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Lessons in Learning

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In their third year, Tadashi learns three things about Kageyama.


The first: he has a preference for brightly colored band-aids. It’s not much of an epiphany. More like an observation that’s flown under Tadashi’s radar for so long, and finally hits him one afternoon as they’re packing up after practice. He spots Kageyama out of the corner of his eye, nodding at what one of the new first years is telling him, volleyball tucked in the crook of his arm. There’s a neon yellow band-aid plastered to his elbow, and a blue one stuck to the back of his thigh. Tadashi thinks he can see the edge of a pink one poking up from under his sock, right along the curve of his ankle, but he looks away before he can be caught staring.


Kageyama is often covered in at least a couple band-aids, from paper cuts or blisters from new volleyball shoes or whatever incidents happen outside of school that Tadashi isn’t privy to. But it’s only over the next couple weeks that Tadashi really realizes, they’re all colorful. Sometimes patterned. Sometimes they have characters from popular animated movies.


It’s not like it’s anything special. It’s not a big deal at all and certainly nothing Tadashi should have wasted any time at all thinking about. It’s just— unexpected. Kageyama has always seemed more standard, less particular.


But then, Tadashi supposes, there’s a lot he still doesn’t know about Kageyama.


The second: he‘s good at cooking. This factoid comes during lunch one afternoon, shortly after he actually notices the rainbow band-aids.


Tadashi has been working part-time at Shimada Mart, trying to earn a little extra money for himself now that his sister is at university, and he feels bad asking his parents for any money. Some mornings he drops in, just for fifteen minutes at the most before he has to head to practice, and helps Shimada-san unload deliveries, or ask for some tips on volleyball. Only that morning, he had forgotten to pick up the bento containing his lunch after setting it on the front counter while he helped unpack boxes of chips.


It’s frustrating, when lunchtime rolls around and Tadashi realizes he has nothing, but he tries not to fret too much. He’s not so hungry yet anyway, and there’s enough time to run to the 7/11 after school ends, before practice starts, to pick up something that will get him through until he gets back to Shimada-san’s. He’ll use the time he’s not eating to work ahead on his English assignment, and help Hinata with his math.


Only, Kageyama catches on. Before Tsukishima, even, who’s been there the scarce few times before that Tadashi has shown up without a lunch, and offered a few bites of his own meal. Wordlessly, Kageyama piles some rice and fish and apple slices onto his bento wrap, and pushes it over to Tadashi.


When Tadashi only looks at him, taken a little off guard, Kageyama only says, “You need to eat something.”


So Tadashi thanks him and tracks down a pair of chopsticks and eats what Kageyama has offered him. It’s good. Better than what Tadashi had made for himself the night before for sure. He asks Kageyama if his mom made it, and Kageyama returns his question with a confused look and tells him, “I cook all my own lunches.”


Which, Kageyama is the last person — no, wait, Hinata—


Kageyama is the second to last person Tadashi would’ve expected that from. This, he definitely spends more time considering than he should.


The third: Kageyama has a cat.


Tadashi is working late at Shimada Mart. The store is completely empty on a Friday night, and he’s been occupying himself by sorting and resorting the packs of gum on the counter, and trying not to give in to the temptation of picking up one of the awful gossip magazines right behind them. The radio’s broken, so Tadashi can’t even listen to anything that isn’t the dull hum of the freezer aisle. He’s bored out of his mind, to say the least, but he’s still got half an hour left before he can go home.


Kageyama is the first customer they’ve had in an hour.


He’s out of his school uniform and out of his practice clothes, instead in a sweatshirt advertising a volleyball team Tadashi thinks he’s maybe mentioned a handful of times before. Tadashi’s pretty sure Kageyama doesn’t even notice he’s at the counter at first, because he doesn’t say anything. Instead, he heads straight into the aisles, hands tucked into the pockets of his sweatpants, steps slow and tired.


Tadashi waits, moves the green packs of gum to the other side of the pink packs, then back again. He straightens the magazines, but does not take one to read. Kageyama comes up to the counter three whole minutes later with a box of superhero band-aids and four cans of cat food.


He looks just as surprised to see Tadashi as Tadashi was to see him come in.


“I didn’t know you worked here,” he admits.


Tadashi shrugs. He hadn’t even really told Tsukishima. He didn’t think it to be worth mentioning, honestly. “I only started a couple of months ago. It’s not super exciting. I didn’t know you had a cat.”


At this, Kageyama seems like he perks up a little. “She’s a kitten. We just adopted her.” His gaze drops to the cans of cat food on the counter between them. “She eats a lot.”


Tadashi snorts. “Takes after you, huh? What’s her name?”


