the others arrive? What were you talking about with Takeda?”

“Maps,” Tsukishima shrugs, not bothering to explain.

“Huh?” Yamaguchi tilts his head, curious. “Maps— of what, the—”

He’s cut off by an excited shout, belonging to no one other than Hinata. Tsukishima turns to glare at him, watching as he shoves a phone into Nishinoya and Sugawara's faces.

“Nekoma and Fukurodani’s on their way! I’m getting pumped up already!” Nishinoya shouts.

“They must have met up on the way,” Sugawara shrugs, a light smile playing at his lips. “I’m surprised that—“

“Awesome, awesome!” Nishinoya jumps, full of energy. Sugawara doesn’t have any time to finish his thought, the libero already running off to Asahi and Tanaka’s side. He watches him with a bemused smile, and then turns his attention back to Hinata.

“When did you get that message?” Sugawara asks as Hinata taps away on his phone. “I don’t have reception here.”

“Oh, way earlier. I didn’t see it until now. Uh,” he makes a face. “I can’t send anything anymore, though! Hey, Kageyama!” Hinata runs off to harass the setter, and Sugawara is left in his dust.

“Geez, some of them need to calm down…” he mutters, wandering off to join Tsukishima where he stands with Yamaguchi. “… seriously… oh, hey. Are you feeling better?”

“Much,” Yamaguchi half-laughs in his politely awkward way. He rubs the back of his head, uncomfortable with the attention. “I really thought I was going to be ill. The view during the ride was gorgeous, but I couldn’t appreciate it at all.”

“I can’t blame you. Even I had a hard time dealing with it. I’m just glad it didn’t sway, you know? I thought the wind was going to swing us around.”

Tsukishima finds his attention caught by the sound of the lifts, the rumble of the motor clear even from the top of the hill. Hinata is already shouting.

“Let’s go greet them!” He’s halfway toward the stairs already and Kageyama gives a passive little sigh, but follows behind him all the same. Tsukishima watches them with distaste, and Sugawara laughs.

“Tsukishima, your face is saying something,” he says, covering his mouth with his hand.

“Everyone, we’re going to go greet the Nekoma and Fukurodani team!” Takeda shouts, making it clear that they have no choice.

In the clearing he finds Daichi and Kuroo shaking hands, Nekoma’s third-years already out of the cable car. Fukurodani trails behind them. There’s only a few of them, just the third years and only half of the second years—no coaches, no managers. They must be on the second car, he thinks idly, giving a small wave to Akaashi, who spots him and waves back before getting dragged to greet the others alongside Bokuto.

It’s not long before the second car arrives. The swarm of teenagers is a bit overwhelming, all excited voices and loud shouts, a swell of nothing but noise. The coaches take to shushing them; since everyone is here now they’re told to head up to the main entrance, where they’ll head inside, put their bags away and then head back out for a meeting. Tsukishima isn’t happy about making the trip up a second time, but he stays silent and trudges up the stairs with a forced expression.

He’s trying to avoid the other rowdy teenagers, but the Nekoma captain spots him as they head up the stairs. He sweeps toward him, a wicked grin unfurling across his face. Yamaguchi mumbles something, but Tsukishima can’t possibly hear him over the noisiness of the teenagers.

“Tsukki!” he parades, clapping him on the back. “How I’ve longed to see you! Have you been well?”

“Er, yes. Just fine. Yourself?”

“Me? I’ve been doing swell,” he grins toothily. “I was glad to hear you’d be coming. Somehow, I thought you’d try running away from a training camp like this.”

Kuroo is as provocative as ever. Tsukishima knows that he’s being teased, but he still can’t help answering in kind. With a scoff, he turns his nose up and gives a surly, forced smile.

“Ah, yes, but you see, my alternatives weren’t promising either. If I hadn’t come, then I’d just be bullied by Hinata.”

“That shortie? He’d bully you?” Kuroo laughs, following at a languid pace as Takeda unlocks the school’s front doors, holding them open for the teenagers. “I guess I can see that. He’s the scary type, isn’t he? Even though he looks like an innocent kid.”

