Disclaimer: I own nothing.
A/N: I'm so sorry for not updating. I don't actually have an excuse this time. I've been perfectly healthy, just lazy. Anyway, there's more author's note at the end so that not everybody has to scroll through it if they don't want to read it. Like usual, I've changed a few things to fit my story.
[*this chapter mentions the 'six step rule'. If anyone doesn't know what that is, it pretty much states that you can connect yourself to any other person in the world in six relationships or less. You know; (you - band member of band you've seen - sang at the president's birthday - daughter of the president) and so on.]
They'd done it. For the first time in three years, the longest stretch any Teikou club had gone without victory or cancellation, the basketball team brought home golden medals, a shining trophy, and a reputation more impressive than the school itself.
Never a place to be underestimated, Teikou was well known in every sport as nothing short of excellent; boy's baseball, girl's volleyball, the swim team, and finally, the basketball team (along with any in the same group) showed their merit every year, earning Teikou its own feared whisper among players and opposing coaches.
"I'll call you, okay? We can hang out over the summer!" Aomine said, grinning ear to ear. Kuroko nodded, lips twitching as well. For the first time in... well, ever, she finally had a friend to call her own.
"Yes," she replied, looking out at the street anxiously. The two best friends leaned together against the imposing walls in front of Teikou, and Kuroko twiddled her thumbs as she shoved down her disappointment.
Her father was busy. Not his fault. He hadn't come home for her birthday like he'd promised. Not his fault. Something came up, over and over. Not his fault.
But, at the very least, Kuroko was able to convey her feelings towards the Hanamiya family. Yes, she would like to stay with them again, if that was alright. Her father asked Sakura, who asked Makoto, who called Kuroko, all to confirm the fact that she would be staying over the summer. That had already been the plan, of course, as set up by Hanamiya and Kuroko themselves.How else were they supposed to work together on the upcoming tournament? Kuroko scowled, tilting her eyebrows down, trying to look menacing and scary. Aomine caught a glance of her expression and laughed.
"God, Tetsu, what's up with that face? You look like you're in pain! Wait, you're okay, right?" Aomine said, looking skeptical. Kuroko sighed slightly.
"Ah, it's nothing, Aomine-kun. Just practicing for my big day," she answered, cryptic as usual, and Aomine pouted.
"Still with the 'Aomine-kun' thing, huh? You know you can call me Daiki or something, right? I'll even take Dai-chan, Satsuki's dumb nickname, if you want," he said, not-so-subtly hinting at his true wishes. Kuroko shook her head stubbornly.
"I like Aomine-kun just fine," she said simply, leaving him wondering whether she meant the name or himself. A honking interrupted the conversation.
Both looked up, startled, and Kuroko nodded at the car. "That is for me," Kuroko said, putting up a hand to wave at Aomine. "See you later, then."
Just as he was about to respond, another voice interrupted him. "Oi, Kuro! We don't have all day here!" An almost-smile touched Kuroko's lips, a rare look to Aomine, and she rolled her eyes slightly as she nodded in the direction of the car. A boy was getting scolded by is mother inside as he hung out the window closest to the school.
Aomine's heart froze.
A boy? But Kuroko didn't have any brothers. He'd been to her house plenty of times. And what was with that face that she made?! He was her best friend, goddammit, not some dumb kid with huge dumb eyebrows! Anybody with stupid eyebrows was not to be trusted, he decided.
"Calm down, Hanamiya-kun. It's been 30 seconds. I'm sure you can wait," Kuroko voiced. Aomine pursed his lips as some of her formal tone dropped. He didn't like that one bit.
"Ah... don't worry, Kuroko-chan! We'll wait as long as necessary while you say goodbye to your friend! Right, Makoto?" The named 'Hanamiya Makoto' put up his hands in surrender, ducking back into the car. Kuroko waved once more as she walked towards the vehicle.
"Sorry about him, Aomine-kun. He sure can be a handful, hm?" She said with a shake of her head. With that, she left, getting into the car and buckling up her seat belt.
"Aomine Daiki, hm?" Hanamiya wondered aloud as soon as the car pulled back onto the open road and began driving forward. "I've heard of him. Weirdly enough, though, I haven't heard much about you specifically. I've heard about a ghost, though," he said, clearly already knowing the truth. Kuroko shrugged.
"I told you, though, in my phone calls and messages," Kuroko said bluntly. "I used your idea. And it worked. I must thank you for that help, by the way, Hanamiya-kun." Hanamiya waved his hand dismissively, looking out the window, leaving Kuroko unable to see his face.
"It was no big deal," he said, his voice reflecting its natural smug undertones while communicating the manners Kuroko had forced into his system through their interactions. "You can thank me by doing your best at basketball and showing the people who look down on you who has the power."
"I heard about you," Kuroko said, guiding the topic away from the danger zone and onto one of the admittedly egotistical Hanamiya's favorite topics - himself. "They said you were something called an 'Uncrowned King', Hanamiya-kun. They said that you all could have been the miracles, if not for... us," she said.
Hanamiya scoffed. "Is that what they call us now? 'Uncrowned'? Whatever."
Kuroko looked down.
"What, do you feel bad?" Hanamiya asked, glancing over and raising his eyebrows. Kuroko broke eye contact. "Tch. Don't. You think I care how good people think I am? You are better than me. I don't know about those friends of yours, but you deserve your title, even if nobody else knows you do. Besides, you've got a brain. My strategies could knock any of those other kids in your club ass-backwards."
Kuroko decided not to mention Akashi.
"Language, young man!" Sakura scolded, shaking her head.
With a roll of his eyes, Hanamiya continued on. "Oh, and before you say anything, I've heard of that Akashi Seijuro kid. And let me tell you something about the Akashi family, in case you aren't aware."
"Makoto," Sakura warned, catching his eye in the central rear-view mirror. "You know that he works near your father!"
"What, like that means he'll hear me if I talk about him? Don't be ridiculous. I'm only telling Kuroko. She probably already knows, anyway, being the daughter of a huge business man," he argued. Kuroko frowned.
She barely spoke to her father, and when she did, he rarely spoke about his work or associates. Of course she'd heard of the Akashi family; one would have to live under a rock not to. They owned Red King, an enormous corporation that had their investments in just about everything. She didn't know, however, just what the Hanamiya's were talking about.
"Fine. But just Kuroko, you hear me, Makoto?"
