For the sixth time in half-as-many minutes, Suga glanced sideways at his friend with concern.
Daichi, who'd never slacked off during practice before, had been out of it all day.
From the moment the captain had stepped into the gym on that cold, grey Sunday morning he'd been constantly alternating between rubbing his eyes and yawning. On a few occasions, he'd even managed to do both at the same time - which was a feet of coordination. Suga, being the smart cookie that he was, knew that the weather was not the cause of all this, because that would just be silly. Daichi wasn't the type of person to get bummed out about rain, he would just plan around it.
No, Daichi looked tired…because he was actually tired.
Possibly, even, from a lack of sleep.
Next, Suga would learn that the world was flat, and governed by a race of hyper-intelligent Elephants.
This might seem like a bit of an overreaction, or -at least- a little on the extreme side. The thing is, it wasn't.
Daichi took his responsibilities as captain ridiculously seriously. He was always on time, refusing to miss the start of practice for anything, and always arrived with his faculties in order -ready to get the session under-way. Simply put, Daichi was too committed to the team to do it the disservice -or so he would see it- of turning up with anything less than a hundred-per-cent of his brain dedicated to their training.
On top of that, Daichi was too sensible to get this tired. He never stayed up late, not that Suga was aware of anyway, and never pushed himself too hard. Even if there were a big test, or an exam coming up (which there wasn't) -Daichi would have done all of his preparation during the day. That way, he'd have as good of a night's sleep as possible under his belt.
So why was he so knackered now?
"Are you sure you're alright to lead warm-ups, Daichi?" Asked Suga, with the concern that accented his voice laced with the puzzlement that seeped into it via his internal pondering. It was not the first time he'd asked since receiving Daichi's luck-lustre greeting earlier... nor the second for that matter. More like the sixth? He'd lost count.
Daichi, whom had been growing increasingly frustrated with his vice-captain's single-minded concern, closed his eyes -looking upward as if in prayer- and released a deep, long-suffering sigh. "Yes, Suga, I'm more than capable of leading a simple warm-up. Now, stop worrying!"
"I'm more than happy to do it, if you want to run and get a coffee or something." Suga chirped, holding up a lecturing finger -foreshadowing the dispensation of some great truth. One that Daichi was probably not in the mood to receive. "That way, you're still doing your own warm up and waking yourself up! It's a win-win!"
Suga had found, about a year ago, that the best way to deal with Daichi was by not getting intimidated by his intimidating faces. No matter how scary they may be. Those were the faces that Daichi deployed when he really didn't want to be having whatever conversation it was he was being forced to participate in, and were a sure-fire way of shutting up whichever fool had forced the aforementioned conversation upon him in the first place.
Of course, there were times that those faces should be heeded -out of respect, or love of one's own life.
There were also times when those faces should be challenged, and Suga had taken it upon himself to be the challenger. For some, unfathomable reason.
The result of the subsequent conditioning he'd put himself through was that, when Daichi turned of those faces on him, Suga could stand his ground in the face of his captain's ire with relative impunity. Not that he wasn't slightly wary, on some level or another, of over-stepping the mark and properly upsetting his friend -but he was fairly confident that he wouldn't make that mistake on a good day.
Their stand-off lasted a short while, during which the rest of the team filed in through the doors and began setting up the gym for their use. Suga had noticed, much to his surprise, that Hinata was there before him this morning. Not before Daichi, it seemed, but that was because Daichi had to unlock the doors in the morning. Hinata getting there earlier than that would be entirely pointless. Still, Suga felt it was odd for the little blocker to get there before him.
On the other-side of their impromptu duelling arena, Daichi deflated a little -an admission of defeat. "Alright, fine. Just don't do anything too strenuous, we've got a game next week."
With an internal 'whoop!' of victory, Suga outwardly maintained his authoritative temperament. "Yes, yes, I know!" Said he, with a rather theatrical eye-roll. "Now, get going! Go on! You're dragging the mood of the entire prefecture down!" He made a wafting motion with both hands to accentuate his command, ignoring the look of pure fire he received in response. It had the desired effect, and Daichi was out the door a few moments later -grumbling profusely.
Shortly afterwards, Suga led the team on a brief -yet thorough- warm up. A light jog around the gym, followed by a comprehensive round of stretches and a little bit of sprinting. Not quite as vigorous as their usual, weekday regimen -but they had a game the following Tuesday. It wouldn't do to have anyone pull a muscle and miss out. Or, rather, have one of them pull a muscle and try to cover it up so they could play anyway -which was a far more likely scenario.