Bokuto ends up at Kuroo’s side, Akaashi tagging along behind him. Tsukishima makes a face when he sees him, and he catches it quickly, to his chagrin. “Hey hey, Tsukki! Your face is saying something!”

“Wasn’t I just told that…?” he mumbles to himself. “Are all third-years the same?”

“Man, what the heck does that mean?! Haven’t I given you tons of knowledge? Young kids like you should be grateful!”

“What knowledge was that?” Akaashi butts in, face a smooth mask, showing neither amusement or annoyance. “Hasn’t Kuroo been the one teaching Tsukishima how to block?”

“Akaashi, you’re cruel,” Bokuto whines. He’s as playful as ever, even as he puts upon a pout.

Akaashi’s brows upturn; he caves and gives a smile. “I think you’re probably the cruel one, Bokuto. I’m sure you have more than that sulky side to you.”

“Just who said I’m sulking?!” Disheartened, Bokuto clearly begins to sulk.

“You’re sulking,” Kuroo chimes in, humming it sing-song. “Sulking, sulking~! Shouldn’t someone who’s almost in the top three be a bit more happy about it?”

“You don’t have to add that ‘almost’!

Akaashi says something in response, getting another laugh out of Kuroo.

Tsukishima doesn’t hear it, distracted by the interior of the school. The ceiling is vaulted, presiding high over a sprawling lobby. There's couches that actually look comfortable, like he could sink into them and fall asleep— though that doesn't detract from their elegance. Like he'd thought, it feels more like a mansion than a school. There'd been nothing serving as a genkan; they're to wear their outside shoes even in here, by the looks of it.

Tsukishima feels dirty, walking straight from outside onto the clean floor. Though the school is empty and clearly abandoned, the marble floor is polished to an unreal sheen. The room feels as though it would be better suited as a ballroom than an entrance way for a high school. If he's being honest with himself, he isn’t the type to appreciate fine architecture. Still, he can’t deny the magnificence of it all.

Ahead, there’s a room half-walled with glass and oak, two staircases hidden away neatly on either side of the wide lobby. As he gets closer, it becomes clear that it’s an office with bookshelves and a sturdy desk sat along one wall. It looks like it hasn’t been touched in a long time; there’s old trophies and filing equipment still sitting in one of the bookshelves.

Hinata points the room out, inquisitive. Takeda tells him that’s the main office, where the radio and PA system are. Apparently, they still work. It’s a little surprising a place so old is so well maintained, but Takeda is adamant in insisting that it is. It seems that as the owner of the land, he's rather proud of it. Tsukishima can see why. The place is utterly luxurious, almost unrealistically so. It seems more a set for a movie than a place for a few country kids to have their volleyball training camp.

It makes him wonder just how much this place had to have costed. There's no use speculating, Tsukishima figures. It isn't any of his business in the end; they shouldn't be anything other than grateful. That's what the logical side of his mind says even if he's curious.

Ukai says something under his breath to the other coaches. Nekoma and Takeyuki head to the left while Takeda and Ukai take the right, calling out as they do so.

“Follow your coaches; they’ll show you where your rooms will be!”

Akaashi and Kuroo wave, taking to Bokuto’s side to cheer him up again. Tsukishima raises a hand in parting, giving a sigh as he does. The two captains are tiring at times, but he finds himself not minding too much. It’s not like he’s stuck between the bickering of Hinata and Kageyama, who are currently struggling to overwhelm each other’s pace up the stairs. Tsukishima watches in distaste as Ukai scolds them.

This place was meant to display an impressive amount of wealth, he realizes. The railings of the stairs are smooth wrought iron. Tsukishima slides a palm against the cool metal as he makes his way upstairs with the rest of them, coming to landing that is a further absurdity. The marble flooring has given way to a tiled porcelain, shining that lustrous shine, just the same as before.

The elegance is unprecedented to any school he's been in before, but the colors up here are a touch warmer than below, a bit more friendly. The curtains are a chocolate brown, the sofas of a soft, plush beige fabric and the tables of oak. As he'd thought, it's well furnished, to an absurd degree. It seems the area they've come to is a lobby of a sort—almost a library, judging by all the bookshelves and tables.