"Yeah, yeah; like anyone else would care. Anyway, you know who they are, right?" Seeing Kuroko's almost indignant expression, Hanamiya changed his statement. "I mean, you obviously know of them. You're not an idiot. But do you know who they really are?"
Kuroko shook her head. "I am astounded at your faith in me," she said, "but my father works mostly in American business. I know nothing more than the public about the Akashi family."
Hanamiya grinned sickly, something Kuroko had become accustomed to. It should have been frightening, but it was his smile, honest-to-god. "They're a bunch of lying cheats," Hanamiya hissed out, ignoring Sakura's small, disapproving sigh. "Successful, pretentious cheats, yeah, but cheats nonetheless."
"I suppose you mean in business, then?" Kuroko asked. Hanamiya shot her a look.
"No, in poker. Yes, they cheat in business. They act like they've gotten where they are based on years of hard work, but do you know what really got them there?" He asked, leaving the question open. Kuroko shrugged.
"Years of financial stability, which led to subsequent higher class representation and more opportunity for each coming generation?" She guessed, and Hanamiya considered that before nodding.
"That too. But those bastards also have connections out the ass in every fucking direction. You know the whole 'six step' rule?* They don't need six steps for anybody. At the very most, they probably need three," he said, and Kuroko looked out her window for a moment in contemplation.
It wasn't like it was out of the ordinary for families from old money like the Akashi's to be less than virtuous in their transactions, and that was saying a lot, especially since business itself was cutthroat. Although, it did bring up a few ironic twists that countered many things Seijuro seemed to preach.
"Strange," Kuroko said, careful with her words. She knew Hanamiya; he was smart, a genius. Of course he knew how common cheating was in the business world. What he was doing was pointing out flaws in Akashi; he felt threatened. "Akashi-kun seems to be centered around working hard, although I do suppose he puts a lot on natural talent and 'natural selection'."
"Oh, you mean he judges people based on class and privilege?" Hanamiya said, and Kuroko nodded.
"He can be quite pretentious, although, according to your information, I suppose his whole family is. Still, you can't expect much more from most at Teikou. They were raised to be self-important and conceited," she said. "Except for a small selection of students, including those who got in on a scholarship."
"What about you?" Hanamiya said, arms crossed, not taking any excuses for the young-Akashi's behavior.
"I wasn't raised by my father, so I couldn't be raised to be pretentious."
For once, she hadn't through before opening her mouth. And as soon as the words were out, Kuroko wanted to glue her mouth shut and go hide in a dark corner; it just wasn't something to bring up lightly, her and her father's relationship.
The rest of the car ride passed in understanding silence, broken only by the occasional sound of the Hanamiya car hitting a pebble or a crack in the road.
"You know, it's been awhile since I woke up in a hospital with you," Aomine says thoughtfully, only for Kuroko to shake her head.
"No, Aomine-kun. We already woke up together today, not three hours ago," she adds, none too helpfully. Aomine scoffs.
"Not counting that," he grumbles out defensively, cheekbones dusted pink. "I was thinking back in our second year. Near the end of the year. Remember?"
"Of course," Kuroko says, stretching her arm and nodding in satisfaction when her elbow lets out a loud crack. "Though, you were not hurt then. It was just me. You fell asleep in the room, though, so I guess I'll give you that."
Not being one to let his thoughts go unvoiced, Aomine changes the subject. "Satsuki said you might be better than me," he says, looking down into his lap. Kuroko looks straight forward.
-and that's why I'll... never playing again! ...just can't... just like O-
"I'll have to work harder to keep up, won't I?" Kuroko looks up at Aomine in relief, lips forming a smile.
"I guess you will," she responds, and Aomine shakes his head with a sigh.
"Don't think I'll drop the subject of you coming to Touou though," he adds. "If anything, you winning only confirms that thought. You know, you being at school with me could be pretty good inspiration. To practice. And stuff."
"I'm sure you could have equated this no matter the outcome of the game," Kuroko says dryly, shaking her head fondly. "And you know the answer already."
Aomine grins, but still sighs. Of course he knows that she won't come with him. She's too stubborn. Still, it would have been a waste not to ask anyway. Just in case. Suddenly, a thought hits him. "Where's the red haired wonder? Isn't he usually following you around like a lost puppy?"
"He's afraid of dogs, actually," Kuroko accidentally slips, before shaking her head slightly. "And I do not know. I was thinking about calling him to find out. Or see if he has left me any messages as to where he is. Not to sound vain or self-centered, but you are right. Kagami-kun would not leave a teammate unchecked in a hospital if he was available."
"Maybe he's sleeping in the waiting area or something," Aomine offers, but his offhanded shrug makes it obvious how little he thinks of the redhead. Kuroko shakes her head. Kagami still needs to prove his worth to Aomine; he still needs to beat him. "Anyway, when are we being released?"
A dazed silence stretches out as both players realize that they're stuck in a hospital until somebody comes to check on them.
There won't be any permanent damage.
According to the doctor, the two were just exhausted, and, using Kise's knowledge, for good reason. Hyuuga looks at the antsy blond out of the corner of his eye. His left leg bounces up and down as he bites his lip, checking his watch. "When can I see them again?" He asks, sending an admirable puppy-dog look at Aida.
"They're resting!" Aida responds harshly, frowning deeply. "You just finished telling us how dangerous this 'Zone' is! Why are you such a walking contradiction?"
"I said it was dangerous for normal players!" Kise argues back, throwing his arms out dramatically. "They're not normal! I bet they're both up! Gosh, Midorimacchi wants to see them too!"
All eyes turn to Midorima himself, who grunts nonchalantly. "I'm fine to wait. Shut up Kise."
"Never thought your harsh cynicism would ever come in handy," Izuki says with his eyebrows raised. He values respect for all people, but he also respects his sanity, and Kise is pushing it. He understands that he wants to see his friends, but what's wrong with waiting for ten minutes?
"Ugh..." Kise whines, throwing a hand over his eyes.
"Aren't you in a theatrical mood," Midorima says critically, eyes not moving from the text in front of him. Of all the players in the hospital, only Kise, Midorima, Takao, Seirin, and Touou (surprisingly enough) had enough patience to stay while Kuroko and Aomine rested for three hours, although Shutoku, Kaijou, and a few other low-ranking teams did come to 'pay their condolences'.
