"Where's Hinata?"

Kageyama glanced away from the door as Tanaka stepped up beside him, then looked back, watching through the supports of the covered walkway to the windows of the school hall. Tanaka followed his eyes and saw what he was looking at. "Ah, there he is."

Hinata was making his way toward the school exit to reach the gym, but not with his usual frantic run. He was chattering non-stop to a girl walking next to him, a tiny first-year Kageyama didn't know. Maybe she was in Hinata's class. It was obvious to Kageyama that she was fascinated by Hinata, hanging on his every word, her eyes bright and mouth open, hands clasped up near her chest. Hinata gesticulated wildly, making movements that vaguely suggested a block, a spike, a receive. He was nattering on about volleyball, of course, while his classmate probably didn't care what he was saying at all. She just wanted to listen to him talk.

Kageyama drummed his fingers against the door jamb, his other hand holding tight to the volleyball at his waist. "Tch." Hinata shouldn't be wasting his time on things that didn't matter. But it would be rude to run away from the girl, so Hinata should just extricate himself politely and get over to afternoon practice, already. They had a match coming up-they always had a match coming up-and they had far too much work to do.

Tanaka laughed, folding his arms over his chest and bending his hand back in his delight. "Ahaha, Hinata has an admirer! How adorable! They look cute together, don't you think?"

He nudged Kageyama's arm, threatening to dislodge his grip on the volleyball, and Kageyama spared him a squinty-eyed glare. "No. Shut up."

Tanaka chuckled, not in the least deterred, and went back to watching the two first-years as they appeared in the open double doors that led outside. In the entrance, Hinata reached some sort of climax in whatever he was talking about and performed one of his ridiculous jumps up into the air, his messy orange hair only a few centimeters below the top of the door.

Dumbass! Kageyama's hand clenched into a fist. What if he hit his head? He could have hurt himself!

The girl gasped and clapped, even making a little hop in pure celebration. Hinata busted out one of his face-splitting grins, his eyes closing, and gave her a thumbs up.

Then things happened very quickly.

Kageyama hadn't been paying attention to the group off third-years hanging around behind Hinata and his tiny new friend. (Seriously, she was even shorter than Nishinoya, how the heck.) Later he would wonder if it would have made a difference if he'd noticed them, if he'd been observant enough to realIze, if he'd used some of his famous situational awareness outside of a gym for once…

But it was too fast, too unexpected. Even if Kageyama had been standing next to Hinata, he might not have been able to do anything.

The third-years were rough types, the kind of teenagers people assumed Asahi was before they got to know him. They were the kind of delinquents that would have had Hinata scrambling to hide behind Tanaka or Kageyama if they met them in a street. They wore sneers more sincere than Kuroo's, more mocking than Oikawa's, more cruel than fate's.

Maybe the thugs were talking amongst themselves, though Kageyama could not hear them over the sounds of Hinata's continued chatter. Maybe one of them said something to another that was taken as a dare or as encouragement or something like that. Maybe there was some twisted reason for what happened next. It was impossible to know.

All Kageyama knew was that suddenly one of the third-years grabbed Hinata's head, rough, dirty fingers plunging into that orange mop, and slammed him face-first into the concrete pillar of the door. The noise of it, the sickeningly loud thunk of bone and flesh meeting painted concrete at an awful speed, hung in the air. For an instant, all sound was sucked out of the atmosphere as Hinata's voice cut off in the middle of a word.

Kageyama was moving before he knew what he was doing, well-honed athletic reflexes rocketing him across the walkway. A red haze was descending on his world, drowning out all other colors. Blood. There was blood dripping from Hinata's head. Behind him and slightly to the left Kageyama heard Tanaka's wordless roar chasing after him. That roar told him that he did not have to worry about the upperclassmen. He would not have to fight, not right now. Which was good, because that wasn't where he was heading. His feet were taking him to Hinata, straight as an arrow. Straight as a volleyball spiked by an ace.

Hinata's legs had buckled, sliding him down the wall to the ground. Now he knelt on the pavement, his hands raised to his head but not touching it. He was totally immobile where he knelt, frozen, his head bowed so Kageyama couldn't see his face. It wasn't like... It was not like him. It was wrong. It was... Hinata was never still, he never stopped moving, not in class, not in the hallway, not at lunch, not when they were sitting cross-legged on the floor of the gym as Coach Ukai or Takeda-sensei taught them new things about the sport they loved…

Kageyama fell to his knees, too, feeling like his muscles had been sliced from beneath him. "Hinata..." He started to reach out, his hands hovering frozen in the air's, just like Hinata's. It felt like the oxygen had been cut off from his brain. What had happened? When he tried to think, his mind hit a snag, stuck on that horrible, incomprehensible moment when Hinata's head hit the wall. How could something like this happen? How could anything like this ever happen? To Hinata, of all people?

He was distantly aware of a commotion beside him, around him, Tanaka yelling, other teammates running up from behind him to the scene of the...crime? Accident? Horror? None of it mattered because Hinata was kneeling on the floor with his head bowed and blood dripping from his face and just... How could this happen?

Kageyama was waiting, he realized. He was waiting for someone to laugh and break the tension, to tell him that it was all a joke, that he'd seen it wrong, that it hadn't happened like that. He was waiting for Hinata to blush and wave his hands, embarrassed at the sudden attention, and tell everyone that it was fine and he was used to getting hit in the face. (But that's with a volleyball, his mind supplied helpfully. This was a wall.)

So he waited. But none of that happened.

Slowly, so slowly, Hinata raised his head and looked back at Kageyama. His eyes were blank and flat and completely empty of comprehension. Blood flowed in a fat, ugly trickle from a wound on his forehead, down to his cheek, reaching for his chin. "Ka...ge..."