Further ahead, the lobby lends itself to a hallway, blocked off by a set of glass doors. Tsukishima can't tell, but he's betting that's where the showers and bathrooms are. Should they be just as marvelous as the rest of the place— well. There's no doubt in his mind that they will be.

To their left, the other team emerges from the other set of stairs. Bokuto hoots at them from across the wide lobby and is shushed. Either side of the wide floor plan is mirrored, Tsukishima notes. The other wing must be the same. Their coaches unlock a door and swing it open, and the team is quickly swallowed up.

Disregarding the lobby for now, Karasuno heads to the room to their right, opposite the one Fukurodani and Nekoma had just disappeared into. The doors are of heavy oak, ones that Takeda unlocks and swings open with some effort.

“This is the western wing. The other two smaller teams will stay in the western wing. Our team has the most attending members. So we get this whole wing to ourselves,” Takeda explains. “Ah, well, the real tour comes later, but… I figured you might be wondering why we’re alone in here.”

Tsukishima’s glaze travels from plush sofas to oak tables to the bookshelves to beyond, where a floor to ceiling window stands, flooding the room with clean light. It overlooks the entrance of the school. It feels clean, here, but not sterile. It is untouched. Perfectly preserved.

It's beautiful. Tsukishima feels a wild jealousy stir up in his heart, and Yamaguchi bumps his shoulder. It breaks him from his trance.

“This place is really something, huh…?”

“Honestly, I’m curious what kind of people went to this school,” Tsukishima mutters with contempt. “It’s way too lavish just for high schoolers.”

“And we’re the ones being spoiled by it now,” Ennoshita chimes in suddenly, catching the two off guard. They look around, finding him eyeing them with a mischievous smile. “Come on, just appreciate it for what it is. We’re used to modern comforts, but a place like this isn’t so bad.”

“I’m not sure what you mean,” Tsukishima glowers, turning away. “I didn’t say it’s not impressive.”

Even turned away like this, he can tell Ennoshita is smiling. Yamaguchi makes a face, but doesn’t say anything.

They’re lead into the dorm room. The oak doors have a brass ornament hanging from the knob; Tsukishima eyes it as they step inside. This room is expansive, but mostly empty—in the corner there’s new futons stacked up high. This has to be the least impressive room by far, meant for sleeping and nothing more. The typical wooden flooring and blank walls is almost a disappointment.

“I bought a lot of stuff,” Takeda says, making a weird gesture. Ukai bumps him, tells him not to, and he stops. “But I figured we could come back here at some point. Even the future Karasuno team could come. My grandfather owned this land and turned it over to me, so I want to make the most out of it. Maybe we could make it a tradition? Ah, but anyway, we’ll be staying here. Just place your bags against this wall. We’ll sort them into the storage closet in a bit.”

Tsukishima is finally relieved of his bag. He sighs, rubbing his shoulder. They’re ushered back down the stairs, finding the other two teams waiting around on the landing. Everyone heads outside.

The coaches rally the captains, gathering them up to distribute something. Just as he’s wondering what it could be, Hinata’s voice distracts him from the gates to the garden, stood alongside several others. It seems like they’re planning to head inside.

Disinterested with their antics, Tsukishima is about to turn and ask Takeda when they’re going to have that meeting and get back inside, but a hand on his back and a voice in his ear stops him short.

“Let’s go see what shortie is doing over there, hmm?” Kuroo says, grin apparent.

“I’m not sure I want to know,” he says, but it’s clear he isn’t going to be able to escape so easily. He tries to get his attention elsewhere. “…what did you get?” he asks, shrugging away from the hand at his back. “From the coach.”

“Keys,” he says, pulling forth a ring of keys from his pocket, dangling them in his face. “Can you guess which one leads where?”

“I don’t think I want to,” Tsukishima is dismissive, though he is rather curious. There sure are a lot, even for a single ring. He shouldn't be surprised— they'd passed by countless doors, all locked, apparently. “And the others got one too?”

