“I have,” Kakeru says, and stops, and then continues. “A story to tell you.”
It comes out of him kind of by itself, the way the most important things do. Like Kakeru has no choice but to say them, like his body itself pushes the words out of him before he can think to swallow them back down.
Kakeru doesn’t know if this is obvious to Prince, that he’s about to tell him something important. Sometimes it still feels like Kakeru knows too little about Prince to make guesses about what he can and can’t see from where he sits, face half-cast in shadow where the fluorescent lamplight of his room doesn’t fall against it, eyes hooded but awake. But he’s lowered the tankoubon he’d been reading, folded it closed in his lap with two fingers marking his place in the pages, and that, Kakeru supposes, is a start.
Prince would never tax his eyes by reading in bad light—he buys his own lamps, and changes the bulbs with the same diligence he applies to every other task of caring for his precious collection—but for all that something about his room always looks dim to Kakeru, somehow. Maybe it’s the stacks, and the shadows they cast. The permanently drawn curtains, regardless of time or season. Or Prince himself, speaking softly, moving slowly, so at home in the middle of it all.
It had unnerved Kakeru in the beginning, this room and everything in it, including the person. Especially the person. It does not unnerve him now. Now the unnerving thing is that he can’t imagine it any different—looking and feeling and being any different, housing anyone different.
“Well, go on.” Prince doesn’t reach out, or lean closer and let his shoulder press against Kakeru’s arm, like the girls are always doing in his romance manga. But Kakeru imagines he might feel something nudge at his own shoulder all the same, some touch he can’t see gently urging. “A story, you said.”
“Oh, yes,” says Kakeru. Stops again, suddenly shy, before he resumes. “A story. I’ve been thinking about it for a long time.”
Prince sits up straighter. His eyes open wider, as they often do when they’re looking at things that matter. This is another thing Kakeru continues never to be sure of, another thing he feels like he’s only ever in the process of learning—if he is a thing that matters, in Prince’s eyes.
“Here,” he says, pulling up the notes app on his phone, “I’ll just show you.”
The fourth-years moved out one after the other in the middle of March, the week after graduation—Yuki to a law firm on the other side of the city on Monday, King to a high school in Yokohama on Tuesday, then Haiji on Wednesday. The remaining residents said their goodbyes without an excess of ceremony and set directly to spring cleaning first thing Thursday morning under the direction of Shindo, their new captain in all but name.
They had not begun training again in earnest, yet, though Kakeru had not stopped running on his own twice daily, and had noticed that the trees in the park two streets down from Aotake were already beginning to bud.
“All right, everyone, let’s get all those futons out in the air while there’s still light to see by.” Shindo did not bark orders, or shout, or blow a whistle, but over the course of the winter and the first days of the uncertain spring his voice had developed a habit of carrying through the house, easily, until everyone under its roof had stopped to listen. “Who’s in here… Kakeru? Kakeru, are you okay?”
Kakeru was kneeling now on the floor of Haiji’s room, wiping down the top of the empty desk. He did not tell Shindo that he could count the number of times he’d been inside that room on his hands and yet it was still easy as anything to summon back the image of what it had looked like less than a month ago, the books scattered about like miniature islands, the stray pieces of paper, the uncapped pens. Yuki’s room next door was just the same, all hollowed out like this; Kakeru had passed it on his way in here, even now could hear the twins bumping around in it as they wiped down the shelves, their bickering echoing through the walls and the floor.
Haiji had entrusted him with the sash, in the end. Kakeru had wanted him to keep it—they all had, and had insisted upon it, but Haiji had insisted harder. Typical.
Hakone wasn’t just mine, he’d said, and it had sounded so incredibly final. The sash, too, had had such a weight about it that couldn’t possibly have been real, but Kakeru had felt it even so as Haiji hung it around his neck. He’d nearly bowed under it. It was ours.