"Hinata." Kageyama's hands completed their aborted movement and floated in to rest on Hinata's shoulders, gently, so gently. Concussion, his mind informed him coolly. Skull fracture. Brain damage. Coma. Death. "Hinata, keep your eyes open, okay?"

"O...kay," Hinata agreed. His voice was also flat, empty of understanding. Hinata's voice was never flat. This was wrong.

"Did you pass out? Did you lose consciousness, even for a second?"

Hinata blinked. "I...don't know..."

Scuffling beside them. Tanaka's voice. "How dare you. How dare you!" Suga, Daichi, grunting as they held Tanaka back. "His nose is already bleeding, Tanaka, wait for security now."

"How dare you." A sob in Tanaka's voice, harsh and broken.

Hinata blinked again, a little bit of light leaking back into his eyes. "Kageyama? Are...are we at a match?"

Kageyama shook his head, the words jamming up in his throat.

"Did...did I get hit by a spike again? Is that why everyone's upset?"

Kageyama shook his head.

The little bit of comprehension that had returned dulled, faded. "I...I don't know what's going on..."

Kageyama didn't know, either, so he couldn't tell him.

His mouth opened anyway. "You're going to be all right. Just keep your eyes open."

Of course that was when Hinata started to turn green, his face wrenching up. Kageyama shuffled to the side and tried to support Hinata's torso as he bent over and threw up on the ground. He could feel Hinata swaying, the weakness in his trembling limbs as he tried to hold himself up, tried to keep from face-planting into his own vomit. Kageyama wrapped an arm around his chest and kept that from happening. It was the least he could do.

"Ugh." Hinata moaned, trying to straighten up from his bent position. His head fell back against Kageyama, weak as a baby bird's. "That hurt."

Somehow Kageyama managed to maneuver them around so that they sat with their backs against the wall, Kageyama's arms still around Hinata's middle, Hinata's head leaning back into the dip between Kageyama's upper arm and chest. He couldn't watch Hinata's face this way, couldn't make sure he was following instructions and keeping his eyes open. But Hinata instantly relaxed against him, a soft sigh sliding out, and that was enough for the moment.

A hand landed on Kageyama's shoulder and he looked up, startled to realize that there was still a world outside the two of them. Suga, his kind, encouraging face not quite hiding his fear. "Tsukishima and Yamaguchi went to get security and find Takeda-sensei to take him to the hospital. They'll be back soon. Everything will be all right."

"Yeah." They both knew that wasn't a certainty, but he liked hearing it in Suga-san's voice. "Will you talk to him? Keep him awake."

"Of course."

Suga picked his way over their sprawling legs to kneel next to Hinata, immediately engaging him in a soft, one-sided conversation that Kageyama couldn't bear to listen to. Instead his eyes slipped away, taking in the world he'd been ignoring.

The thugs who had done this cowered against the wall opposite where Kageyama sat, corralled by Nishinoya and Asahi. The look of terror on Asahi's face would be mistaken for rage by anyone who didn't know him. The look on Nishinoya's face, though... Kageyama had never seen that look on his face before. That wasn't a game face. That was real.

Captain Daichi still held on to Tanaka, both arms wrapped around him. He wasn't holding him back anymore, though. He was just holding on. Tanaka had deflated from his murderous rage, reduced to angry, helpless tears. Any other time it would have been embarrassing, but now... He was just expressing what the rest of them couldn't.

"How could you?" he kept saying. "How could you do that?"

Kageyama couldn't see what had happened to Hinata's little classmate. Part of him hoped that Shimizu and Yachi were looking after her. Most of him didn't care.

His eyes traveled on their own, back and up, back to those disgusting third-years. He found the guy responsible right away, blood still oozing out of his nose from Tanaka's punch, red smears on his cheeks and the back of his hand from trying to wipe it off. The smirk was still firmly in place as he watched Tanaka shake in the captain's arms. Kageyama wished he could erase that smirk himself, but he needed to stay where he was.

Kageyama's eyes narrowed as he took in the stupid punk. His greasy hair, his torn uniform, his dirty fingers with their too-big knuckles and broken nails. His ground his teeth, remembering those ugly things buried in Hinata's fiery locks. Wrong. Evil. Not supposed to happen. Never supposed to happen.

"You," Kageyama blurted, the single word like the bark of a dog. Or the cry of a crow.

The punk looked at him, and something in Kageyama's eyes made him quail for an instant, shrinking back against the wall. Then he gathered himself and glared back, more sullenly than defiantly.

Kageyama's glower deepened. His arms tightened around Hinata, causing the smaller boy to grunt. He tried to loosen up, then, but couldn't manage it. Hinata's hands rose and grabbed onto the arm wrapped around his chest, and only then did some of the tension leak out of Kageyama's tightly-coiled body.

Only some of it, though.

"You," he said again, as harsh as an insult. A hundred questions raced through his head, but once again all the words had jammed up in his throat. There was only one thing he could say.


Why? Why did you act in such an unforgivable manner? Why did you use violence against a boy half your size? Why was the power and strength in your limbs used for evil instead of anything else, anything at all? Why did you hurt my friend?

Kageyama's fingers tightened in the cloth of Hinata's shirt. My friend.

That disgusting smirk slipped back onto the punk's face. He was cool and self-assured again, no longer intimidated by the wrath of the entire volleyball club focused directly on him.

"Why?" He raised his chin so that he was looking even further down his nose at Kageyama and Hinata, sitting on the floor. The blood on his face gave his expression a terrible, demonic cast.

"Because his voice annoyed me."