“Yeah. Us third-years sure have a lot of privilege. Looks like I can sneak into your room and wake you up if you sleep in.”

“I’m not going to sleep in,” Tsukishima insists. Kuroo cackles without dignity.

“You won’t have to, anyway,” Daichi says, and both of them start, the keys jangling in Kuroo’s hand. The Karasuno captain is accompanied by Sugawara, who smiles. “Even if he were the type, Tsukishima wouldn’t be able to sleep in. We have too many early risers here.”

“What we really have to worry about is those two getting up early and waking everyone else up at five,” Sugawara doesn’t mention names, but it’s obvious who he’s talking about. “I’m still shocked that Kageyama was late.”

“Your setter?” Kuroo asks, curious. “That Kageyama was late? He doesn’t strike me as the type to slack.”

“He doesn’t slack,” Tsukishima bites. His obvious displeasure perks Kuroo’s interest further.

“Oho? So why was he late then, I wonder?”

“He was sick,” Sugawara explains. “He had heat stroke just yesterday—I think that had something to do with it.”

“But of course he still showed up. Karasuno is full of intense people, after all. Kind of scary,” Kuroo quips. The conversation ends like that, their gossiping trailing off as they step up to the gaggle of first years.

“Are we really allowed to go in here?” Tsukishima questions, watching Hinata and Kageyama boldly stride past the gates.

“We are,” Kuroo says, waving Bokuto and Akaashi closer as they approach, clearly curious. “We’re allowed in for now, so don’t worry so much.”

“I’m not worrying,” Tsukishima shoots Akaashi an apprehensive look, hoping for an injection of some sanity. “But weren’t we going to have a meeting?”

“Yes, soon,” Akaashi concedes, noticing his hesitance. “It seems like Takeda is filling our coaches in for now.”

“Is that so…” he murmurs, unimpressed. He doesn’t particularly want to linger outside, but he finds himself swept up with everyone else regardless. He doesn’t understand the point of exploring like this. Weren’t they supposed to find a map?

“Kenma, look!” Hinata’s voice sounds rather shrill, to Tsukishima, but when he looks over Kenma is leaning close to the shrub that Hinata is pointing at. It’s obvious he’s just obliging him.

“Oh. Are these special?”

“No, but aren’t they neat?”

“It’s just thistle…” Kenma murmurs, disappointed. The purple flowers sway sadly in the wind.

“But look, it’s covered in spikes. Isn’t that cool?!”

“I guess it is,” Kenma says, watching Hinata’s display of enthusiasm with light amusement. He catches Tsukishima’s gaze and he averts his eyes with an embarrassed hunch. It makes Tsukishima feel guilty for staring.

“It is cool,” Nishinoya butts in, going to reach out and grab one. Daichi immediately gives a shout, stopping him.

“If it’s covered in spikes, you’re going to touch it?!”

“I’m not scared of it!” Nishinoya responds, bold.

Sugawara facepalms, and their little group proceeds before the rest of them. Kuroo and Bokuto seem equally fascinated with the weed ridden plot and the few older boys leave Tsukishima’s side to follow along with the others.

The walkway becomes smothered in the weeds the further along they go. Bushes spill from either side of the path, roses and lilies long given over to wildflowers and thistle. The reds and oranges and purples impress of a summer sunset, startlingly vibrant.

There's a split that heads off to the right, but wherever it leads is obscured by overgrown bushes and trees. He doesn't give it much thought. Further obscuring the layout and making it seem rather a maze is the wisteria trellis, meant to hang flowers. All it hangs now is weeds and ivy. From what he can see, the metal has long rusted over.

The garden goes on and on. Whatever beauty and coherency it had had in the past has given way to nature. All the same, it still holds a certain charm to it. He can't say he hates it.

Akaashi lingers behind with him, matching his pace.

“This place must have been left for a while,” Tsukishima muses aloud, looking up to where ivy entwines with the trellis into a thick canopy, one that blocks out most of the afternoon sun. Akaashi lifts some hanging branches out of the way for Tsukishima, who ducks his head and steps under gratefully.

