Disclaimer: Haikyuu! belongs entirely to Haruichi Furudate, I only own the OC character, nothing else.
This is an OC-centric fic that delves into the complexity of relationships, the definition of beauty, and how people overcome obstacles both physically and mentally. The OC is foreign born (not-Japanese) and will face many cultural stigmas in her stay. Please note that I am neither Japanese or Finnish, and my studies on both do have their limits, so my apologies if I have misguided information regarding either culture. Please inform me and I will fix my error.
Chapter 1: Apollonia Eevastiina Manner
One Year Before the Storyline
In the halls of Karasuno High School, Daichi and Sugawara stood by their respective shoe lockers and slipped into their school slip-one, not really eavesdropping but unable to ignore the current talk going around.
"Did you hear, we're getting an exchange student!"
Sugawara's eyebrows twitched in interest, leaning back to the group of students behind him to better hear.
"Really? Are they from America? That'd be cool if we got an American here in Miyagi. Tokyo gets all the tourists."
"Man, I hope it's a girl, a really cute one. Like those pretty blonde girls with long hair. I could show her around town and take her to an amusement park!"
Sugawara glanced at Daichi to find him rolling his eyes in a mundane manner. He couldn't help but chuckle along.
"I want to learn more about American culture. I bet they'd have it easy in English classes. I've heard that they don't have to go to school on Saturdays, and their public schools don't require uniforms!"
"Maa, I wonder when they will be arriving."
"Well, we'll be able to spot them a mile away, just look for the white girl."
"Shh, don't say it like it's a bad thing, what if they hear you?!"
Sugawara and Daichi exchanged glances as they strolled towards their class, subconsciously partaking in the flurry of gossip around them without actually speaking. One of their former classmates waved them over. "Have you guys heard about the American? Man, to come to Miyagi of all places. She must be really pretty if literally the whole school is on edge."
Daichi sighed, "I'm hoping that it's a guy, and I hope he's really good at volleyball."
"Don't get so down, Daichi, we'll be alright this year. We just need to keep fighting is all, whether we have the foreign exchange student or not," Sugawara assured.
"Are you saying you're not interested in the American, Sugawara?"
"I'm interested in the foreign exchange student, just like everyone else," Sugawara hummed, "But they would probably prefer not to be stared at like a zoo animal. That's intimidating for a new person."
"Ah, you have a point."
Daichi raised an eyebrow, "So you're saying, that if it was a pretty girl, you wouldn't even spare a second look?"
Sugawara scoffed, giving a contorted expression that didn't even merit an explanation.
"It doesn't matter if she's from another country, how different could she be?"
Sugawara sat frozen in his chair with a grip on his jaw so firm it threatened to bruise. He probably should have seen it coming, in all honestly, and yet he didn't exactly expect to have the American standing right in front of him, in his classroom. It was not entirely difficult to distinguish her from them: her eyes were a bit wider with a shape that contrasted their own, her nose sharper and turned up, her face bonier, the hue of her skin more pink and powdered than their own.
She seemed to acknowledge their cognizance of her foreign face, and immediately went on the defense by wearing a tepid frown.
"Hello, my name is Apollonia Eevastiina Manner. I was born in Kalajoki, Finland, but I recently moved here from California. I hope that I share a delightful school year with you all."
Her voice was rigid, as if she were reading from a poorly written script in a flat line tone that would make even the dowdiest professors doze off. She didn't seem to be aware of her own monotone, instead just nodding her head as the teacher welcomed her to Japan.
The students however:
"… I thought Americans were more lively than this," a classmate commented quietly behind a cupped hand. The student next to him nodded his head.
"... And bigger. I mean, like around," the student made a crude gesture towards his chest while finishing, "I thought American's had more meat."
"Well, you heard her, she's not American, she's from Finland. They probably look different there."
The student wore an expression that was a bit too disheartened for his own good.
"Maa, that's no fun. Send her back, then."
Sugawara glanced around, perturbed that they were making such a fuss about her appearance. It wasn't as if it was such a big deal, the way she looked. Sure she was irrationally tall, and had an unfortunately flat chest, and her face was more handsome than it was pretty, and even though it seemed that she had the emotional vibrancy of old paint, and her hair was short and cropped like some forest fairy and was ghastly white like an old man's, and also—
Alright, maybe he was just as guilty for scrutinizing her—Apollo, Apple, Apollonia was her name?—in such a rude manner as everyone else had, when he so proudly resolved to treat her like the normal human being that she was. He didn't want her to get the wrong idea about Japan after all and assume that they were all just interested in foreigners who looked like pretty, yellow-haired dolls with healthy, bouncing breasts—all of which Apollonia did not have.
