In hindsight, it was pretty obvious from the moment he stepped into the shop that he wasn’t exactly welcome; all talking stopped at once, balls caught in people’s tight grips, and he could feel a million eyes watching him at once.
It’s a small club Sugawara had found by looking through a phonebook, of all things, tucked away on a mountainside a short hike away from the close-knit village at the base. It makes sense that an outsider would be noticed immediately, but he hadn’t taken into account how much of an uproar he might cause by settling so quickly.
“Hello,” he starts, shifting his back higher up on his shoulder. There are five of them, all about the same height, all looking like they hail from different regions of the country. No expression has changed. “I wanted to ask about joining the volleyball club – unless it’s exclusive,” good thing he left the door open behind him, “in which case, I can leave—”
“It’s not exclusive,” Someone says, finally, and jogs over to him. The tension in the room seems to break a little, and the others make an easy pace towards him. The one who spoke smiles and holds out a hand for Sugawara to shake. He’s taller than Suga by a few centimeters, a good deal tanner, and muscled like he lifts boxes for a living. “I’m Daichi Sawamura. My family owns the club, hence,” he points to his t-shirt with the club’s logo and his last name emblazoned beneath.
“Koushi Sugawara,” Suga introduces, shaking his hand. Suga’s smaller than everyone else in the club, it’s clear; they tower over and around him, like they’re trying to corner an animal, checking him out in the most intimidating way possible. “I just moved here, and I heard there was a volleyball club,” he shrugs, “I played a little in high school.”
“We’re a little more exclusive than that,” the brunet closest to Suga says, before Sawamura just flat-out talks over him.
“What position did you play?”
“Setter, obviously,” the affronted player says, crossing his arms, “No guy this scrawny would’ve made the team otherwise.”
Suga gives him a once-over. “I’m assuming you’re also a setter, then?”
“He is,” another player confirms, looping an arm around Suga’s shoulders and pulling him in the direction of the net. The other three break circle and follow, the brunet stage-whispering his disapproval. “He’s an asshole, though, so you don’t have to worry about that shining personality disappearing.”
His shorts read Kuroo – finally, a familiar name. “Your mom runs the grocery, right?” Tetsurou looks confused for a second before his face lights up. “She gave me directions for here. Told me to say ‘hi’ to her son. You’re Little Tetsu?”
Knowing someone’s mom gets Sugawara the brownie points he needs; Kuroo gives him an immediate introduction of The Assholes (apparently, a village-approved nickname) and a vague description of the absent fifth member (“big, loud, an owl. His hair looks like it could detach itself to kill someone,”) before tossing him the volleyball from under his arm.
“Let’s see what you can do.” They set up a two-on-three while Suga has no time to process what’s happening and it’s official: he’s the newest member of Sawamura VC.
It doesn’t take much for him to immerse himself in the group after that; they invite themselves to his Spartan apartment, with just a bed and a couch and a stack of books, and spend the first night playing word games and getting drunk. The villagers recognize him from his first day of lost madness, and insist on giving him everything he needs for free, at least for the time being; he gets fifteen invitations to dinner in the first week, and is delivered four soups by different middle schoolers on the third day he’s been there.
“Everyone’s really, really nice,” Sugawara’s saying as he walks down the street to one of two vending machines in the whole town. It’s just past one in the morning, but his paperwork’s been piling up over the last few days and it’s finally time for him to stop avoiding his job. This is his one break, and his cellphone only gets signal when he’s walking down the main street.
“It’s a village. I’d assume they were nice,” the reply crackles back over the bare hint of a connection, “What about their leader?”
“What about him?” He lowers his voice a little; it’s dead quiet outside. “I don’t think they really have a ‘leader’ – they just genuinely seem like five kids playing volleyball, visiting home for the summer.” No matter what else he tries to see them as, they only seem to have volleyball on their mind. It’s disorienting.
“You don’t have to vilify them to me or anything. You realize that, right?”
“Yeah,” Suga sighs.
“Honestly, you don’t even need a gun. I don’t know why you took one.”
“A push would do. You’re on a mountainside, so it should be pretty easy to push—”
“I get it, Tobio, really. You can stop.” There’s a pause on the other end that Sugawara laughs into. “You know, you remind me of one of the guys here. You react the same way to things.”
A sigh. “Just let us know if you need any help, Suga. There’s a whole team out here, and you have five marks.”
“You’re out there for a reason, but thanks for the thought. And they’re rookies at the law-breaking thing. It won’t be that difficult.”
He hangs up just as he reaches the holy glow of the soda machine, a beacon at the end of the road. It’s cold out here; good for the drinks, but not for Suga’s bare legs and arms. He quickly picks out a sesame soda (it’s a whole world of new things to try out here) and rubs his hands together, and then rubs his legs while bending to grab the drink.