This, of course, earned nothing but Midorima's eye rolls and Kise's quick (and defensive) denial, saying that the two, "Aren't dead, god! They don't need their fake sympathy!"
It was odd, to Izuki, watching Kise get harsh and mean while Midorima sat idly by. Which leads to another disturbing thought that nobody else seems to have picked up on; why is waiting in the hospital such a normal occasion? Not to assume, but Kise and Midorima were both ready to jump up and zoom off to the hospital as soon as the game was over.
Midorima, Izuki can understand. His father is the head surgeon; he's probably grown up in the hospital, around sickly patients, rushed and impatient doctors, and the occasional child-friendly person. But Kise? The guy looks like a fruitcake, yes, but he's no klutz. There's no way he somehow ended up getting injured so frequently that he got desensitized to the hospital.
Luckily, somebody else speaks up about it.
"I don't get why you're all so... casual about this," the guy who Izuki recalls as Wakamatsu grumbles, crossing his bulky arms and pushing his blond eyebrows down. He'd joked around and punched Aomine in the arm in the room with the two teammates in question, but as soon as they were out, he was a worrisome mother hen, fretting and stressing. "Your friends could have been hurt!"
(Yes, of course Izuki knows he can be that way too. But the irony is lost on him, because he doesn't look like a bodybuilding highlighter-head like Wakamatsu.)
"Believe it or not," Midorima drawls out slowly, looking up from his book for the first time during the 'conversation', "there were a lot of injuries at Teikou. And whether or not they all deserved an ambulance, the principal wasn't going to risk his... stars being harmed."
The way he says 'stars' leads Izuki to believe (almost, almost) that the principal didn't... appreciate the Generation of Miracles.
But that would be impossible. Because what school leader doesn't want the conquering champion team known only as the Generation of Miracles, even in high school? Who wouldn't want the players that made every other team tremble in their shoes and quit before the game even began to evade humiliation?
Wakamatsu doesn't seem one to see tension, Izuki notices, as the guy plows on even though Midorima is distinctly done with the conversation. "Please. Based on the way Aomine 'works', if you can even call it that, I doubt you had to work very hard at Teikou!" He says. It's clear that there's supposed to be humor in his tone, but Kise's leg stops bouncing, and Midorima's hold tightens on his book.
"You should stop," Kise says still smiling.
"No, Kise, there's no need," Midorima interrupts blandly before the model can speak again. He picks his eyes up from his book again, making it a point to look agonizing, and locks eyes with Wakamatsu. His eyes, noticeably forest green now that Izuki has a good look at them, portray no emotion if not the thought of, "What an idiot."
"Oh, what? Is another 'Miracle' gonna tell me off?" He asks mockingly, and Imayoshi inhales deeply as he shakes his head slightly. He can feel the anger in Midorima and Kise, then, only he knows he can't stop what's already in motion.
God. They're uncontrollable. You know that, you idiot! You got crushed by them in middle school, and you were worthless then. Now, even though your team won, you were crushed by them again, in high school. Is this your life?
Izuki shudders, shutting down the part of his mind that wants to give up. That's not him anymore, not since Kiyoshi managed to convince him to play basketball again. And, if nothing else, he's beginning to pity the so-called Miracles. He can't put a finger on it, exactly, but something about them is a little... sad? Piteous? Well, whatever it is, he would much rather contemplate that than watch Wakamatsu and Midorima discuss Teikou.
Too bad for him, hm?
"You know, for all the people we beat and the teams we annihilated," Midorima starts off strong, earning him a clenched fist from Wakamatsu, "people seem to easily forget the fact that there were still rules for us, at Teikou. We weren't special or magnificent to student or faculty until we won all three years in a row, and by then, we were already gone," he says, and for the first time, it dawns on Izuki that that's the truth.
"Teikou only houses winners," Kise adds, smile fading. "We didn't stand out, exactly."
"Really look at that sentence, then," Midorima says, not breaking eye contact with Wakamatsu. "'Teikou only houses winners.' So, what do you think would happen to us if we lost a game and dirtied Teikou's name after clearing it and bringing it attention?"
Wakamatsu looks down, moving his mouth. Trying to discern if it's a trick question or not.
"I'll answer it for you and make your life easier," Midorima snarks with a smirk, eyes back on his book. "If we lost, even once, we were to be kicked off of the team, with new players to replace us. Because what good were we if we couldn't even win a shiny new trophy and title for our school?"
With that resting in the air, there's no more room for conversation.
Looking at the Generation of Miracles as monsters is the easiest, Izuki thinks to himself in the heavy silence of the waiting area. But not the truth. His mother always told him that there are three sides to every story; his side, his opponent's side, and the truth. Except in this case, it's six teenagers versus an entire generation of players.
They crushed everybody they faced cruelly, and that gives the Miracles nothing but monstrosity. Still, the fact that the group is still afraid of losing shows that loss was embedded in their minds not as a focal part of life and functioning, but as a sign of failure. Was every child taught that at Teikou? Was... Was Kuroko taught to think that way in Teikou?
Of course she was, the pitying side of his brain says. Why else would she push herself so far out of her comfort zone just to win? Sure, she wants to help her teammates, old and new. That much is obvious. But how much of her skill is earnest, and how much is just instinctively to win?
All of it, Izuki thinks firmly, closing that door. All of Kuroko's skill is in earnest. And now isn't the time to start judging her or doubting her. When you found out she was a regular at Teikou, you couldn't be mad because you respect her and care for her like a younger sister. If you start to hate her now for something that she clearly isn't and can't control, then who's the real monster?
The truth is a curious thing.
Kagami looks at the orange ball in his hand. He thinks back; back to his first day at Seirin, when he acted so much larger than life, like he was better than the others at Seirin, like he expected them all to be far beneath his standards.
Back when he still had a lot to learn.
And here he is now - he gets it, suddenly, why he loves basketball so much. It's too late to go back and apologize to the Aida and Hyuuga of the past, and it's definitely too late to say he's sorry to Koganei. Those ships have sailed, and he knows that the three have long forgotten the fact that he used to be so high and mighty.
The way he treated Kuroko, though, sticks out in Kagami's mind. He respected her, right from the start, but did he treat her as an equal, or as a goal?
Even now, does he see her as a goal to reach? That's what he told her in the beginning, isn't it? She probably didn't read into it that deeply, even if what he said was selfish and immature. He looks up at the sun instead, and drops the ball to the ground. Kagami closes his eyes.