Kakeru tucked the rag he’d been using into his back pocket. As he stood he turned toward the doorway, toward Shindo, away from the desk and the bare floor and the open closet. “Everything’s fine, Shindo-san. There’s nothing out of order here.”
“Good, good,” said Shindo, with a little sigh he turned into a laugh at the last moment, as if to remark on how silly they were all being, shuffling about sadly like this. It wasn’t as if the senpai had died or anything. It wasn’t as if any of them were going to stay here forever. “I mean, why would there be? It’s Haiji-san, after all.” It almost looked like he was about to say more, but nothing came, and he stood aside to let Kakeru go. “Well, then.”
Prince was passing through with a bag of clothespins tucked under one arm and a basket full of the sheets he and Musa had spent the morning washing in a big basin out back, now piled so high he looked barely able to see over them all. Kakeru took one end of the basket in his hands to ease the weight, and they carried the whole load outside together without speaking.
This was a habit of theirs, moving in silence—or it had become one, over the months. It was something of a relief to Kakeru that nothing had happened yet to tip that balance, though the fact that Prince hadn’t said anything about continuing with running had not slipped past him, either. Not, of course, that Shindo had called a meeting about the upcoming year, yet; objectively there was no hurry to do it, yet, but—
“Prince-san,” Kakeru started to say, as he passed over another clothespin, and then another, “have you—”
“Karasuno’s playing a new school at Nationals,” said Prince, a bit abruptly, as if he hadn’t heard. His hands unfolded a new sheet, shaking it out until it billowed gently in the air under the clothesline. “Their name’s Inarizaki. Black uniforms. I think you’ll like them, if you make it that far.”
It was as if a pit had opened, and Kakeru fell right into it, abandoning what he had meant to say. “Maybe I can meet them before the year is out. You know I’m a slow reader, Prince-san.”
Prince had started him on Haikyuu!! the weekend after Hakone, and in the weeks since Kakeru had been proceeding through it slowly, uncharacteristic as that might have seemed. It was, in part, to savor it; in sports manga one game could go on for so many pages. One month could go on for so many pages, while out here in the real world the days bled into one another and disappeared so fast.
In the chapters he was lingering over just then, it was nearly summer. The team was making plans to go down to Tokyo for a training camp, and Kakeru had been thinking for a day or two now about new schools, new people that appeared out of the ether and acted like friends even if you only saw them once in a blue moon and only ever in competition. At the outset it seemed strange, to think of those people as real people, much less as friends or friends-to-be. Like Nekoma’s Kuroo and that other boy Prince had shown him from some later chapter, the one with the spiky hair who looked kind of like an owl. Hinata and Kenma, calling each other by their first names right out of the gate. And then there was—
“So even you are slow at something,” murmured Prince. If he smiled as he said it, it hid itself behind one corner of the sheet as he draped it over the wire, fluttering to life in a sudden breeze. “That’s fine, though. Take your time. It’s not like you’re on a deadline.”
“How do you know that guy from Nekoma?”
“I met him by accident while we were running. He said he’s their setter.”
It was the first question Kageyama ever asked anyone about Kenma. Setter was the first thing Kageyama ever learned about him, even before his name. At the time, at the start of everything, he’d believed it was the only important thing.
It was not the only important thing. It was not even the most important thing.
It was one of Prince’s friends who put the idea of a story in Kakeru’s head, in 204 on a drizzly Sunday afternoon. To his great shame Kakeru couldn’t quite get straight if it was the Miyabe-san or the Fukuda-san, or maybe the Hanagata-san; he had only just managed to remember that those were their names, all three of them together, having only encountered them at school once or twice. Prince hadn’t seen much of them either, the months they’d been training for Hakone, so maybe this day was their way of making up for lost time.
“I’m just saying,” said one, whichever one he was, “that I’m not going to be able to write this if I don’t double-check the chapter number so I can reference ‘talent is something that blossoms’ with the exact wording. You know, for maximum impact.”