He’s so preoccupied with himself he doesn’t realize that Asshole Pt.2 is standing right next to him, waiting, watching. He bumps into a shadow and the drink flies out of his hand in his surprise, and his body is reacting faster than his mind – but then he calms down, calms down quick, but he’d almost flipped a man twice his size onto the asphalt in a pin.
“You startled me,” Suga says, bending to grab the drink. The guy – Ushijima, he recognizes – gets there first, and brushes the glass off before handing it back. “Thank you.”
“Sorry for scaring you. I thought you saw me.”
“I didn’t,” Suga says, inwardly chiding himself. How did he not notice there was someone else with him? “But what are you doing out at,” he checks his phone, “nearly one-thirty in the morning?”
The streetlamp above them flickers on, as if on cue, illuminating them both. Ushijima’s dressed in his training clothes and running shoes, with a water bottle in his hand and a towel slung over one shoulder. “Training,” Ushijima says, simply.
“A little early for that, don’t you think?” Suga steps around him, ready to end the conversation and head home, but Ushijima doesn’t let it happen.
“I’ll walk you home,” he says, and his face melds back into an expressionless stone. He looks like he has absolutely no intention of having a conversation, and is actually just walking Suga home. Suga sends up a quick mental good luck to Ushijima’s future girlfriend.
“Thanks.” It’s a fifteen-minute walk to the room Sugawara lives in, which is a space above the village post office. None of the volleyball club members are related to the owner of the office, thank god, but they’re all very close by. He should probably expect to have next to no privacy.
He’s still thinking up a conversation starter when Ushijima breaks the silence with a disarm of his own: “Why did you move here by yourself?”
It’s not far from the bluntness the rest of the village has towards newcomers, but Sugawara’s mind still goes blank for a couple of seconds at the straightforward question. “Umm,” he flounders for a few seconds. “Actually, I just really needed the break. From – work. The city. You know,” he shrugs, even though Ushijima probably doesn’t know, if he’s been here his whole life.
“So you just left?”
“After a lot of talking,” a flashback to all the meetings he had before coming, “a lot, a lot of talking. It was a tough decision to make, but I’m glad I did.”
Ushijima seems satisfied with the answer, and doesn’t press anymore. Sugawara doesn’t want to chance his luck any more than he has today, so he thanks Ushijima at the foot of the stairs and collapses onto his couch once he gets inside. The sesame soda rolls away from Suga’s hand on the floor, but he doesn’t thin he’s able to drink it right now, anyway.
The looming paperwork is stacked in a semicircle around the couch, the only way Suga can force himself into working on it. He needs to get it all signed and mailed out quick, before the wrong eyes read the wrong lines, but there’s a limit to what’s humanly possible in a night. He finishes a third of it by the time the birds are chirping and falls asleep on the floor, and in the morning carries out what he can until he’s due at club.
It’s his good luck that gets him a spike to the face at practice, first thing, and the ensuing concussion. He’s out when they get his head off the floor.
He wakes up in an unfamiliar room with one door and no windows, with a zip tie on his wrists and a glorious cot at his feet. Suga knows what his situation is before he wants to admit, and holds his head in his hands – and accidently pressing down on the bruise taking up the upper left corner of his face.
A voice on intercom crackles over his curse. “You’ve been captured, Suga,” and of course, they let the one who was most annoyed with him do the talking. Someone snatches the mic away from Oikawa before he can say anything else, though, so Suga doesn’t have to worry about peppered insults between each bit of information.
“We’ve known you were a spy since you first arrived,” Kuroo says, and then his voice is gone too. Suga wishes there were a clock in here; this looks like it’ll take a bit.
“Hi, Suga,” it’s Sawamura. Suga is immediately more interested in the conversation, but he just waves in the general area of the voice. There’re a few cameras in here, somewhere. “We don’t really want to keep you in here for too long, but we’ll need you to talk a little before you leave.”
There’s a pause. Suga waits for a second, and then understands. “You don’t really expect me to say anything, do you?”
“You admit to being a spy though?”
“I don’t ‘admit’ to anything,” Suga says. “Also, I’ll sue you guys for holding me in here when I get out. I’ll tell your parents.” He feels like a child, but it’s a chilling threat here. But if he’s being honest with himself, the parents are the ones he’ll have to worry about if anyone gets wind of his assignment.
“We have your file right here,” Sawamura says, and Suga is beyond glad he got rid of most of his paperwork this morning. The only things left in his apartment were bills for the room and for his actual house back in the city, a driver’s license from when he was a teenager, and an unloaded gun. “You’re one of the overseas agents we were told to watch out for. At least you used your real name,” a pause, “but everything else is different. You’re younger than you said—”
The line cuts out for thirty seconds, a minute, two minutes, five minutes. Suga is made painfully aware of how little there is to do in here, and starts to count cracks in the ceiling. There are twenty-three. He counts spots on the carpet: eighty-five. Notches on his zip tie: fifteen. He’s trying to remember the lyrics to the song he heard on the radio during practice when the door to his room opens—
“We’ll be keeping you in here,” Ushijima says, blank as ever. “Kuroo and Bokuto will be guarding the room. Ask them if you need to use the restroom, or if you’re hungry.”