It's a ratty old court with the midday sun shining bright, the place that Aomine challenged him. The kind of place Kagami used to play with his brother, all around the city. Or... with Himuro. He isn't sure how much of a 'brother' the guy considers him anymore. He's made mistakes in the past, mistakes that broke a friendship that he relied on to keep him steady and happy. He isn't apt to do the same thing again, and he knows that Kuroko isn't either.
"So why haven't you visited her in the hospital yet, you dumbass?" He mutters to himself, pushing off of the ground and into a standing position.
Because you're weak, that's why, he thinks, scowling. Well, he knows that isn't exactly true; even by United States standards, the Generation of Miracles are all amazingly talented. They'd still be respected as the messiahs of basketball in the nation where the sport originated. His fear isn't of his actual weakness, but more of his perception.
By Kuroko. Because who else could he care about? She's his partner, although according to Aomine Daiki, he doesn't deserve that much.
Does Kuroko think he's weak now, like Aomine, because he couldn't even try to keep up with them during the game?
"When did you start being like this? Worrying so hard about the way your friends think that you screw it up even more? You've just gotta suck it up and go see her!" He says, tugging at his hair. Kagami sighs, nodding determinedly. "Yep. That's it. I'm going right now, to go see Kuroko, and talk to her."
Kagami Taiga is usually the one to break the silence, Midorima notices. When the tiger busts into the hospital waiting area (and really, no other verb can be used, lest people be fooled into thinking that there is any grace at all around Kagami Taiga) he's covered in sweat, gravel, and dirt, and he looks like he just ran a full marathon without stopping.
"Nice of you to show up," Midorima says blandly when he notices that nobody else seems to want to speak up. The Seirin captain, Hyuuga, he notes, sends a nasty look his way that's easily brushed off. If he didn't want Midorima to add his own comment, why didn't he say something to his disheveled teammate?
"Where's Kuroko?" Kagami pants, looking even wilder.
"Sleeping, I expect, with Aomine Daiki passed out in a hospital bed next to her. Why, do you want to see her too? I hadn't realized she'd grown so popular," Midorima says, quick this time. "But sorry. You just missed the fantastic argument that occurred, but she's resting right now. And if you want to talk to her, you're going to need to wait like the rest of us."
Turning back to his book, the green haired Shutoku ace scans the rows of words quickly, not really reading or comprehending, but hearing the syllables resound in his skull nonetheless. It's less fun and enjoyable than actual reading, yes, but useful for looking like he doesn't care.
And boy, does he not want to care. Unfortunately, it looks like he does. Or, it feels like he does, if the worry in his mind is enough of a tell. Kuroko Tetsuki and Aomine Daiki aren't easily taken down on the court, so of course the one time they both are, it's their own stupid selves' faults, and they were fighting each other.
"They're awake. They've gotta be. You remember back at Teikou, right, Midorimacchi? They were never out this long," Kise whispers to Midorima, who shrugs the blond away and rolls his eyes, knowing that the angle and thickness of his glasses often catches the light, allowing him to hide his expression if necessary.
"They weren't exactly fully exerting themselves back at Teikou," he answers. "They were pushing themselves, but not to the brink. So, please let the topic rest."
For approximately 45 seconds. "I'm gonna go ask a nurse, m'kay?" Kise whispers, yet again, and this time, Midorima raises his eyebrows but says nothing, which Kise apparently takes as a resounding, 'YES! I'M IN! CALL A PARADE AND AWAKEN OUR RESTING COMRADES!'
He walks up to the counter quickly, the fact that he isn't skipping and completely lacks an annoying bounce in his step communicating clearly enough just how distressed Kise is.
And, Midorima thinks, he supposes it makes sense. Back at Teikou, Kise was mentored by Kuroko and saw Aomine as an idol; united, the Golden Duo of Teikou is Kise's North Star, guiding his thinking, training, and learning. He strives to be as good as them every time that he exhausts himself running for over an hour on a treadmill. He reminds himself of their greatness when he does 100 pull ups in a row, recalling how Aomine used to do one handed pull ups over and over every day in middle school.
It isn't healthy, either. Of course it isn't, looking up to such a small group so singularly and without doubt. But then, Midorima supposes there are worse people to look up to.
It isn't that he's not worried about Kuroko and Aomine, either. He just knows that they're strong, and since they're all already aware that there isn't any lasting damage on either of them, isn't it best just to let the problem simmer while the players at hand get some well deserved recovery time?
Alone time, that is. They must be fully recovered, Kise's right. And for once, Midorima knows that he's acknowledging social needs more than the famous Kise Ryouta. The friendship between Kuroko and Aomine used to be legendary, and they need time to re-establish that. Because if they can, Kuroko can help Aomine back into his better, less-of-an-asshole self, and Aomine can help Kuroko assert her confidence, and she can tear down Akashi.
That is, if he doesn't do it himself first.
Kise and Kagami are the first two to enter the room, walking in at exactly the same time while Aomine and Kuroko begin to stand. Kise walks over to Aomine first, having enough sense to know that Kagami isn't going to speak to Aomine.
"You better be okay," Kise says softly, crossing his arms and tapping his foot. "Because we have a game coming up, you know. Touou and Kaijou. You are okay to play, right? Or, you will be?" He demands. Aomine snorts, rolling his shoulders back.
"Calm down, idiot," he snaps, hating the allusion of weakness, no matter how well meaning or subtle. "I'd be fine to annihilate Kaijou right now with my hands tied behind my back. Chill."
The two continue bickering, and Kagami slows to a stop next to Kuroko.
She sits on the bed, stretching her head to the side, letting the tension in her neck pop. Kagami bounces from foot to foot. "Ah, Kagami-kun. It is good to see you. You are alright, are you not?" She asks, looking up at her partner worriedly. Kagami swallows.
"I'm... fine," he answers, looking in the other direction. "Just anxious, I think. Scared." He says softer. Kuroko looks around Kagami for a moment, to see Aomine and Kise arguing over something or another. Kise winks in her direction, turning back to distraction Aomine quickly.
"Good," Kuroko says slowly. "But may I ask what it is that you're afraid of?"
"You. Being disappointed in me. I think."