“And I’m saying,” said the other, whichever one he was, “that there’s no reason to be so fussy about canon-compliance when you’re writing an AU. Just make it an allusion. There’s no way readers won’t get it, especially since it’s Oikawa.”
Kakeru hadn’t meant to intrude on what was clearly a discussion of grave importance. He’d only meant to bring them juice and a couple of bags of chips from the kitchen, but Prince had invited him in to stay, and one of Prince’s three friends had perked up and called Ah, Kurahara! from where he sat half-hidden behind a tower of One Piece volumes, and he’d found he couldn’t say no.
“Sorry,” murmured Prince, around the rim of a half-full glass. “Shu has a lot of feelings about Seijou. He’s putting together a whole dystopian AU for them; it’s the most ambitious thing he’s written yet.”
Canon-compliant. Dystopia. He’d have to look those up later. Which one of the three was Shu again? No looking that one up, unfortunately.
“An AU—as in, alternate universe,” Prince went on, by way of explanation, already two steps ahead. Maybe five. At least five. “He’s writing a… story, I guess you could call it. Probably closer to a novella, really. Maybe even a full-length novel if he really gets going. That’s what happens when your favorites don’t get a lot of attention in canon past a certain arc, or when you want them to interact with characters they don’t get to. Shu loves that, inventing interactions. He just takes his favorites and puts them all together and runs with it.”
Kakeru nodded, a soft affirmative hum gathering in the back of his throat, filing away the snatches of conversation he could pick up now that maybe-Miyabe-san-maybe-Hanagata-san had begun chiming in on the conversation the other two had been having prior: “Can you invent some kind of… symbolic… the cross-court toss…”
“Do you have,” he paused, setting aside his mental list of keywords to Google and turning back to Prince, “feelings about Seijou too, then?”
“Oh, yes,” said Prince, without hesitation. “There’s a lot of pathos to their games, so it’s hard not to. ‘Talent is something that blossoms,’ ‘six who are strong are stronger…’ so many lines, honestly.” The hand that wasn’t holding a glass clenched into a fist, down on the floor. Kakeru wondered briefly if he might beat his chest with it. “There are other individual characters I like more, I think, but they might be my favorite as a team, just from a narrative standpoint.”
Pathos. Another one. Kakeru had not at that point thought about his own favorites—from a narrative standpoint, or any standpoint, to be honest—but there were faces that had begun to stand out, and names he remembered. Some for reasons it was more than a little embarrassing to admit.
Kozume Kenma hated moving. That was the first thing that had ever stood out to Kakeru about him, even before the ridiculous hair.
“Ah,” Kakeru said, wisely, and reached over to pour himself more juice.
The name was the second thing. Or part of the name—Kenma, which was a word Kageyama heard Hinata yelling over the phone before it was ever a name. At least once a week, and then more often, after the team qualified for Harukou and locked in its plans to attend the summer training camp, like the days couldn’t go by fast enough until they were in the same place again. Then Hinata could yell the name at the face of the person it belonged to instead.
“Hey, hey, Kenma, what are the vending machines like in Tokyo? Do they have cool stuff?” Hinata held the phone between his shoulder and his ear as he bent down to cram his rolled-up t-shirt back into his practice bag. Kageyama thought about knocking the phone away. “Have you been to Shinzen before? Will you show me where all the vending machines are?”
Kageyama thought about what Kenma’s last name might have been. He had never heard Hinata say it. Kenma, too, had called him Shouyou, as far back as their first practice game. Kageyama didn’t know anyone like that, as far as he could remember, had never called anyone like that as easily and as freely as Hinata always seemed to call Kenma.
“You’re talking his ear off, dumbass,” he muttered, ducking when Hinata chucked the shirt at his face instead.
“Who’s a dumbass—no, not you, Kenma. I wasn’t talking about you, I promise!”