Kageyama gets the smallest smile on his face. It makes him look . . . soft. Even in the harsh fluorescent lights, Kageyama looks soft. “Nine. Mom named her. She’s really fast and playful and— cute. I’ve got a picture.” He takes his phone out of his pocket and leans against the counter when he shows the screen to Tadashi.


It’s his background photo. A little black kitten, sitting up on someone’s bed. Kageyama’s, if the volleyball poster on the wall behind her is anything to go by. She is, in fact, incredibly cute. She kind of looks a little like Kageyama, with bright eyes and messy hair.


Tadashi finds himself smiling along with him, and it lingers even after he’s gone. Of course Kageyama is a cat person.


In their third year, Tadashi learns one thing about himself.


He kind of likes Kageyama.




To clarify, Tadashi never disliked Kageyama. Not counting the start to their first year, he’s been a good teammate, a good vice captain, and a good friend.


It’s not like they’re particularly close. They have lunch most days, as a group of five, and Tadashi and Yachi usually help him and Hinata with their studies. Sometimes Kageyama sits beside him on the bus rides back from practice matches or tournaments to discuss strategy or Hey, did you notice Saito-kun has been favoring his left side lately? They don’t talk so much outside of that, but sometimes little things come up. Kageyama likes some of the same bands as Tadashi, he found out near the end of their second year. Not long before that, Tadashi also learned they’d both gotten into the same cheesy drama, and they sometimes still discuss it on their way to practice.


There’s so many small moments, little pieces of honesty that Tadashi is never expecting, on top of the fact that Kageyama has just . . . grown. A lot. (Outside of just the height department, which still has him taller than Tadashi. Unfair, really, Tadashi thinks.) He’s patient, and more considerate of everyone else. He still has his moments, where he gets caught up in his own head and forgets that not even Hinata can keep up with him if he doesn’t actually communicate what he’s thinking. But he also listens to all the first years when they raise ideas and concerns, and stays late most nights to work out kinks in new quicks and different attacks when he or one of their other teammates isn’t satisfied.


Tadashi’s kind of teaching him how to serve a jump float in down moments.


Kageyama is patient, and sometimes thoughtful, and a lot more than Tadashi ever expects. He’s always surprising.


Tadashi never disliked him, and has considered him a friend since sometime last year, probably. But this is more than just that, Tadashi knows.


He really likes him.




Like everything else concerning Kageyama, Tadashi spends more time than he really needs to thinking about this.


He sits at the counter late in the evening at Shimada mart, pen tapping against the counter, staring blankly at his literature assignment. He hasn’t read a single word since he pulled it out nearly twenty minutes ago. Too many thoughts have been running through his mind for him to focus. It started with volleyball, and that day’s practice. How Tadashi thought their second year libero was finally making a breakthrough on his sets, and then how Kageyama had been so helpful and patient in teaching him, and then just Kageyama.


He’s kinder now. There’s a softer edge to his quiet, and he smiles and cheers with the rest of the team when they win a match. Sometimes when the group of third years goes out to get cheap ramen, he invites his old teammates, Kunimi and Turnip Head from Seijoh. He gets along better with them, too, now. It’s weird, Tadashi will admit. An odd reminder of when Kageyama was harsher, his words sharper.


Now he helps Saito ice his bad knee after practice and has a new picture of his cat as his phone background every week. He glares and shouts less when what he really means is to smile.


Tadashi turns the page in his workbook even though he has no idea what was on the one before it. He’s not sure where this awareness of Kageyama came from. It definitely wasn’t there at their first year, when Tadashi barely branched out to anyone that wasn’t Tsukishima, and absolutely not to the tyrannical king of the court. But things changed along the line. Kageyama changed.


Tadashi changed, too, probably. Maybe.


Some days he feels like he’s grown, can feel the confidence that’s taken shape inside him and the newfound lightness. Other days he just feels . . . stagnant.


He’s working on it.


He turns the page back and tries to start reading from the start again. Ukai came by and fixed the radio, and Tadashi’s tuned it to a pop station that’s half static fuzz. Tsukishima had come in earlier with a dinner he didn’t have to heat up in the microwave and asked why he didn’t just change it to a station that actually came in clearly, which left Tadashi feeling even more like he wanted to keep it where it was. Tsukishima frowned, Tadashi laughed, and they worked through their math assignment until Tsukishima had to go home.


He’s been coming in now and again like that, since he learned Tadashi works here. It’s nice, to have the company. Some nights are slow and empty and, well. Lonely. Tadashi gets too caught up in his head those nights. He thinks too much.