Kuroko takes a deep breath, then places a hand on her neck. She smiles, and looks up at Kagami. "I am not," she says simply. "And I will not be, no matter how rash you may act sometimes, Kagami-kun. I am not ashamed of you, or disappointed. At all."
With the tension gone from his posture, Kagami locks eyes with Kuroko, and nods. "Thanks," he says simply, and Kuroko nods back.
"Of course," Kuroko continues, standing, "you should not take this as a pardon for your hard work. You must continue to push hard while you train, and continue to be the very best that you can be. I can push you, Kagami-kun, but there comes a time when you need to begin pulling yourself. That time is not now, not yet, but it will be soon."
And with that, the difficult conversation is over, and Kagami puts his hands behind his head with a grin.
"I heard from our seniors that the coach has a killer lineup for us over summer break," he says. "Can't wait for that. Izuki was worried about you participating, though - thought that you might need the 'recovery time' more than the extra training," he explains, only for Kuroko to shake her head.
"No, I am fine. There is... no need for any more recovery. This training sounds interesting, Kagami-kun. We should be going, then, to tell those waiting for us that their worries need not continue. Oh, and Aomine-kun, Kise-kun?" She says, stopping on her path towards the door, Kagami beside her.
"Good luck to both of you. I will be there."
"The Winter Cup starts right after Summer Vacation," Aida says, pacing back and forth, looking very much the part of coach. "And we need to be ready. Kuroko, Kagami, you know we all love you, but we can't rely on our first years! So, Hyuuga and I, with some ideas from Kuroko, have comprised a good training menu to help our team shape up and destroy all of our opponents!"
Mitobe nods, looking determined, while Koganei is the only member who outwardly cheers. Furihata and Fukuda exchange nervous glances; they know better than to trust their coach when it comes to training, especially when she seems excited and Hyuuga or Kuroko is involved. If all three are involved, how much pain is in store for them?
Kagami looks embarrassed.
"We'll be taking two major trips, but don't think we won't be working between the two!" Aida warns, smacking her clipboard on her hand a few times to reiterate the importance of her words. "In addition, you wonderful losers all get to appreciate my home cooking, so get excited for that!"
Stopping in her pacing for a second, Aida looks towards Hyuuga for support. The captain in question merely gulps, nodding a few times. "Ah... y-yeah! Great food to compliment a nice fun training menu!" He shouts, sending wary glances at Aida's small but capable hands. He's felt her Crab Hold, and he isn't too eager to anger her again.
Koganei, though, doesn't seem to have gotten the program. His face screws up, and he sticks out his tongue for a second. "What?! Aida's food is horrible, Hyuuga! Why would you lie to all of our juniors this way?" He asks, missing Hyuuga's action of drawing his finger slowly across his neck.
"Wait, you can't cook?" Kagami asks slowly, looking at his coach in wonder. Aida hisses for a second, and Izuki laughs softly.
"You didn't get to see it, since I... uh... tragically lost the container," he winces, sending a nervous glance at his female friend. "But Aida made some 'honey soaked lemons' for the Touou game. Except she forgot to cut up the lemons, and the honey had protein powder in it."
"I can cook if you want," Kagami offers, only for Aida to shake her head. "No. I'm working you all until you crumble at my feet; you're not gonna have enough energy to cook. Which leaves me as your only option. Don't worry, though; these idiots are making me out to be way worse than I actually am. Now, tomorrow, we're going to the training camp on the beach! Pack some clothes and bath stuff, okay? We'll be there for a little under a week. Be prepared."
"Am I allowed to ask where this is?" Fukuda asks, raising his hand. Aida nods.
"You are, but it doesn't matter, because we're taking the bus!" Aida says with a smile. It drops quickly. "Seriously. Bring enough clothing. If you forget your pants, there's nothing I can do to help you," she glances at Koganei, "and since this is a pretty popular training destination, you might see somebody you know without your pants on."
"Where's Kuroko at?" Hyuuga wonders, looking around. Izuki shrugs.
"She's probably already here, like always. Kuroko, if you can hear me, don't worry," he says calmly, hitching his bag up onto his back further. Kagami frowns, looking around.
"No, I think Hyuuga's right, actually," he says slowly. "I don't think she's here!"
"What do you mean, 'actually', you little rat? I'll have you know that I'm fully capable of being right way more than you think I am!" Hyuuga says, sticking a finger into Kagami's chest a few times. Kagami nods quickly.
"Yeah, I'm just saying that Kuroko's usually really hard to find for everybody but Izuki and that weirdo from Shutoku!" he exclaims, and Hyuuga huffs, nodding.
"That's true. But hey, look on the bright side," Hyuuga says, smacking Kagami on the back, hard enough to make his junior's eye twitch, "we don't need to see any of those weirdos for the rest of the summer. We're home free!"
"Seriously, though, where is she?" Aida asks worriedly, browsing over the present members. "The bus will be here soon!"
"I am here," Kuroko says suddenly, cheeks slightly flushed. Although the team jumps, most of the players are fine, having gotten used to the mind numbing paranoia that comes naturally around Kuroko Tetsuki. "I have been this whole time."
"Oh, that's a lie and you know it!" Kagami exclaims indignantly, crossing his arms. "I know for a fact that you weren't here 30 seconds ago!"
Kuroko looks straight ahead, then glances at Kagami, and looks away.
"You're not even going to deny it?" Izuki asks with a chuckle, shaking his head at the duo's antics. "Ah, the young and carefree."
"We're only a year younger than you! Seriously, why are you all so impossible?"
"That's not very respectful, Kagami-kun," Kuroko adds, and Izuki points at Kuroko with a nod.
"Not even here a minute, and she's still doing better than you, Kagami," he teases, and Kagami groans as he puts his head in his hands.
The first thing Kagami notices is the fact that there are only two actual courts (he thinks; they're partially visible from behind a larger building, where he guesses they will be sleeping), while any other training ground is covered in sand. To be more clear, the posts of the hoops are stuck into the sandy ground instead of pavement or cement (like it should be, he thinks), leaving him wondering just how useful that actually is.
He should try to think like Kuroko and 'figure it out'.
"Running on the sand will help our leg muscles develop, and the inability to make bounce passes or dribble should strengthen our passing speed and strength. Very clever, Aida-san," Kuroko says aloud, prompting Kagami to nod slowly, eyes slightly squinted.
Cracked the case. Nice work, Kagami.