As far as sports manga go, Prince had said, the day he’d handed Kakeru his very first volume, they’re pretty good about explaining the fundamentals in this one. You don’t have to know volleyball to follow along; they’ll tell you all you need to know. And Haikyuu!! generally hews pretty realistic, for the most part, except for… A pause. A cryptic twisting of the mouth. Well, you’ll see.
And he hadn’t been wrong, for what it was worth, but Kakeru was of the mind that certain things needed to be experienced before they could be talked about, and it made no sense to try and occupy the perspective of someone so intensely obsessed with volleyball having never so much as held one in his hands.
“Let’s go, let’s go, Kakeru! Nice kill, nice kill, Kakeru!”
What exactly a kill was, however, was not one of those things, insofar as he had yet to figure out if it was an encouragement reserved exclusively for scoring spikers, and if Joji and Jota would have been using it wrong in that case, seeing as Kakeru was just at that moment in the middle of learning to serve. Or if it applied generally to any sort of scoring.
Then again, maybe it didn’t matter, since he hadn’t yet done anything that resembled scoring a single point—and the precise correctness of whatever the twins wanted to yell was probably less important than letting Hanako correct his form. The twins were probably bored, anyway, with nothing to do but stand around holding a length of rope between them because it had been all they could find to pass for a net.
“You’ll want to stand with your feet a little further apart for an overhand serve—yes, perfect.” She nudged gently at the heel of his left foot with the toe of one sneaker, edging it forward. Tapped the back of his right wrist with two fingers. “The foot opposite your hitting hand in front of the other foot. Shoulders and hips facing the net—err, where the net should be. Knees bent.”
Kakeru wouldn’t have presumed to know too much about Katsuta Hanako, beyond that she rode a bike and that her father sold vegetables and the twins were definitely both in love with her, and that she would be starting at Kansei in April with the rest of them. The latest addition to this modest list of facts: she had played setter in middle school, and liked it a fair bit. She had been the one the twins meant when Kakeru mentioned wanting to play a little volleyball, and they’d answered that they knew a guy who could meet them on the riverbank Monday morning.
“You’re doing fine,” Hanako told him.
It didn’t sound like a lie, even if he wasn’t doing fine. His first serve attempt had missed the ball completely. The second had sent it up in a straight line, and it very nearly caught him full in the face on the way down. The twins had laughed at him, so hard they nearly fell into the river. Hanako could have joined in, but she didn’t, and still wasn’t; that must have meant she was kind too.
“You still know so much about volleyball, Hana-chan.”
“You’re too nice,” she said, flapping one hand. “I was never too serious about it, even when I was playing a lot—I think back then I was mostly just curious, and it turned out to be fun, at least for those years. Then on to the next thing. It’s the same now with running, and helping you.”
When you being doing something, you don’t need an “unshakable will” or “impressive motivation.” Little by little, what you’ve begun will naturally become important to you. What you need at the start is—
“A bit of curiosity.” He had not meant to say it aloud, but he’d opened his mouth and found the thought there, ready. “Just like Shimizu-san.”
Hanako tilted her head at the unfamiliar name, eyes round, the picture of curiosity. “Hmm? Shimizu-san?”
Jota, too, whipping round, and then Joji.
“Shimizu Kiyoko-san,” said Kakeru. “The manager for—”
A mistake. Too late.
“Ehhhh?! Kakeru, have you been talking to girls without us?!”
“Wow! Nice kill, Kakeru!”
“That’s not what that means, Joji-kun!”
The third thing Kageyama learned about Kenma, early into training camp, was that he was afraid of Kageyama’s… face. That Kageyama’s face scared him. Something like that—or at least that was supposed to have been the reason Kenma had looked down at the floor instead of at Kageyama’s face when Kageyama came up to him after that day’s practice game, and backed away, very quickly. And then walked away just as quickly. It had been more like a run, really. That must have been the fastest Kageyama had ever seen him move.