On the bright side, she had a very feminine voice, which offset her lack of assets. He could at least feel contented with himself for noting her positive characteristics such as her voice. While he couldn't exactly think of anything else at the time, he was sure that if he befriended her, he would definitely find other positive aspects about her more than just the obvious on the surface.
She was ushered to a seat far at the other end of the classroom, sitting with half of her face in the morning sun. Her pale hair and even paler skin lit up like a lantern in broad daylight, washing out most of her natural color like bleach. She was half leaned over on the desk, her forearms propping her up in an attentive posture as the teacher continued on with their lesson plans while passing out papers.
The students around her seemed to be fixated on her foreign appearance—probably not expecting something as far north as a woman from Finland of all places, especially considering they were probably expecting a rounded, quirky American. It was a decent amount of mileage to travel from North to West to way Far East, which begged the question: what sort of reasons did she bear to jump from country to country—from continent to continent?
It was fascinating for sure, which was probably why those who had not altogether disregarded her sat erect in their seat, following her every movement: when she would switch ankles while crossing her legs, when she would scratch her cheek with her index finger, when her brow would suddenly furrow as she tried to decipher an excessively complex piece of writing.
She had become a novelty, plain and simple for those who were not hung up on the preconceived notion of her being a buxom, bubbly, beautiful foreigner. Apollonia, however, seemed detached from their fascination, and looked to be more intrigued in the scenery outside than in her classmates around her.
Sugawara could not help but glance to the side every so often, catching her profile as she stared forwards with her pen resting quietly in her left hand. He felt his eyebrow rise slightly: she was left-handed? Well than was another positive quirk he could add on with her voice. Sugawara inwardly high-fived himself for making such great process in so little time.
Unfortunately, Sugawara's inwardly celebration had somehow manifested outside of his body: apparently he had pumped his fist while chirping, 'Yosh!' during the middle of class.
His movements frozen in time, he looked around to see that all of his classmates, including his teacher had turned their attention onto him. He could feel his face warm a thousand shades of red, and slowly lowered his arm until it sat ashamedly in his lap, his shoulders scrunched as he tried to curl within himself to escape the horrid first impression he had made upon the new school year.
What made matters worse, was that he was foolish enough to turn his head to the side in Apollonia's direction, and found that her neck was high and stretched in response to his sudden outburst, her eyes wide in astonishment at his actions. Good God, she probably thought all Japanese boys were strange due to his outlandish behavior—he probably just sullied every image she had of their kind, and would no doubt go to the fullest extent to avoid him, as if he bore some foreign disease or something.
On a lighter note, when his stare met her, he had noticed for the first time just how sharp her calcite eyes really were.
He fished out his bento, heading back to the homeroom after a quick bathroom break so that he would be able to eat his lunch—and hopefully forget about his little scene he had made that morning.
Much to his misfortune, he found Apollonia alone, sittingin her chair with an uncharacteristically bemused expression. Few students sat somewhat near her; close enough to touch, though no one was brave enough to make a move. Not that Sugawara was surprised, after all, she was rather intimidating, and as she sat longer in the basking light, she looked like a living ghost, or something almost as romantic.
With resolve, Sugawara braced himself and took the long road of marching up towards her desk, his face slowly twisting with hesitation and his palms sweating feverishly after each and every step. From a distance he could tell that she was tall, he was just not aware just how alarmingly tall she was. It was like she was a little bean sprout growing right before his very eyes. Even her lanky arms looked to house more then they were willing to show. As crazy as it sounded in Sugawara's head, she looked sturdy. Of course he'd never say such a thing to her face in fear of the consequences: Western girls got upset by those sorts of comments too, didn't they? At any rate, it was a quiet strength, whatever she had. Something elegant and demure, but definitely not to be trifled with.
He swallowed the boulder of doubt lodged in his throat and bowed—gracelessly knocking his head into her desk. He snapped back up and held his forehead, looking at her from under his hands as a familiar pink took his skin. Her eyes were wide with astonishment once again, though a sort of apologetic hue mixed with her stoic expression, as if she felt bad for his unfortunate existence.
"Are you alright? You seem to be very clumsy," she deadpanned.
Sugawara laughed a little more forcefully than he should have, holding out his hand as if to say, 'No! I'm all right, I swear! And I'm really a normal, coordinated person, honest!' He lowered his arm back to his side and revealed the bit of bruise forming on his forehead, smiling weakly as he bowed with a little more skill.