"I thought so," Aida says, crossing her arms with a smile. "Now! I can take care of all the bags, okay? Just put them all in a pile near the bench over there. I'm going to split you up into teams! Oh, except for you, Kagami. You have a very special task for today," Aida says, rubbing her hands together.
The last time she said that, Kagami ended up training with Mitobe, and in the end, that was super helpful. With an expectant look, Kagami cracks his neck. "Okay. What's up?"
"You..." Aida leans closer, holding the suspense for a second, "are going to get every other team member a nice, refreshing drink! Okay? The vending machines are over there, on the other side of the beach, and you're not allowed to get more than one at a time! Good luck, and happy running!" She exclaims with a small wave, and Kagami blanches.
"What?" He whines. "But that's boring! I wanna do actual practice!"
"I'll just take water, please, Kagami-kun," Kuroko interjects, raising her hand. Kagami looks at her in mock betrayal.
"Fine," he groans turning in the direction of Aida's pointing finger. "This is gonna suck!"
As soon as he's out of earshot, Kuroko nods approvingly at Aida.
"Anyway," Aida begins, looking at the remaining team members, "I'm splitting you up into two groups, like I said earlier. There are four first years, and five second years, so we're going to give each team two first years, and whichever team has Kuroko gets one less second year. From this point on, you can choose whoever you want. However, like Kuroko said, this is to strengthen your passing and muscle endurance."
"So we'd better not go easy on each other," Hyuuga grumbles, narrowing his eyes at Izuki. "And we won't."
The end of the day comes faster than anticipated for everybody but Kagami.
"That was fun," Kuroko says, sitting cross legged in a chair, wearing sweatpants and a loose t-shirt. Braiding her wet hair, she looks at Izuki, then out the large window beside them, which displays a beautiful sunset. "Although, I think that Kagami-kun must be finishing his drink runs soon. I believe he has finally begun to slow down."
"Oh yeah," Izuki says, stretching and groaning as his back cracks. "He's going to be feeling some soreness tomorrow. But that just means he'll be in the same boat as us, right?"
"Right," Hyuuga says tiredly as he drags himself into the room too, sprawling himself over the remaining couch with a long sigh. "I'd forgotten how horrible this was last year. Actually, isn't this worse than last year, since Kiyoshi isn't here to calm Aida down and stop her from killing all of us? Not to mention the fact that she's in the kitchen now, probably getting ready to kill us with her cooking."
"Kiyoshi..." Izuki trails off, ignoring Hyuuga's comments about Aida's relationship with cooking. "I wonder how he's doing."
"Well," Kuroko answers, and Izuki and Hyuuga look up at her in surprise.
"You know him?" Hyuuga asks, and Kuroko shakes her head.
"I do not know him very personally, but I know of him," she says. "I know that he is badly injured, and I know why he is badly injured. Or, more accurately, I know who is... to blame," she says, looking concerned. "In Teikou, we always knew about anybody who could be a possible threat to us. We did not know that we would split up; we thought we would all move on to high school together, at first. So the Uncrowned Kings were an important group to keep our eyes on," she explains.
"I forget how he had a title and stuff," Izuki says, leaning more deeply into his chair. "Like I forget that you have a title. It's easy to, when you aren't being constantly reminded. Something tells me that some of your old teammates will never let anybody forget their significance."
"Probably true," Kuroko says with a shrug, face still blank as ever. "They are all stubborn, many far more than myself, which is surely saying something."
"You're stubborn where it counts," Hyuuga says with an eye roll. "They're stubborn where it's annoying. There's a difference, trust me."
The sound of a door slamming interrupts the conversation, and Kuroko looks up at Izuki and nods. "That should be Kagami-kun, then, with your drink. I will go get it for you, Izuki-kun," she says, standing up and touching her toes for a moment before standing up and walking off.
"She's a good person. Kagami, too. But I wonder if she really knows what happened," Hyuuga says with a shake of his head. "I know that Kiyoshi will never be the same; not really. But that doesn't change the fact that this never had to have happened."
"Everyone knows it was Hanamiya who did it. Few blame him, though," Izuki responds, looking upset. "He's good at making things look like accidents. There's something dishonorable about that that makes my skin crawl."
"Part of me wants our first years to destroy him," Hyuuga says bluntly, flipping over onto his back to look up at the swirling pattern of the ceiling. "But the other part doesn't want either of them to get hurt by that goddamn sadist!"
"What sadist?" Kagami's voice interrupts, and Izuki looks over to see a drink-carrying Kuroko followed by a sweaty, long-suffering Kagami. At least he's well enough to talk, Izuki thinks to himself. Kuroko tosses him his drink, and Izuki absentmindedly catches it in one hand.
"You wanna go clean yourself up first?" Izuki asks humorously, masterfully changing to subject. But to no avail.
"I wanna know who the sadist is," Kagami whines, leaning against the wall and scooting down until he's sitting on the ground. "Besides, I'm too tired right now. Give me a few minutes, or I'll fall and snap a leg."
Hyuuga looks at Izuki for a minute before looking at Kagami and stating, "We're talking about Hanamiya Makoto, the coach and captain of Kirisaki Daiichi."
Kagami frowns, looking upwards for a second before shaking his head. "Never heard of him," he says, but Izuki's eyes are drawn instead to Kuroko, whose shoulders look mysteriously hunched as she bites her bottom lip.
"You know him, Kuroko? Or just of him?" Izuki asks curiously but politely, leaving maximum avoidance space.
"I... know him. Or, I knew him, more accurately. I do not know the person who he is now, as much, though I fear I should have helped him when I suspected he might become this way. He always was a jealous person, you know. That is why he took it out on your friend. It is no excuse, I know, but he still should apologize to Seirin," Kuroko says.
"Jealousy, huh?" Hyuuga says softly. "What did Kiyoshi have that Hanamiya was so jealous of, I wonder?"
"Friends," Kuroko names. "Comrades. Whatever you would like to call it. Kiyoshi was an amiable soul, or so I have heard. Hanamiya is quite the opposite, and I can only imagine how long he loathed Kiyoshi for being so good at people while he struggled."
Furihata comes stumbling into the room, interrupting the serious conversation. "A-Aida-san says that dinner is ready!"
Kagami stands, then grumbles. "I'm gonna go take that shower now. If I come back and there's no food, I guess I'll just have to get some snacks from the vending machines. What's one more run, right?" He says, and Furihata shakes his head.