Hinata had told him later that night at dinner that it was because of his face. That he should try to glare less, or something. Kageyama had glared at him then and there—deliberately, this time—and said he’d never asked for Hinata’s advice, and anyway how was he supposed to know what his face looked like when he couldn’t see it.
Still, he couldn’t help studying his face in the mirror that night while he brushed his teeth. Looked for something scary in the eyebrows, and in the set of the jaw, even if he didn’t fully understand the reason.
FLOAT Serve - How to SERVE a Volleyball Tutorial (part 1/3)
18-Year-Old Monster Of The Vertical Jump - Nishida Yuji (HD)
Women's Volleyball Quarter Finals - JPN v CHN | London 2012 Olympics
By the following Friday, Kakeru had built himself a whole playlist of volleyball videos, ranging from step-by-step rundowns of basic skills to footage of professional games. He had watched each at least three times, before moving on to other necessary areas of research.
fire emblem phone game
fire emblem heroes
Best to have all bases covered. He had learned this from Kenma somewhere in the middle of writing, at which time he was already knee-deep in articles about how to set a volleyball—that knowing how the setting worked was barely scratching the surface, as far as the story was concerned. Thinking about Kenma, and thinking about Kageyama thinking about Kenma, had only uncovered more things it felt suddenly necessary to know. Things that had nothing at all to do with volleyball, like favorite foods. And games. At that point Kakeru had not played a video game in at least five years, probably more.
He was reading about cats when he heard it—the kitchen door rolling open, and then music. The clanging of instruments he couldn’t identify. Then the voice.
“Stay with me… Knocking on midnight’s door, begging you not to go home…”
Music in the house was nothing unusual, in and of itself; there had always been some tune or other playing quietly from Yuki’s room, especially in the evenings, but the singing was new. Strange enough to make Kakeru abandon his research and stand, and walk toward it.
When he rolled back the kitchen door, he found Musa in the middle of dinner prep, dicing onions and singing. His phone was on the counter, singing with him.
“Stay with me, saying our favorite words… Ah, Kakeru!” Musa turned his head when he heard the door. Smiling, one hand already wiping itself on his apron and reaching over to turn the music down. “Please forgive me. I must have disturbed you.”
“I was wondering what the sound was, that’s all,” said Kakeru.
In truth it was hardly a disturbance when Musa had such a nice voice, but he did wonder if it might be an empty compliment to call it ‘nice’ and nothing else—if it counted against him somehow, somewhere, that his vocabulary for describing the sound of a voice was so limited. A word like ‘nice’ could have meant anything. It did not, by itself, really mean anything.
Not that singing had anything to do with running, or with volleyball, or with the story he was putting together piece by piece in his notes, but he filed it away all the same, as something it might be good to know. Musa’s singing voice was deep. Gentle. Not so loud that it echoed around the empty kitchen, and yet it had found its way to Kakeru even so, as if the walls of Aotake had receded a little to make space for it. A voice that moved. That was one thing a nice voice could mean, at least for now, to Kakeru.
“It’s pretty,” he added. Hopefully that could stand for all the rest.
Musa averted his eyes, flushing all the way down to his shirt collar, but his smile did not fade even a little, and maybe that was enough. “I just like to sing.”
He hadn’t even known that about Musa. He wondered if the others did. Now and again Kakeru would blink and feel like they were so far from him, existing as they did now in these loose and aimless days, without a common race to bind them just yet. All these people and the lives that opened out for them beyond the running, all these disparate pieces of information it was—maybe not necessary, but good to know about, and Kakeru watching, listening. Trailing behind and observing for once, because the observing was worthwhile, because without even realizing it he had himself become a part of something.
How did it go? Stay with me, knocking on midnight’s door—
“Tell me more about that song,” he said, crossing the threshold, rolling the door closed behind him. “I’ll help you cook.”