“Coach Takeyuki said it was built in the 1980s. I’m guessing this garden was left as it was after they vacated the area.”

“… vacated?”

It’s not a pleasant sounding thing. Vacated. The word settles on his shoulders like a heavy blanket.

Tsukishima’s obvious hesitance gives Akaashi pause. He corrects himself. “The school wasn’t receiving enough funding. … from my research, it seems like they had far too little students. So they left.”

“… it was a private school, wasn’t it?”

“It was,” Akaashi confirms, stepping carefully over an overgrown plot of wildflowers. It makes Tsukishima self-conscious enough to follow his lead, making sure not to crush a single flower, even if they're just weeds. “It was esteemed. A lot of well-known and respected professors came to teach here. But still…”

“How could they afford to keep this place running?” Tsukishima mutters.

“I wondered the exact same thing…” Akaashi actually stops walking, and lowers his voice. “In honesty, I think… Takeda really isn’t who he appears to be.”

Tsukishima turns to him. The garden stills around them, the drowsy hum of cicadas sounding distant. Akaashi’s eyes meet his in the gloom of the shade.

“… it’s a bit like… he doesn’t seem like the type to have a family history like this,” Akaashi finishes, completely anticlimactic. “Sorry. Maybe I shouldn’t have said that.”

Tsukishima realizes his unease must have shown on his face, misunderstood by Akaashi as distaste for his choice of words.

“No. I thought so too,” The admission is simple, but it dispels him of any unsavory feelings. They continue along, the garden seeming cheery again. “This place is over the top. … I think we all noticed it,” he says, thinking of how quickly Ennoshita had shut him down earlier. To keep him from saying anything unintentionally rude, perhaps.

“It must be difficult to maintain,” Akaashi says, keeping his phrasing polite— avoiding the words expensive. Though Takeda’s hidden wealth was vast and mysterious, they owed him their respect.

“It’s on top of a mountain,” Tsukishima steps out into a patch of bright sunshine. He places a hand at his forehead, looking around with a squint. “A mountain… we’re all the way up here, and yet it’s still hot.”

Just ahead, Kuroo is shouting about something, a lilt of panic in his voice. Their conversation is well and over and so Tsukishima and Akaashi rush toward the source of the noise, both curious and unnerved.

“Hey, Hinata! Stop touching that!”

Tsukishima follows behind Akaashi, coming up to see Hinata pulling away from what looks like lavender. “Why? It’s not like I’m destroying them—”

“Those are poisonous!”

“What?” Hinata jumps away from the flowers like he’s been burned, clearly shocked.

“Well, not the part you were touching— but you shouldn’t touch those anyway.”

It seems like he was just playing. Tsukishima heaves a nearly relieved sigh, and Akaashi scolds the older boy, surprisingly enough.

“Kuroo, you really shouldn’t start yelling about poisonous things up here. You’re just scaring people.”

“Oh,” he has enough sense to look guilty at that and rubs the back of his head. “Sorry, Akaashi. Don’t give me that scary face! No wonder Bokuto listens to you so well.”

“He doesn’t listen,” Akaashi says pointedly, watching as Bokuto hovers closer and closer to the so called poisonous flowers. “Bokuto, you shouldn’t touch those. Kuroo wasn’t lying.”

“Urgh! I wasn’t—“

“Bokuto!” Kuroo whips around. Tsukishima’s head throbs. “Do I have to tell you, too?! You’re a third year! Even though I just told off that shortie!”

“You’re a bad influence,” Akaashi is prompt. Bokuto gives a little dramatic wail of indignation.

“That stings! Don’t say that! Aren’t these obviously just regular flowers?!”

“What do you know, Mr. Slacker?! I bet your grades in science and biology are a disgrace!”

Kuroo is fired up: and so they bicker, Akaashi’s remarks smooth and confident, Kuroo’s chiding, and Bokuto’s terribly loud. The group stays together this time and they continue through the garden like that.

What stops them next is a building; a shed, Tsukishima comes to realize, mostly hidden by bushes. The style is the same as the main structure. Hinata seems to think it’s a secret base of some sort, and creeps around the side to get a better look—only to stumble into one of the bushes with a yelp.