It takes twenty minutes to get through two pages, and Tadashi gives in with a sigh. He’s not making any progress anytime soon and he knows it. He rests his cheek in his hand and scans over the shop floor, looking for anything at all he can occupy himself with.


There’s nothing, it seems for a moment, until the doors open. Tadashi wasn’t expecting to see Kageyama again so soon. Or, well, at all, really. He knows Kageyama lives relatively close, but there are other shops in the vicinity. Places Tadashi doesn’t work, and doesn’t have to see his teammate and friend, and doesn’t have to think about what the bright pink band-aid on his cheek could be from.


Tadashi lifts his face from his hand and straightens up in his seat. “Kageyama!” he calls out. Kageyama turns, and after a beat, changes his stride to walk towards the counter. Tadashi leans forward, leaning his weight on his arms. “What’re you doing here?”


Kageyama stuffs his hands in his sweatshirt pockets and scans the array of items out for display around Tadashi. “I was out for a run. I got thirsty.” He looks up to meet Tadashi’s eyes, eyebrow half-raised. “How late do you have to be here?”


Tadashi slides his gaze to the clock hanging on the wall and feels his mouth twist into a frown without even thinking about it. “Another two hours.” Most nights aren’t so slow. But no matter what day of the week, after dinner time, the shop empties out. Most customers after that are university students, or neighborhood kids dropping in with the weeks allowance for popsicles, or to try their luck at the gachapon.


“Hm. It’s quiet,” Kageyama notes.


Tadashi leans back in his chair with a groan. “It’s been quiet. And boring. Stay and shop a while, give me something to do that isn’t staring at my homework.”


At this, Kageyama shrugs, and says, “Okay.” Tadashi must make a face, because he tacks on, “I’ve got nothing left to do tonight. And I wanted to talk to you about Interhigh.”


Tadashi snorts. Of course it’s still about volleyball. That, at least, is one thing about Kageyama that hasn’t changed. “Sure. You still want something to drink?” He waves an arm towards the refrigerators lining the wall to the right.


Kageyama nods. He takes a while looking through the selection of drinks, and Tadashi can’t bring himself to even act surprised when, in the end, he comes back with a bottled water and a carton of milk. At least he took the water, to give himself some actual hydration.


He settles in leaning against the counter across from Tadashi, and after paying for and downing half the bottle of water, Kageyama tells him, “I was thinking Hasegawa should be in the starting rotation. Or at least try him there. He’s gotten better.”


Tadashi nods, thinking of their second year middle blocker. The year prior, he’d been all over the place. More on Hinata’s initial skill level than Kageyama’s, for sure. But as they’ve practiced— “He killed one of Hinata’s spikes cold. I think it’s worth a shot.”


Kageyama’s face sours. “One of my sets.”


At this, Tadashi laughs. “To Hinata,” he says. It doesn’t help anything. Naturally. “Either way. If he’s killing your sets, he’s earned it to at least get a chance at it. Have you talked to Coach Ukai about it?”


“Not without you.” Kageyama pulls open the tab to his milk and glances up at Tadashi. “It’s our decision, not just mine.”


Tadashi nods, feeling a smile pull at his lips. “Right. So hey, what happened to your face?” He can’t really help himself from asking, when the band-aid is right there, glaring bright at him.


“Nine,” Kageyama says simply. “I don’t think it was on purpose. She’s clumsy.”


“Sure, sure.”


“And, I don’t know, is clawing a thing? Like teething, where they want to bite everything, but she just wants to scratch.” Kageyama’s brow furrows and his fingers toy with the milk tab. “She’s making a mess.”


“That’s how cats are,” Tadashi says. “She’s just gotta grow up a little. She’ll straighten up.”


Tadashi leans onto his arms, and settles in more fully. Kageyama sticks around a while longer, even though they don’t talk the entire time. He does ask Tadashi about his job, and about the jump float serve, and tells him more about Nine, but eventually he has to leave.


When Tadashi checks the clock, he finds that nearly an hour has passed. The rest of the night past that isn’t so bad, either.




It isn’t the last time Kageyama shows up at Shimada Mart. Sometimes it’s just a couple minutes to grab cat food, or athletic tape. But there are other days he walks in with Tadashi after practice, when he’s beginning his shift. They don’t get much time together then, since it’s still busy, and Tadashi can’t always spend much of his time talking to Kageyama.


The best evenings, though, are the ones where Kageyama comes in a couple hours before the end of Tadashi’s shift. These are just as scattered as the rest of his visits, but they last the longest. It’s often after one of Kageyama’s runs, but there’s one night he brings in homework that he’s struggling with and asks if Tadashi can help.


Another night, Kageyama shows up with a bento in hand.