"Don't count on it," he says piteously. "She made a whole enormous vat of food. There'll be enough, I promise you," he says. Kagami grumbles louder, but walks off towards the showers anyway.
"We'll continue this later," Kuroko says calmly, nodding to Furihata. "Thank you, Furihata-kun. We will be there shortly."
As her fellow first year scampers off towards the kitchen, Kuroko listens to Hyuuga and Izuki groan as they stand up, both holding their backs like senior citizens. "Come on, Hyuuga-kun, Izuki-kun. I do not want to miss out on Aida-san's infamous recipe."
Hyuuga looks disgusted.
"You won't even be saying that as a joke after dinner tonight."
Surprisingly enough, Kagami is the first to awaken the next morning, and, like the oblivious idiot he is, he trips over Kuroko's sleeping body as he tries to leave the room. While Aida had wanted Kuroko to sleep in the separate room with her, Kuroko had resisted, saying that she would rather rest with the rest of the players.
"You're so graceful, Kagami-kun," Kuroko croaks out softly, walking next to Kagami towards the smaller bathroom, the one with all the sinks, to brush their teeth. Kagami looks at his partner in crime and struggles to cover his laughing.
"I wish you could see yourself right now," he says, voice just as sleepy as Kuroko's. "Your hair looks ridiculous."
"A problem I have been unable to solve for many years now," Kuroko replies with a sigh, shaking her head a bit to try to reform what she knows must be a horrible case of bed head. She puts a hand to her long hair, then musses it around a bit. Looking back at Kagami, she points at her head. "Any better?"
This time, Kagami lets out a full snicker, whole body shaking. "Ah... I'm sure you'll be able to fix it later. Besides, you're just gonna pull it back today, right?" He reasons. Kuroko nods.
"Very quick deduction, Kagami-kun. I am surprised at your ingenuity. Perhaps I should speak to you in the morning more often," Kuroko says dryly, and Kagami looks at her suspiciously.
"I'm really not sure if that's supposed to be teasing or not," he murmurs, and Kuroko shakes her head.
"Nevermind. I take that back."
Finally reaching their destination, Kuroko looks up at the small bathroom mirror, looking at the blue monstrosity surrounding her head with chagrin. Out of the corner of her eye, she sees Kagami turning on the sink and getting some water on his hands before smacking himself in the face a few times, probably to wake himself up. Kuroko grabs her hair brush, ready to pull back the tangled mess.
Although sometimes she does like it down, more often than not, Kuroko likes the freedom of having her hair up and away from her face and neck. In the winter, she supposes, it's better to have a wind buffer attached to her head, but any other time, and it's more of an obstacle than anything. Kagami looks in her direction with a look of concern.
"There are... tearing noises coming from your hair. Is that safe? Doesn't it hurt?" He asks, squirting a little too much toothpaste onto his toothbrush and watching sadly as the glob falls off into the sink. As he tries again, Kuroko shrugs.
"No. If you hold the hair at the base, then you cannot feel the pulling pain. Besides, it is all brushed now," she says, pulling her hair back high, then tightening a hair band around the base easily. Mirroring Kagami's former movements, she fills her cupped hands with water, then splashes her face.
"Y'know, it's kinda weird, how we're the only team here," Kagami says suddenly, words a little hard to understand because of the toothbrush in his mouth. "Aida said that this place is a popular training area, right? Then why are we the only ones here?"
Kuroko purses her lips, picking up her own toothbrush slowly. "I do not know, Kagami-kun. Perhaps there is another team coming."
"I hope not," Kagami says bluntly. "I don't want to have to deal with more people."
As if to purposely screw with Kagami's life, the sound of slamming doors and voices suddenly fills the halls, and Kagami and Kuroko lock eyes. Kagami glances at his wrist watch, then he coughs, spitting bits of toothpaste foam on the mirror. He looks at Kuroko in shock. "It's already 8:00! How long did it take us to get here and start brushing our teeth?! The rest of the team is probably headed over here now, and Aida's probably already making breakfast!"
"8:00," Kuroko murmurs, tapping her left pointer finger on the counter. "A bit early for anybody from our team to be leaving. And that means..."
"Shin-chan, for real! I think he said that another school is gonna be there! Maybe some of my friends will be here! Oh my god, you'll love them so much... or, well, maybe you won't, but you should act like you do. Wait up!"
Kagami closes his eyes and lets out a long suffering sigh as Kuroko looks out towards the hallway, the open design of the facility allowing Seirin's duo a perfect vision of any people approaching. And now, the people approaching are...
"Oh, you've got to be kidding me," Midorima says, mouth set in a dissatisfied line. "I just can't get away," he mutters, looking between Kuroko and Kagami quickly.
"Ugh!" Kagami groans, more toothpaste foam running down his chin, and Kuroko nods at Midorima in a way that's almost friendly, but mostly just polite.
"Hello, Midorima-kun. Very nice to see you again so soon," she says, before turning to Takao. "And you, Takao-kun. Although I might recommend staying away from Hyuuga-kun, if you would like to be safe," she warns, making Takao's smile freeze.
"Hey, what does that me-?" He begins, only to be interrupted by Midorima.
"So, Seirin is the other team here, then?" He asks slowly, rubbing a temple with his left hand. He mutters what sounds like a prayer under his breath, then turns away. "With any luck, we'll only be living beside each other, and not interacting." If only he knew how wrong he was.
Lo and behold, when Aida's breakfast is 'over' (and Mitobe has returned from the bathroom to cook a suitable meal for the players), Hyuuga very nearly flips the table over in an attempt to keep his anger in check. "I thought we were coming here to get away from these lunatics!" He exclaims, banging his head on the table twice in quick succession.
"So did I," Aida says with a shrug, "but now that they're here, we're going to make the best of the situation! We're doing practice games with Shutoku!" She shouts wildly. "Not only to we get the effect of the sand and the passing, we also won't have to deal with petty emotions keeping us from going all out! Because I'm pretty sure we all want to destroy those condescending idiots," she says, thumb applying just enough pressure to bend her pen slightly.
"Shutoku isn't as condescending as Kaijou, or Touou... or even Seihou, though," Furihata points out, and Izuki nods in agreement.
"True. They weren't as condescending. But it was still there, so we're going to destroy them," he says simply, with a small smile on his handsome face. Furihata nods, by now used to the Seirin seniors' actions.