He comes back to the group and he’s covered in burs; Tsukishima thinks they’re bugs, at first, and gives his own yelp. Bokuto and Kuroo wail with undisguised laughter as they help pick the burs off of Hinata’s clothing, a few of them flying Tsukishima’s way. Once he stops laughing, Nishinoya helps. If Tsukishima laughs or smiles, it’s smothered with a hand. Akaashi helps him pick the burs off on their way out of the garden, something he’s grateful for.

As Kenma passes him by, he spots a few burs in his hoodie. It doesn’t seem like he’s noticed, so Tsukishima carefully lifts a few free.

Kenma does notice then, and turns to him abruptly, eyes wide. He doesn’t say anything, prompting Tsukishima into explaining.

“Burs. There were… burs, on your hoodie,” he says, struggling against the intense gaze being focused on him.

“… did you get them all?” he asks, raising a hand to pat his shoulder. Tsukishima nods.

“Oh.” Kenma turns away again and drifts back to Hinata’s side, brushing him off. Tsukishima thinks it bizarre, and almost, but not quite, wants to call him out on it.

“Wouldn’t you normally say thanks…?” he mutters under his breath.

The coaches rally the teens together once they all return. Takeda claps his hands together, calling for silence.

“Ah, well, first of all, I’d like to thank both of your teams for coming to this camp,” he begins, voice carrying. Though he seems timid, Takeda isn’t shy. He’s definitely a responsible person, Tsukishima thinks. His mind drifts back to the uneasiness he’d felt before.

“I know it was a last minute invitation, but you graciously accepted. We’re very glad to have you here! Sadly, a few of our members couldn’t come. We’ll make do for now.

Before we get inside and begin training, I’d just like to make a few rules very clear. The mountain is uncultivated,” he gestures to the wide expanse of forest on either side of them. “And so, it’s dangerous. I’d really prefer for our teams to stay within the school building.

There’s no reason to stray—there’s a courtyard between the west and east gym, if you need fresh air. The track—” he points to the flat stretch of land that stretches between the west side of the school to the forest, beyond. In the bright light of the afternoon sun, it looks cheery, like taking a hike would be a fun adventure. Further, there’s what looks like a gym. Is there more than one…?

“—Is not to be used. We’ll have punishment games for lost matches, like always, but they’ll take place inside. I’d also like to stress one thing. The third gym isn’t to be used. You’re free to wake up early and use the two connected to the school, but that one isn’t in a very good state, so please don’t try to get in! It’s locked, if you forget.”

Hinata raises his hand, standing on tiptoes. Tsukishima notices, so Takeda does too, but he gives a smile, opposite to his scowl. “Ah, do you have a question?”

“Are there panthers up here?” he asks. Kageyama facepalms and Tsukishima restrains the urge to do the same.

“Oh… no. There aren’t any panthers,” Takeda gives a light hearted chuckle, sharing an exasperated look with Ukai. “There aren’t any animals up here but birds. Um, well… I think that’s everything. I’ve given your captains and vice captains keys to the buildings, but please be responsible. Us adults also have keys, of course. We all trust you, so we’re not too worried. Anything you want to add, Ukai?” he asks, turning to their coach.

“You better give thanks to Takeda,” he says, jerking a thumb at their teacher, who goes red. “This isn’t a super special training camp, but it’s a unique experience you’ll remember forever. Hopefully, we’ll come up here again, but appreciate it. Enjoy the scenery, and train hard.”

No one else has any other questions, so the meeting concludes. Tsukishima is glad. He spares another glance toward the abandoned gym, until it passes from view as they step back inside the cool of the building.

Tsukishima thinks of all of the swirling doubts he’d experienced, finding them useless now. The mountain is shimmering and splendid, the air smelling fresh and clean, their future promising.

Kageyama’s words repeat in his head, again and again.

He looks for the head of black hair through the crowd of teenagers, spotting first Hinata, and then Kageyama. He’s got a decisively passive expression on his face.

Nothing is wrong.

Nothing at all.