"U-uh, hello, my name is Sugawara Koushi. Welcome to Karasuno! If you need anything, do not hesitate to ask!"
Feeling flustered, he turned sharply to walk back towards his own desk, but was taken off guard when he heard her speak up—not that her volume was anything to take notice of.
"Do you have food courts here, or vending machines? I don't really know how lunch periods work here in Japan, so I didn't really bring anything today."
Sugawara was shell-shocked that she was actually asking him of all people for help, especially considering his stupidity that fate had unfortunately decided to unearth from him that morning. Still, with a grin, he fluffed up his feathers and held out his hand to her.
"We have vending machines here, I can take you to them if you like!"
It would have been a lie to say that Sugawara did not feel uncomfortable walking down the halls with Apollonia at his side, the woman unfortunately surpassing him by a fair number of centimeters.
He noted that she seemed to not be vulgar in terms of speech like he heard foreigners were, and wore her skirt modestly at her knee. As well, despite the mild day, she seemed contented in wearing her shirt completely buttoned up to the top, even with her blazer closed and secured over the long, sinewy frame. Much to his amusement, her arms didn't seem to be entirely covered, or else she was just content in rolling up her sleeves like a farmer taking on the fields. They walked in silence for a while until Sugawara forced a cough just to hear something other than their footsteps. He didn't want to make her feel awkward after all, even though Apollonia would have been more than content not speaking.
"So… what brings you to the East, Apollonia-san?" Realizing his faux pas, he quickly held up his hands in defense. "Is it alright that I call you Apollonia-san, or would you prefer Manner-san?"
She looked at him, beguiled, as if she didn't have a clue what he was talking about.
"Uh…" Sugawara started, finding the words on how to explain the concept of honorifics to the foreigner in a way that she would likely understand. "Manner-san would be most respectful, since it's your last name. That way I'm not presumptuous about our relationship."
"Relationship," she inquired.
Sugawara's hands immediately snapped up in defense.
"Saa-aaa, I mean! Well, your closest friends should call you Apollonia-san, or even Apollonia-chan! It was rude for me to be so bold, please forgive me, Manner-san!"
Apollonia looked down at Sugawara, who had his hands folded in prayer to ask for her forgiveness, looking up at her with pitiful brown eyes. Hers were unblinking, mouth straight, but it was not in a coarse fashion. In fact, she looked amused.
Sugawara Koushi was ordinarily a charismatic and composed individual, and yet this woman had the talent of taking that all away from him. How scary.
"Apollonia," she finally said. "You can just call me Apollonia. I do not care for those additives."
The setter forced his skin to remain a healthy color as he tried to explain that using her name without any suffixes was meant for only informal occasions, but settled with a compromise.
"Apollonia-chan," he said brightly, "Here we are!" Sugawara extended his arms to the multitude of vending machines before them, filled with all sorts of snacks and lunches per her preference, along with several beverage machines.
Sadly, she seemed to be overwhelmed by the display and cocked an eyebrow at the choices before her. The colors decorating the packages where bright and almost gaudy—assumedly to appeal to the fast-living teenage lifestyle—but the foreign characters that wrapped around the cans and packages did nothing more than mystify poor, Finnish Apollonia.
She scanned each machine, growing more and more confused by the bizarre food products the Japanese had. "I didn't know that cakes could be made to look like fish. Is that not unappetizing for you?"
Sugawara tried not to laugh, but found his chuckled only partially stifled as he looked slightly up at her. She was fixated on the machines as if they had unplugged themselves from the wall and were dancing right in front of her. He had to admit, she was far less intimidating when she was making a mountain out of a molehill with something as simple as lunchtime snacks, the uncharacteristic look on her face almost twisted enough to be humorous.
"Why not milk, that's pretty popular here," he offered.
"I do not consume many dairy products," she retorted. Sugawara cringed at the metallic edge in her voice. He didn't bother correcting Apollonia that most, if not all, people drank soy milk, and pushed himself a little further.
"There are coffee machines," he tried.
A flicker of intrigue crossed her eyes, which immediately set Sugawara at ease. He pulled out his wallet and entered a fair about of coins into the beverage machine, and stood back for Apollonia to choose.
"First one's on me," Sugawara said brightly. The look of shock on the Finn's face could not be adequately described, though it did taken her a while to shake herself from her thoughts as she pressed the button that bore the numbers for the can of strict black coffee, watching as the little can protruded from the holder at her knees. She leaned down and lifted the can, inspecting it as if it were an exotic bug or precious stone. Hesitantly she snapped the top open, sniffing it before slowly bringing it to her mouth.