“Or if you wanna watch the baseball game with us,” Bokuto calls from behind, and then the door slams shut again. Sugawara touches the bruise on his face, the one Bokuto had given him. He hears a muffled sorry! through the wall, and laughs.
The days pass slower than did his two weeks of being a normal resident, but they still pass. Bokuto and Kuroo are the Tweedles of his doorway, and Suga usually gets running commentary while he’s at the urinal, because they can talk about anything.
“Honestly, I didn’t realize you were a spy until after they told me to spike you,” Bokuto tells him through the crack in the door. Suga’s standing at the far end of the room, staring straight up at a now-confirmed camera space, flashing different expressions at the lens.
“Why’d you spike him, then?” Kuroo asks, already laughing even though he hasn’t heard the answer.
“I’m not about to say no to someone telling me to start a fight.” The both start laughing and Suga hears the familiar slaps of their oh-so-secret handshake.
“If you wanted to start a fight, I’d be much more receptive,” Suga says. “Was it that fun knocking me out?”
“Not really,” Bokuto admits, but Kuroo slaps his shoulder.
“You were laughing!”
“I wasn’t,” he says, then into the room, “Really, I wasn’t!”
“He was,” Kuroo says, “He couldn’t even help us carry you, he was laughing so hard.”
“Dude, no,” Bokuto says, but by then, Suga’s laughing with them. “Would I? Do I look like the kind of guy who would do that? My friend was lying, on the ground, dead—”
“Not dead,” Suga chirps.
“Regardless,” Bokuto brushes off, somehow, “and you think I would laugh?”
“You’re literally laughing right now,” there’s a slapping noise – Bokuto probably whacked Kuroo again – and then another of retaliation, and then it’s a fest. A chair falling over knocks the door closed, but Suga can hear the scuffle continue through the wall. He knows he should probably stop them, but there’s a bigger benefit to be had here.
Sure enough, not another minute passes when a third voice halts all activity in the hallway. Silence, then laughter as Bokuto and Kuroo fix the chairs and put a crack in the door again, and then the resident referee steps into the room.
It’s the first time Suga’s actually seen Sawamura since he was captured, but it doesn’t feel tense. In fact, Sawamura seems to relax when he sees Suga. Of course, it might be more relaxing to see your presumed prisoner sitting on the ground, zip tied, but Suga likes to look on the bright side.
“You should really stop them when they get like that,” he says, and rubs the back of his neck. He’s full of openings; even a rookie group of troublemakers should have a little more training. Suga could probably take him down in two moves. He’d probably like it, too.
“But then you’d never come down here.” Suga shrugs at the tragedy that would be, and Sawamura’s hand freezes on his neck and his ears bloom pink. Suga could probably work a little more magic, but then a wave of hoots comes in through the wall and Sawamura’s out before anything else can be said.
He doesn’t get a chance like that again, unfortunately, because after he misses the fourth check-in with Tobio, Oikawa marches through the door with a face like he’s sucked on three lemons. A moment of silence passes between them.
“How are you?” Sugawara chances, but Oikawa doesn’t have time for him.
“Your boyfriend is here.”
Sugawara doesn’t let his confusion show on his face, but he runs through a thousand different covers trying to remember who in this team has ever been designated as a fake partner. “He is?” Probably not Tobio or Kenma, because they’re both too young. Akaashi, maybe?
“He wants to join the volleyball club.”
“Ooh,” Bokuto pops his head in the doorway, “Does that mean I get to—”
“No,” Oikawa, Suga, Kuroo, and the intercom all say at the same time, and Bokuto wilts a little in his chair.
“He’s looking for you.” Oikawa frowns, “You probably haven’t even told him, have you?”
Suga plays dumb. “Told him what?” he gets no reply, and doesn’t hear about or from his boyfriend for a while.
Instead, he gets a surprise for his three week anniversary: a fresh face. “He’s been asking for really good pho for, like, three days now. And I can’t say no to a request like that, even if he’s evil, you know? It’s noodle soup.”
“Whatever, Kuroo,” the delivery boy says, pushing the door open. He stops in the doorway, surprised; Suga must look a sight. His hair’s grown in this short time, and he’s only had time to exercise, so he’s buffed up a bit. The only clothes they’ve provided him with are their own extras, since Suga’s ran out very early on. His hands are still tied up, though this time they’re connected by a string to the table he was gifted a couple days earlier.