The fourth thing was that Kenma liked video games. Kageyama couldn’t tell from watching him if this was a bigger or a smaller like than volleyball—which Kenma had never said he liked, outright, at least not to Hinata, but there was something about the way he moved on the court and the way his eyes got after a particularly effective setup that made Kageyama think he wasn’t so sure—but it was definitely a big one, all on its own. In their free moments he was always holding on to some console, or tapping away at something on his phone. Even in the dining hall. Even in line to shower. And his eyes would get that way again, all sharp and all bright.
This was probably not something he was only just learning—he had vague memories of Hinata mentioning it, something about Kenma gaming on the train, Kenma gaming as he walked through crowds—but it didn’t become something he knew for himself until Hinata dragged Kageyama over to Kenma’s table one night at dinner time to watch him kill a dragon. A lady who could turn into a dragon. Who was also the goddess of that world, and something about how because she was blue they needed to finish her off with axes.
“And the horses fly?” Hinata sat on the bench next to him, leaning so close he practically had his nosed pressed to Kenma’s phone screen, but Kenma didn’t seem to mind. Kageyama, across and a little diagonal, could barely see it through Hinata’s hair—just a bright light, and little people on a grid of squares. “That’s amazing, Kenma!”
“They do,” said Kenma. “But they’re not horses, exactly. They’re called pegasi. The characters who ride them can move easily over any terrain, but they’ve got to watch out for arrows.”
Are they your favorite unit type? Kageyama had wanted to ask. He’d looked up the game earlier, when Hinata told him the title. He hadn’t understood much of what he’d read. He wondered if Kenma was the type of person to be put off by having to explain what he was doing, didn’t know how to ask, had ended up not asking. Do you run a flier emblem team?
In the end, he’d just watched the screen and let his curry go cold.
The funny thing about writing stories was that they made you pay attention to everything. Everything. As if the act of putting down words had thrown a switch in the brain, and suddenly you couldn’t stop yourself from looking a little too long, thinking a little too hard about what meaning you might find in even the most seemingly banal object or word or gesture. Like the simple act of walking over to a vending machine and buying a milk box.
Actually, his task of that particular Wednesday afternoon had been to buy vegetables at Yaokatsu. The milk box was for after the groceries, before heading back to Aotake with the one bag of carrots and one of potatoes in hand. These would in turn become curry, hopefully, with help from one of the recipe cards Haiji had left in the small wooden box on the kitchen counter. With the help of those cards, they’d been cooking in shifts lately, and no one had died or contracted a deadly illness so far, but Kakeru had not told anyone that he still struggled a bit on days he was on dinner duty. With portions, with scaling. With remembering to set only seven places at the table, instead of ten.
Earlier that day, he’d reread the training camp chapters instead of moving on to the Spring High preliminaries. Had watched Kageyama run up a grassy hill, eat a slice of watermelon the size of his face, choke on his barbecue and accept a glass of water from an almost-stranger. He knew he wouldn’t have thought anything of such things, in Kageyama’s place—and yet here he was, standing outside Yaokatsu, remembering the images as he drank.
“Kakeru? Oi, Kakeru, you’re catching flies with your mouth there.”
That, he realized when his presence of mind returned to him, was Nico-chan Senpai. Nico-chan Senpai standing in front of him in a pair of old sweats and worn-down running sneakers. Slightly out of breath, as after a brisk jog.
“Senpai, you’re…” he started to say, trailing off in the middle, throat inexplicably dry as the now empty milk box exhaled in his hand. He had still been drinking, only a second ago. He’d have to crumple it up now, shove it into his back pocket to throw away at the house.
“Out for a jog, yeah. Force of habit. You ever tried to kick a habit before? Stubborn motherfuckers, they are, sometimes.” Nico scrubbed at the back of his head with one hand, let go a crooked grin. “Who knows, maybe when the semester starts up again I’ll be crashing practice every day.”