Swallowing down the coffee, Apollonia held out the can to look at it once more.
"Fascinating," she mused. She turned to Sugawara, who had entered a few more coins and had picked out a small juice box for himself. "Thank you," she said, though paused as if she were not finished. Her face had tightened with something he could not identify, though she finally expressed her thoughts as she asked, "Am I obliged to bow to you after I thank you? Is that custom here?"
Sugawara chuckled nervously, "N-no, you really don't have to. Your 'thank you' was more than enough."
Still, Apollonia wanted to be as respectful as possible, especially being in the presence of a foreigner with customs far different from her own. She held to can's neck steady and bowed gratefully, sweeping back up to meet his eyes.
She did not speak another word, yet the gratitude refracting through her calcite was more than enough. Sugawara nodded and began walking back to their homeroom, silently motioning her to follow him as they both sipped on their respective drinks.
He was not entirely prepared for what happened the next day. As surprising as it was, it was a little embarrassing too, especially considering that he really did nothing but pay for a stupid little can of black coffee for her.
But when he came into his class that morning, luckily before any of the other students managed to infiltrate the premises, he found an off little gift on his desk.
It was a juice box, the same flavor as the one he bought a day before when showing Apollonia all of their vending machines. Oddly enough, said Finn seemed to be absent from the room, yet a free, unmarked juice box the same exact flavor as yesterday sat upon his desk. When he picked it up, a small folded piece of paper was lodged under the carton. He opened it up, finding that it was a thank you note with very hesitant strokes painting words too formal for a native Japanese person to use. Compared to the feminine penmanship of his classmates it was absolutely horrible in form, though he wasn't entirely surprised. It was possibly Apollonia's first year writing freeform Japanese rather than practicing it in special notebooks and worksheets. Signed at the bottom was none other than the extravagant name of 'Apollonia Eevastiina Manner,' written with a little more confidence. Her grammar was adequate, although it was clear that whatever Japanese linguistics training she had received before coming to their country was very strict, using a written vernacular that was not all that common for people their age. Especially not in Miyagi.
Still, it was enough to widen the grin on his face.
So, not only was she sentimental, but she was polite as well, yet another quirk of the Finn that Sugawara could mentally document. He tucked the juice away in his bag before glancing at the note once more, tracing each line of her writing as if her could feel her shaking hand as she tried to sound eloquent in a language that she was not familiar with. He chuckled.
"Evah-steen-ah? Ha, foreigners have such cool names."
"Suga-san, you are so lucky!"
The overbearing volume of Tanaka was enough to earn a stern glare from Daichi, though he quickly returned his attention to a flushed Sugawara.
"So, you managed to befriend the foreign exchange student… or something of the sort," he chuckled. The setter—keen on his captain's innuendo—whipped his hands and crossed them in an exaggerated, 'x' formation.
"It's not like that! It must just be a custom or something in Finland. She was just being nice."
"Suga-san, you are such a hero," Tanaka exclaimed. "The foreigner likes you!"
"So, what is she like," Daichi inquired.
"Does she kiss as a greeting like those other Europeans?"
Sugawara—with his hands still held up in defense—shook his head and let his mouth habitually spread into an uneasy smile.
"She's very nice, but I swear, I don't know anything about her. And no, Tanaka, she doesn't."
"Does she play volleyball?" Of course Daichi would ask such a question. "The girl's volleyball club is looking for more recruits. If she's half decent, they'd probably love her," he elaborated. Still, Sugawara just shrugged and rubbed the back of his neck.
"Eh… I don't know anything about her, and I don't really know how to go about talking to her. I already told her if she had any questions that she could come to me for help."
His two friends nodded sagely as they watched their timid setter slowly unravel, though honestly he had nothing to worry about.
It was only the second day.
It was the second day and she actually—willingly—had called out to him, and was making an effort to talk to him on her own accord!
Sure, her manner of approach was European—which ultimately brought a frightful flush to his face as he tried to explain to her that, 'Sugawara-kun' or even 'Koushi-san,' would have sufficed, but earned a rather bleak expression that he had already seen before. It was a solid minute that Sugawara tried to explain the purpose of honorifics and how they could be properly used with his name to avoid embarrassing situations such as questions regarding their relationship. But somehow, Apollonia did not seem to think anything wrong with calling him, 'Koushi,' unadorned, without any decorum. She also didn't seem to be fazed by his nervous sweating, blushing, strained face as he tried to shake off the fact that it was only the second day, and the one-hundred eighty centimeter beanstalk foreign exchange student was actually calling him by his first name with a straight face as if they were life long friends, or-or even…
"Uh, yes, Apollonia-chan?"