Tadashi looks at him, confused. “What’s this for?”


Kageyama shrugs and drops it on the counter. “You were hungry last night. You said you hadn’t brought anything with to eat.”


“You didn’t have to—“


“Sure. But I wanted to.”


Kageyama leaves it at that, and wanders down one of the aisles.


Tadashi waits a moment before he can bring himself to actually open it. There’s a part of him that takes solid note of the paw print-covered wrap, but it’s quickly overshadowed by the actual meal inside. It’s still warm, and smells better than anything Tadashi’s eaten in the last three days. He doesn’t have to ask to know that Kageyama cooked it.


It’s almost embarrassing, how quickly he digs into it. Kageyama wasn’t wrong about him being hungry. Sometimes Tsukishima or, on the rare occasion, Yachi will bring him something. Sometimes Tadashi actually remembers to bring his own dinner. But a lot of nights, he doesn’t get around to eating until he’s actually home.


Kageyama really is an incredible cook.


He comes back around with a carton of strawberry milk and a box of rainbow band-aids, and sticks around a while to talk to Tadashi. Mostly, it’s volleyball. Some of it’s Nine. Some of it’s about the drama they both still watch and how sweet it was when Tanabe finally confessed.


Tadashi observes as the night carries on, that Kageyama’s more expressive than he used to be. A lot of it’s in small gestures — half-raised eyebrows or a slight uptick to his mouth — but some are bigger. Open laughter or swinging arms when he’s especially worked up. Tadashi thinks he might spend too much time thinking about any of it at all. But then, that’s par for the course at this point, isn’t it?


The next week, to thank him for the dinner, Tadashi makes little mochi volleyballs. They’re not very pretty, but they still make Kageyama smile, wide and happy.




“She looks kinda like you.”


“Hah?”


Tadashi snorts at Kageyama’s expression. “Look at her. She’s got, like, your face or something.”


“She’s a cat.” Kageyama looks back down to the picture on his phone. A Nine that’s grown bigger over the last couple months. Still small, but growing. “I’m not a cat.”


“Yeah, yeah,” Tadashi says with a wave of his hand. “Doesn’t mean you can’t be similar. Hinata thinks the same thing anyway.”


Kageyama grumbles something Tadashi doesn’t catch, but he laughs anyway. It’s late, and Kageyama still hasn’t given a real reason for being at Shimada Mart. He hasn’t the last few times he’s visited, and when Tadashi thinks about it, he can’t really remember whether he even bought anything at all.


There’s a part of Tadashi that wonders if he’s really coming by just to talk, not out of convenience or necessity anymore. Or more like, there’s a part of Tadashi that hopes.


“How’s your jump float coming along?” Tadashi asks. He leans over the counter and lifts his eyes up to meet Kageyama’s. “Still dropping too soon?”


Kageyama huffs. “I don’t know how you do it.”


“Lots of practice. I didn’t just magically pick it up, you know. I spent a lot of late nights here learning.”


“I’m spending a lot of late nights here, I haven’t picked up anything.”


Tadashi snorts, and he can tell Kageyama wants to smile. “That’s because you spend all your time talking about Nine, and Tanabe’s love life.”


“Because they’re important.”


“You’re right.” Tadashi grins. “Watch the new episode? My mom said it was really good.” He hasn’t been home enough to watch it, between extra practices with Kageyama and Saito, and working at Shimada Mart.


Kageyama shakes his head. “I was going to when I went home.” He pauses a moment, thinking, and then asks, “Do you want to watch it?”


Tadashi’s brow furrows. “Here?”


He shrugs. “I don’t know. Yes. Yeah. You’re not really busy with something else, right?”


“I guess you’re right,” Tadashi agrees. He pushes up on his toes so he can stretch further over the counter, trying to peer into the back to see if he can spot Shimada-san, or if he’s still out making a delivery to Ukai. He always takes forever with those. It’s not like he’d mind, Tadashi thinks. It’s not like Tadashi hasn’t spent empty nights watching videos on his phone before, after all. “Come around to this side, you can sit.”


They settle on the floor, ending up shoulder to shoulder when Tadashi tries to shift so he can get a clear view of the door. Kageyama doesn’t move away.


Tadashi pulls up the episode on his phone, and Kageyama offers up his headphones to split between them. It’s . . . really nice.


He probably definitely likes Kageyama, a lot.




Tadashi can’t pinpoint from when, exactly, but he finds himself spending a lot more time with Kageyama. Feeling a lot more comfortable. They walk to the club room together most days, Hinata having already bounded ahead and Tsukishima lagging behind. If Kageyama isn’t walking Tadashi to Shimada Mart after practice, he’s usually showing up sometime during Tadashi’s shift and ducking over to his side of the counter, to watch their drama or work on homework assignments or just to talk. When Tadashi’s not working, he’s spending more time at school working on Kageyama’s jump float.