A joke, of course. Nico-chan Senpai had made it clear early on that he wouldn’t be running with them this year—couldn’t, with final exams to focus on and a precarious graduation status to fix, because it was probably high time he started getting his life together. It hadn’t been a surprise to any of them, in the same way it hadn’t been a surprise that Shindo had only smiled and nodded and let him keep his room.
Maybe in the end it didn’t matter if the whole team lived at Aotake or not. Nico had insisted as much, leaning one elbow on the table, a hand on Shindo’s shoulder: You’ve got to think more macro anyway, going into next year. If you want a bigger team, you’ll need a lot more than just ten runners, and it’s chaotic enough around here as it is. The most important thing’s they know where to show up when it’s time to show up.
Please crash practice, Kakeru nearly said. I want as few things to change as possible.
He didn’t say it, but maybe some of it found its way onto his face anyway, contorting into a grimace or a scowl, or a look of dismay—whatever it was Nico saw there, he laughed. Maybe something he’d seen had surprised him. Maybe he only meant to give Kakeru a way out of trying to find words for too many difficult things.
“Kidding, kidding. I know how you get about distractions.” The laugh petered out. His eyes flicked down to the bags hanging from Kakeru’s wrist. “Need help?”
“Yes, please,” said Kakeru, too quickly, catching himself just early enough to add, “if you don’t mind.”
For a moment Kakeru wondered if Nico would laugh at him again—his mouth twisted up in a way that looked like he might, but it disappeared, and his face softened. The hand that had not reached for the closer of Kakeru’s shopping bags found its way onto the top of his head instead, ruffling his hair.
“Well, would you look at that? Spitting image of Haiji for a bit there.” When Kakeru looked at him with a wrinkled brow, he went on, “You know that look he’d get, when anyone ever offered to help him? Like, with anything. It never stayed on his face for long, but if you watched his eyes—totally thrown for a loop, just for a second. Like help was so out of this world. Don’t be like that, Kakeru, that was always his worst habit.”
Kakeru had no answer to this, but Nico wasn’t waiting for one, and there was no need to talk anymore as they fell into step together. On the walk home, Kakeru thought about Sugawara facing Coach Ukai in the hallway while Asahi and Daichi waited unseen around the corner, listening to him talk about what he’d be staying for. He thought about a broken broom, from chapters and chapters and chapters ago.
It’s funny sometimes, isn’t it? Prince had mused two nights ago at exactly this time, in the gathering dark before dinner, reading the pages by lamplight over his shoulder. Kakeru remembered it vividly. How they all talk like they’re about to die. I guess that’s how it feels when you know your part in a story is ending, even if the story goes on.
The fifth thing: Kenma liked apple juice. Kageyama learned this because he asked a question, finally, in front of the vending machine by the gym entrance, while everyone else was still stuffing themselves at the barbecue on the last day.
He’d asked, and he’d tried to be careful with his face, and Kenma had answered and not run away.
“You like getting milk boxes, don’t you,” Kenma said, after, to Kageyama’s shoes, a little before he walked away. But he hadn’t run, and that was probably something. “You always get one. I noticed that.”
It wasn’t exactly a question, and so Kageyama had not known exactly how to answer, but maybe after this there’d be a next time, and then he’d be ready.
It’s the first day of April, and as ever Prince’s curtains are drawn so that neither he nor Kakeru will have to watch the last few fingers of light leave the sky outside his window. In the room, the lamps are already on.
After he finishes Kakeru’s story, Prince does not return his phone. At least not right away; instead he sets the phone down on his knee and says nothing for what feels like a long time. Kakeru waits in the silence, knees to chin, the small of his back pressed flush to one fortress-wall of books.
“Kakeru,” says Prince, at last, and gestures at the now-dark screen. “There’s a lot of you in this, isn’t there?”
“In the phone?” asks Kakeru, without thinking. Or maybe he’s thinking too much, and the thinking’s getting away from him.
To his credit, Prince doesn’t laugh. “In the story.”