Shortly after warm ups had finished, Coach Ukai ambled in -stifling a yawn with one hand and raising the other in a comfortable greeting. They were all used to their coach's varied levels of energy by now, all that mattered to them was his dedication and guidance. Of which he ticked both the boxes for, with a tick too big for the box. He got them started on some light drills with very little delay, starting with some serves to get everyone's arms moving.
With Daichi still not back, Suga took it upon himself to wander round and dispense advice where it was needed. He wasn't an ace server, by any means, but he still knew what he was doing -or he liked to think so at least. Plus, as vice-captain, it was his job to do this kind of thing while Daichi was absent.
It was for this reason that he first noticed Hinata's fatigue.
Well, it wasn't easy to miss -to be fair.
Hinata threw the ball up into the air, prepared to serve it, then completely missed it on the way back down -allowing it to bounce off his face and thunk to the floor instead. He proceeded to stare at it for a moment, totally blanking Kageyama's call of 'What the hell was that, dumbass Hinata!?' as well as Tsukishima's sniggering, and then picked it up to try again.
Normally, Suga would have laughed that off as a very 'Shoyou' thing to do, but it happened again straight afterwards.
Suga's hand was reaching out before he really registered that he'd moved to Hinata's side, catching the ball in the flat of his hand before it could make contact with his friend's -now red- face.
He glanced about, mindful of the others practising around them. Despite Kageyama and Tsukishima having already noticed Hinata's mistakes, he decided it would be best to keep his voice to a discreet volume. He would hate to make a scene out of this. "Are you alright, Shoyou?" He asked, gently. "You're usually pretty good at hitting the ball before it hits you…"
Hinata blinked up at him, the cogs in his head appearing to turn slowly, then presented one of his usual, wide smiles. This one was a little strained, wobbling a bit about the edges, but was still entirely genuine. "I'm just a bit tired" said he with a hint of abashment, rubbing the back of his neck and yawning for added effect. "I didn't get much sleep last night, that's all!"
Suga frowned, not entirely sold. "That's all?"
"Mhm!" Another grin accompanied the affirmative, this time a little firmer around the edges. Despite the excuse still being weak, Suga was convinced enough that Hinata wasn't trying to cover up something more serious -and decided that it would be best to let the matter drop for now.
He regarded Hinata carefully for a moment longer, then allowed himself the indulgent smile that only Shoyou seemed capable of coaxing out of him so easily. "Good! Just take it easy if you're tired, alright? Can't have our ultimate decoy getting injured!"
He ruffled Hinata's hair lightly, moving around him and carrying on towards the next member. This way, Hinata couldn't see his frown.
Later, when Daichi returned to the gym -a cup of coffee in one hand and a protein bar in the other- Suga caught him by the arm. Daichi had barely made it through the door.
"Have you spoken to Hinata this morning?" Suga asked, without preamble. Since their conversation during the serving drills, Hinata had successfully missed three sets, eight receives, and fallen flat on his face twice during the diving drills.
Again, one of these things happening only once would have been of little concern to Suga -but all of these things happening repeatedly had his alarm-bells going off.
Daichi raised an eyebrow at him, giving Suga an appraising look. "Just as much as I would on any other day. Why?"
"Because he's a mess." Suga declared, deciding to put this bluntly for maximum effect. "He's completely out of it, it's like he's reverted back to how he was on his first day in the club!"
There was a small silence, during which Daichi continued to give his appraising look. After a few moments, the look -as well as the eyebrow- was dropped. "It's not that big of a deal. He's just tired."
"Eh?" Suga's eyes widened for a moment, then narrowed to analysing slits. This wasn't the reaction he'd been expecting, and he was shocked by how dismissive Daichi was being. Surely, he should be concerned by this?
Daichi sighed, rubbing the bridge of his nose as if warding off a strong headache. "I was with him all night, Suga. Trust me, I know what I'm talking about." When he reopened his eyes to meet Suga's baffled expression, he decided to clarify. "He got locked in the gym last night."
Daichi hushed him with a hurried flap of his -now empty- right hand, raising his protein bar to his lips as if it were a finger. "I don't really know how it happened, I was sure he'd left with Kageyama long before I went home. Apparently, he came back to get his water-bottle, and he still hadn't found it when I turned the lights off."
Suga's look of dismay had been intensifying by the second. "But I checked! I do it every night!"