They have a practice match against Datekou, and Kageyama sits beside Tadashi on the bus there and back, seemingly without even really thinking about it. They talk strategy over the trip there and share their headphones to listen to the same music going back, and Tadashi finds himself walking alone with Kageyama as they’re making their way home.


Yachi asks him one afternoon as they’re walking to meet him and Hinata for lunch, if they’re going out or something. Tadashi can’t even force out the words to ask what’s given her that idea.


He also can’t stop the thought from entering his mind that he wishes that they were.




Kageyama invites Tadashi over to his house one afternoon, when he doesn’t have work and practice ends earlier than usual. Which is to say, on time. It’s to study, he says, and work on homework, and hey, he can finally meet Nine.


Tadashi doesn’t really even have to think about it before agreeing.


His house is quiet, and clean, and kind of smells like a mix of cherries and cat. There’s a volleyball amidst a small collection of cat toys right past the entryway. And a moment later, the cat herself.


She’s smaller than Tadashi was really expecting.


Kageyama smiles the moment he sees her, bending down to scratch beneath her chin. She purrs with the attention, and Tadashi knows he’s in over his head. If there were ever a plan, it wouldn’t have included catching feelings for his friend, nor would it have had being in his house, watching him scoop up his cat in both arms with a perfectly endearing look on his face.


He looks at Tadashi like it’s nothing and tells him he can pet her if he’d like. She’s soft, and only purrs louder when Tadashi scratches light behind her ears. She’s cute.


She really does look like Kageyama.


“My room’s down this way,” Kageyama says. Tadashi follows.


It’s clean and organized, volleyball posters and an ordered workout chart on the walls. It’s nothing like Tadashi’s haphazard room, that’s neat bur disordered, that Tsukishima always complains about when he can’t find what he needs. Tadashi always only laughs at him.


They sit on the floor, as comfortable and close as they always are at Shimada Mart. Nine curls up in Kageyama’s lap, and he seems perfectly content to pet her with one hand while he digs out his school work with the other. Tadashi has to force himself to look away and focus on getting his own work situated.


It’s a quiet afternoon. They go through their work and review, and Tadashi answers whatever questions Kageyama asks. Sometimes he has to text Yachi or Tsukishima for help on his own work, but for the most part, it’s just him and Kageyama, and all the thoughts that have been stuck in his head for weeks.


Kageyama fidgets with his pencil when he’s thinking, chews on his lip when he’s stuck on something. It’s far more distracting than it has any right to be.


It doesn’t take long before Tadashi loses all focus on his own work.


Eventually, they move past studying, when Kageyama asks if Tadashi wants to start that new drama that’s been advertised over the last few weeks, before new episodes of their regular one. And Tadashi can’t think of a reason to say no — it’s one more thing to keep him there.


Halfway through the first episode, in the middle of a major misunderstanding between characters that Tadashi can’t quite figure out, Kageyama comments, “Yachi asked earlier, if we were . . . a thing? Going out?”


Tadashi nearly chokes on his own spit. “She did?”


Kageyama shrugs. “I— I don’t know. I didn’t really . . . know what to say.”


He can’t really tell, which one of them is blushing more.


“What do you, um—“


“I wouldn’t really mind. If, like, we were.”


Kageyama, who has always been direct from the moment Tadashi met him, can’t seem to actually look at him through the admission. Not that Tadashi could really bear it, if he did.


His voice comes out quiet when he says, “Really?”


The sun falls in dim, glowing rays through Kageyama’s windows, backing him in gold. It’s now, that the thought hits, that he looks pretty.


Kageyama nods, and slowly drags his eyes up. “I kind of, I don’t know, like you.”


A smile pulls at Tadashi. “I kind of, I don’t know, like you, too.” This pulls the smallest laugh out of Kageyama, and Tadashi grins. “Yachi asked me, too, you know.”


“Nosy.”


Tadashi laughs. “Really.”


It’s comfortable and easy and Kageyama is comfortable and easy. He’s a lot of things, really. Still loud and on occasion, still snappy. Still works too hard and doesn’t always put things just the right way. But he’s soft, still. Thoughtful, and considering.


There’s more to learn, still, Tadashi knows. More to Kageyama that he’ll find in the days and weeks and months to come. His tentativeness in stepping into something new and unfamiliar, the comfort in holding his hand. The softness in his kisses when he comes to meet Tadashi after work.


They’re all lessons Tadashi is more than happy to learn.