“I didn’t realize you were an actual prisoner,” the boy sets his bag on the table and begins to put together a fresh bowl of soup.
“You thought I took a vacation from my vacation?” The boy frowns at Suga. “You’re Oikawa’s friend, right?”
The intercom crackles. “Don’t tell him anything, Iwa.”
The delivery guy rolls his eyes. “Hajime,” he makes to shake Suga’s hand, and looks lost when he remembers that Suga’s a little inconvenienced. Suga laughs at his expression. “We grew up together.” He eyes Suga, “Although you probably already knew that.”
After a moment, Suga admits, “I did.” Then he nods to the chair across from him. The pho smells delicious. “You’ll have to feed me, though, I can’t use my hands.”
Hajime doesn’t mind sitting down and settling into the role, although Oikawa marches right down and stands at his side the whole time Suga’s eating, “for your protection, Iwa, this guy’s crazy.”
“We could skip the whole trouble and ask Sawamura to take care of me instead. I’ll behave,” Suga gives his best puppy eyes.
“I doubt that,” Hajime says, then fills his mouth with golden broth.
Sawamura does come to see him again, eventually, though he seems more reserved. Suga’s ready to make a quick joke when Sawamura tells him, “Your boyfriend went back home.”
Something in Suga sinks a little, but he doesn’t know why. “When?”
“Yesterday.” Sawamura rubs the back of his neck, an easy nervous tick. It was endearing to Suga before, and it still is, but now it’s coupled with something foreboding. “We told him you left a while ago, and he finally believed us.” He looks and sounds like he wants to apologize, but Suga’s just trying to figure out what this means. Sawamura leaves, finally, when Suga says nothing.
“You should’ve said ‘brother’,” Suga says, when the door cracks open at an ungodly hour.
His rescuer trips in the doorway, almost setting off an alarm, but finds it in himself to tell Suga to shut up. “Boyfriend was the easiest to play. You shouldn’t’ve gotten caught so easily. You’ve been doing this for years,” He cuts Suga free and hands him a pair of shoes two sizes too big; scrawled on the bottom, in almost unreadable handwriting, is Koutarou and a smiley face. Suga feels guilt in his soul.
“Wait, did you kill him?” Semi turns to give Suga A Look. “Just making sure.”
“I’m not finishing your failed assignment,” he takes Suga’s wrist and starts leading him up the stairs – the whole time, he was just in the basement of the damn volleyball club. He laughs once, and it echoes around the building.
“I am not dying holding your hand in a random village,” Semi says, tugging Suga out an open window instead of the alarm-rigged door and down the mountain in the dark.
“I was working on this guy here—”
“Of course you were,” Semi mutters.
“And I was so close, so close, Semi – and then you came in—”
“Pretending to be my boyfriend, ruining my chances,”
“I’m not sorry,” Semi says. It’s cold and dark and Suga’s shoes are too big, but they make it down to the end of the village, and then take a long route around it, and run the six miles to the nearest train station. “I swear to god,” Semi says, into his cellphone, “I swear to god, he’s never doing a solo assignment again, for as long as I live.”
It’s Kenma on the other end and, for once, he sounds a little concerned – which is a step away from crying. “Suga, are you okay? Did they hurt you?”
“He’s fine,” Semi says, “Shattered all his pride, yeah, but he’s fine. We’re taking the fourth line back. See you in a week.” He hangs up and turns to look at Suga.
They’re both out of place: Suga, in oversized clothes meant for warmth, and Semi in sweatpants and a t-shirt, straight out of the city. They’re sweating and breathing hard and might pass out at the single platform that is their train station, but they’re free, and Suga feels like he’s breathing fresh air for the first time.
“We were really worried, you know,” Semi snaps. The sky is lighting up lighter blues and the morning train is in the distance, flashing lights. “And here you were, having fun.”
Suga stares at him, panting, then at the ground, and then raises a hand to squeezes Semi’s shoulder. “I’m really sorry,” he says, genuinely, “And I missed you guys, too.”
Suga sleeps the blissful two hours of their first train. Semi goes to buy breakfast while they wait for their transfer, and Suga snags a couple bucks from his pocket to place a call while he’s gone.
He only knows his own number in the village, and his phone is still back there, probably in Oikawa’s care. They’ll be checking in a couple hours on Suga, and won’t find him there, and Suga’s too polite to leave without at least saying goodbye. A message on his own phone will have to do.
He only has a minute on the booth with the money he has. “Thanks for the fun,” he says, when the voicemail bell rings. “Sawamura especially. Also, that wasn’t my boyfriend, just thought I would mention – for Sawamura, especially, again.” After a minute, he says, “I paid rent for a whole year, though. So I’ll – see you next summer.”
Semi’s waiting outside the booth when he’s done, looking like he’s ready to kill someone.