A shrug. "I know, maybe he was moving between rooms in parallel to you. That way, you would have missed him."
"Not good enough, I know." Daichi cut Suga off swiftly, before the setter got carried away with his guilt. "I came back to let him out later, and told him to stay the night with me. Better that than crossing that mountain on his own."
"How much later?"
Daichi sighed. "That's not important."
"It's not important!"
A look of realisation dawned on Suga's face, despite Daichi's attempts to ward him away from this particular topic. "It must have been late! Judging by how tired you two are…it was past midnight, wasn't it?"
Daichi opened his mouth to respond, but shut it again when he discovered that he had no words to placate his friend. It had been past midnight, long past, and it was an unspeakable failing on his part that it had happened at all.
He had tried to make it up to Hinata this morning, at least in part, by playing the good host. He'd gotten Shoyou situated with food and tea, then took it upon himself to call his mother and explain what had happened -apologising a hundred times at least to her for being so irresponsible.
Shoyou's mother had sounded hugely relieved, even though she had been -understandably- outraged at the reality of what had happened. Daichi could only imagine what horrors she had dreamt up when her son had failed to return home that night, with no explanation what-so-ever.
As it turned out, Shoyou had been unable to get any reception in the gym -eventually being forced to stand in the far corner of the showers to get even a bar. At which point, he'd had the presence of mind to call Daichi -who could come and let him out- rather than his mother. He'd been too far gone by the time Daichi had arrived to do anything more than follow him home.
"Daichi…" he glanced back up at Suga, who was now regarding him with some concern. He'd managed to calm himself down whilst Daichi had been lost in his own thoughts, it seemed. "Was he alright? When you let him out, I mean?"
"He was…relieved, I think. Scared before, definitely, but he wasn't so bad once he got out." Daichi brought his fingers back up to the bridge of his nose, rubbing the spot -that had been red already- to try and organise his thoughts. "He's scared of the dark. Properly, properly afraid of it I mean. The way his mother describes it, it sounds like it's bad enough to make him an insomniac -so his being scared is understandable."
"Shoyou's scared of the dark?" Both Daichi and Suga jumped out of their respective skins, whipping around to face a curious-looking Nishinoya -whom had been there for an indeterminate amount of time.
The libero was standing between them and the door, as if he'd been about to go out to fetch a drink, and had his head cocked to one side inquisitively.
"Aw, man! I'd hate to be afraid of the dark! It'd be so annoying! Like, how could you even sleep and stuff?"
"Keep it down!"
"But I guess that would explain why he takes so long to leave the gym, right? It's really dark out when we finish evening practice! I always thought he just wasn't looking forward to cycling, 'cos that must be really lame when it's so cold, but it makes much more sense this way!"
At this point, Daichi whacked Nishinoya smartly over the back of the head with his protein bar. Suga was casting furtive glances in the direction of the team, who thankfully remained completely oblivious -immersed in their drills.
"This isn't something to broadcast to the whole team, Nishinoya!" Daichi hissed, bending down so he was level with the shorter boy's ear. Internally, however, he was stunned at the libero's perceptiveness. He'd never even noticed how slow Hinata was to leave the gym in the evenings, but with hindsight he realised that Hinata had been the last to leave -asides from Suga and himself- ever since the nights had drawn in.
He also found himself wondering whether Hinata had left the gym at all the previous evening, and if the whole 'lost bottle' story was a fabrication to cover up the phobia. The prospect was more than a little unsettling.
Nishinoya, meanwhile, looked puzzled. "But they weren't listening…" said he, with such conviction that Daichi wasn't so surprised to find himself agreeing quietly -despite having no evidence to support that claim. "Besides, wouldn't it be better if we all supported him? We're a team, right? That's what teams do!"
Again, the amount of conviction in Nishinoya's voice was admirable, and Daichi knew exactly where he was coming from with that suggestion. He just wasn't sure how comfortable Hinata would be with exposing his phobia, such was its nature.
"You're right. That probably is the best way of addressing it." Daichi's head turned sharply to face Suga, whom was standing with a hand beneath his chin and his head tipped back slightly. "But we should talk to Hinata first. If he wants to keep it quiet, then that's what we'll do. If he wants to open up about it, he'll do it in his own time. I'm sure we can do something ourselves, just the three of us, in the meanwhile -if he thinks it will help."
The other two agreed without hesitation, though Daichi was slightly unconvinced about the first part. It was what teams, and friends, were for.