"Do you know where the track is?"
"Yes, you just kind of," he pointed past the east wall, gesturing a vague sort of way—which only caused her to become even more bewildered, "and you just take a," Sugawara tried to point the multitude of turns she would have to take, but ultimately found himself tripping over his own tangled words.
"Eh," he laughed, "I'll just take you there."
They walked again in silence, side by side, and all at once, the overpowering sensation of déjà vu came over him. Though this time around, there lack of conversation was overall comfortable: there was something calm about her willingness to let her shoes speak as she strolled, and the way that despite her aloof sort of demeanor was perceived, she was actually sharply aware of the smallest details, such as the movement of leaves along the ground where they walked, or the students in the distance.
Still, he felt a sort of compulsion to at least say something to her.
"Were you thinking about joining the track club, Apollonia-chan?"
She turned to him, as if she were somewhat surprised about his inquiry.
Sugawara chuckled uncomfortably at Apollonia's straightforwardness and made to just brush the subject off; but to his surprise, Apollonia was not finished talking.
"I have joint and muscle problems. Long term repetition only aggravates it."
There was a certain forced quality about the way that she was speaking, as if she were grasping for the proper vocabulary that she probably found from a, 'Finnish to Japanese translator,' if such a thing existed. That, or she just felt unbearably uncomfortable talking to him for such an extended period of time. Maybe it was just a Finnish thing.
"So, you like running then?"
Though she seemed taken back that he was actually pursuing a conversation with her, she replied. "I have tried many forms of athletics."
The little Daichi figure fluttering in his head beamed at that statement, grinning with inner musings of, 'Ah, this could be promising.'
"Are you a fan of volleyball then?"
Apollonia nodded lightly. "I grew up playing beach volleyball. In America I found many college players around the beach and I was invited to serve for a while."
"As a first year," Sugawara stressed with incredulity.
"I was one hundred and eighty centimeters by the time I finished middle school," Apollonia said, her voice slightly marred by ire. Sugawara seemed awestruck by this fact, but accepted it nonetheless. After all, he was conversing with a towering Finnish female who looked more like a knight meant to be rescuing fair-haired princesses from towers and dragons rather than a second year wasting her time talking to a timid setterlike himself. Anything was possible at this point.
"I travel, a lot," she said, almost awkwardly.
Sugawara slowly nodded, as if he actually comprehended what she was trying to explain.
"Where have you traveled so far?"
"I lived in America for almost a year. I've been to other countries, but it's usually just weekend trips." She made a broad sweep along the ground, before turning her attention on Sugawara. For a moment he swore that she looked embarrassed for speaking as much as she was. "I'd like to learn more about Japan."
"Then, how come you aren't looking at the Kendo Club, or Calligraphy? Would that be more suitable for you?"
"I'm not interested in joining any clubs. I just wanted to know where the track was."
Well, that was sort of disheartening. So, she wasn't interested in any clubs, regardless of the sport, she just wanted a place to run. Still, if she were no held down by the troublesome duties of club activities, perhaps…
"If you're up to it, you should come by and see my friends and I play. We're part of the volleyball club," he hinted with a small grin. "We'd love to see how your experience in beach volleyball translates to our indoor court. Maybe you could teach us hand signals or sand exercises."
In all honesty, the setter was curious: beach players were notorious for jumping higher, darting quicker, and being a better-rounded player in general. In beach volleyball it was just two on two with a lighter ball and a surface of silken sand, drastically different than the cold court and hard ground of indoor: surely she possessed a little something worth watching if she played with college students on the beaches of California.
To his relief, Apollonia didn't seem opposed to the idea; she even openly went as far as asking, "Where are the volleyball courts?"
However, before he could open his mouth, grab her hand and race her to the courts to introduce her to Daichi and Tanaka, a small, tinkling noise of flutes and bells resonated from Apollonia's bag. She whipped out a small—though very stylish—silver phone, holding it back to properly see the title flashing across the front before swiping her finger across the screen to silence the device, turning it off with a small click at its base.
"Sorry, I have to go. Would you mind showing me tomorrow?"
Sugawara nodded and beamed, nodding his head as she turned to retreat the opposite direction.
"See you tomorrow, Apollonia-chan!"
She paused, head swiveling slowly as her eyes met his.
"See you tomorrow."