“How do you know that?”
“Because I know you.” Prince does laugh then, a quiet and delicate sound, like rustling paper. Kakeru wants to catch it in his hands and hold it, even as he fears he would tear it up without meaning to. “Or at least I think I do, a little.”
Kakeru doesn’t know if he’s brave enough to ask what Prince knows about him, what things Prince has decided are worth remembering after a year of existing together. He has a list of his own that he isn’t sure he’s allowed to share—things he has learned about Prince and would want to keep learning, if it were up to him at all.
Your real name is Kashiwazaki Akane, he might say. Your shoe size is six. You eat more rice than anyone else in this house, but you still have the skinniest wrists. Your favorite fictional volleyball team at least from a narrative standpoint, whatever that means, is Aoba Jousai High School. Because six who are strong are stronger.
In the end, Kakeru says none of these things.
“Prince-san, do you think Furudate-sensei intends to continue on after Nationals? Tell the stories of the years after this one?”
“Depends on sales,” says Prince, matter-of-factly, shrugging one shoulder. “I’ve seen a lot of people say he’s definitely setting up to keep going. Laying groundwork here, foreshadowing there.” He pauses to pick at a loose thread in the knee of his jeans, smiling gently at something Kakeru can’t see. “And I get it. It’s fun to imagine, and with stories like this, sometimes you just want them to go on forever. But when I’m reading I get so lost in what’s happening right there that I don’t think about that so much. I’m just… there. Does that make sense?
It does, but—
“What are you so worried about?” asks Prince, in the absence of an answer—lightly, like a joke, or something that wants to be a joke but isn’t quite, one unseen thread of tension coiled in a knot beneath. “Even if Haikyuu!! ends anywhere close to soon, I have enough manga to keep you occupied for centuries.”
Maybe, Kakeru does not say, but you won’t always live here, and neither will I.
What he does say is, “I’m not good at being… being a friend.” It comes out of him in a series of false starts—all of it in bits and pieces, what he can admit and what he can’t, what is easy to find words for and what isn’t. Not that it ever mattered before. But now it does, Prince-san. Now it does. “I don’t really know how to—do those things.”
A shared house makes being a friend—not easy, but easier. Schedules that intersect. Chances to stay close by. No distances to contend with longer than two hallways and a flight of stairs. But none of these things are forever, and there are limits to what Kakeru can imagine beyond the horizon of next year, the year after.
There are limits to what he can hope for, or there should be. But, then again, Kakeru had not hoped for anything, when he came to this house.
“I don’t think I do either, really,” says Prince, again like it’s a matter of fact. A clean truth. Impossible not to trust. “I don’t think anyone does. But we’re still here, aren’t we? We’re still doing okay.”
Downstairs, Kakeru can hear Shindo calling them for dinner. They’re still here, still right here.
The trees in Fukurodani were blooming yellow one summer later, and Kageyama caught sight of him before Hinata did, halfway down the steps of the Nekoma bus, a little way ahead of his team. Kageyama broke away to meet him without thinking about it, stopping in the middle of the dirt path.
“You’re staying,” he said. It wasn’t a surprise, not exactly, even if it maybe should have been. “You’ll keep playing ‘til next spring.”
“I wasn’t finished,” Kenma told him, with something like a smile. Kenma’s smile was the sixth thing, and Kageyama decided in that moment that it had been worth the year’s wait. “I don’t think any of us are.”
The spring semester starts at Kansei on the sixth day of April. The trees in the park two streets down from Aotake are all in bloom now, pink and white in the slowly growing light of morning, waiting for dawn to break.
Kakeru’s never been the kind to wax poetic about spring. Maybe this is just the way the world always looks, at the start of something.
“I’ll race you home,” Prince says from somewhere behind, some quiet, brilliant, wordless thing rising in his voice with the sun. Kakeru turns—takes one step toward it, and then another, and then another.