"I'm pumped. This is going to be great!" Kagami says, cracking his knuckles with a chuckle. Aida looks at Kagami and shakes her head, seeming to grow in height as she manages to look down on the Light of Seirin.
"Oh no, Kagami-kun," she says sweetly, "You're not playing against Shutoku. You're doing drink runs, remember?"
Kagami spits out his orange juice all over his scrambled eggs, not noticing Mitobe's look of sadness at a plate of food ruined. "Wait, what? You mean that wasn't just a cruel joke for one day? At the very least, I thought we would be switching off or something! C'mon... wait, Kuroko, you've always said stuff about me needing more experience! This is a great time to get experience!"
"This is a form of experience, Kagami-kun," Kuroko says softly, taking a small bite of toast and swallowing before nodding at her partner. "Maybe you will find yourself thanking Aida-san in the future."
"My life is struggle," Kagami mumbles, head collapsed into his arms on the table. "Ugh, fine. Make a list of what everybody likes; I don't remember."
"Somebody's been feeling very well lately," Aida says happily in Hyuuga's ear, momentarily startling him. With a smile, he nods at one of his best friends.
"Yeah. Believe it or not, Kuroko told me that yesterday," he responds, shaking his head. "She always knows the important things, doesn't she? And I think Kagami does too, on the inside, whether or not he even believes it himself."
"Undoubtedly," Aida says, sounding the part of a proud parent. "But really, Teppei's state has gotten far better extremely rapidly. Over the past... well, month or so, I'd say, his injury has shown signs of being as close to perfectly healed as it's ever going to get! And, even though the doctors are still amazed that he somehow managed to will himself better..."
"You're kidding," Hyuuga says, eyes wide. A smile breaks out across Aida's face.
"Nope! Teppei is coming to the camp! I can't wait for him to officially meet Kuroko and Kagami; I know we've told him all about them already, but I really think he'll like them. Maybe he can get Kuroko to come out of her shell a little bit, and coach Kagami in how to keep a lighter attitude instead of threatening his opponents every game," she says wistfully, and Hyuuga rolls his eyes.
"You can dream, but you know Teppei. He's more likely than anyone else to egg Kagami on, should the mood hit him," he argues, and Aida nods after a seconds of contemplation.
"True," she says with a shrug. "I still can't wait to have him back, though. I told you first, so how 'bout we go tell all the others now?" She says, and Hyuuga squints his eyes.
"But... Riko, all of the first years are off doing errands or small chores before the practice games begin. It would be a little bit ridiculous to assemble the whole team," he says. Aida smirks.
"That's why we're not assembling the whole team. I thought it would be nice to give our first years a little surprise."
Hyuuga smiles. "That's my kind of plan."
"There's got to be some kind of trick to what they're doing," Otsubo says slowly to Nakatani, the coach of Shutoku High Basketball Team. "They're playing a team that's arguably better than them. I'm not being cocky or anything, but when it comes to stamina, experience, and even play making, we're either on equal or higher footing."
"True," Nakatani responds to the responsible captain of the team. "But what are you alluding to, exactly?"
"It's just... they already have a kind of advantage here, because of their run-and-gun playing style, but I still don't think that gives them enough leeway to remove both Kuroko Tetsuki and Kagami Taiga from the court. Plus, I can see that Kuroko is at least doing something," Otsubo says with a shake of his head, pointing at the blue haired girl who seems to be taking notes on all of the players, Seirin and Shutoku, "but Kagami's just... running to and from that set of vending machines. I kind of pity him, especially since there doesn't seem to be a point."
Nakatani smiles. Even though Otsubo is reliable and clever, he often misses the obvious. "Kagami Taiga's skill is jumping," he says plainly. "You saw the way he guarded the hoop when he played us, and even more against other teams. Working his legs will only strengthen that skill, correct? Also, taking away the two aces gives the rest of the team an opportunity to sharpen their skills to a fine point. It's clever, don't you think?"
"Yeah," Otsubo says, seeming relieved now that Seirin's motions have a sort of rhyme and reason. "You did hear who's coming, right, coach? The last member of Seirin," he says respectully. Nakatani nods, eyebrows dipping just so.
"Yes," he responds. "Kiyoshi Teppei; that one could certainly cause some problems. He's a fantastic player."
Looking back out onto the court, Seirin may not be winning, but they're faring far better than was expected of them. Nakatani smiles in their general direction, although none of them are able to look at his face and see it. "There's a wave coming in Seirin," he says with a knowing tone, "and I have to admit - I'm excited to see what it will hold. But be cautious; we don't truly know what they're capable of."
Kiyoshi looks at his hand in thought, flipping it over a few times and marveling at the different shades of skin on either side of the extremity. Hyuuga and Aida seemed excited when they told him about Kagami and Kuroko, especially when they talked about their growth and 'becoming one with the team'. For whatever reason, they seemed hesitant to bring the juniors to see him in the hospital.
He's not going to pry; he might be carefree, but he isn't an idiot. He just know how to push people's buttons, and he likes to. Whatever reason his friends have for not wanting him to be known until now, he's sure they're absolutely legitimate. But this does nothing to sate his boredom, and with a small exhale, Kiyoshi checks the wall clock again.
Well, it's finally 4:30. The others should be getting back soon, which is good news, since he's pretty much being consumed by his own lack of action.
He's heard of Kuroko Tetsuki, unlike most others. Of course, he must have played her at some point (he remembers quite clearly how annoying it was to play against Teikou in middle school, but the one who stood out was the huge one with purple hair, since he was the easiest to annoy. Kuroko somehow managed to crawl to the back of his mind and hide there for quite awhile), but playing her isn't where he really got to know Kuroko.
Although he never spoke to her, either, so in a way, saying that he 'got to know Kuroko' is misleading and just a little bit creepy. Nevertheless, he does know of her, and he respects her. Because he knows how hard it is to get Hanamiya Makoto's respect, and he also knows how hard it is to lose it. And somehow, the girl managed to do both of those things, just like him.
Kagami, on the other hand, seems like a diamond in the rough, a perfect person to pull under his wing like a little brother. That thought is also a little creepy, but Kiyoshi likes that feeling; the feeling of caring for other people. The sound of footsteps drawing near the sitting room attracts his attention, and Kiyoshi looks up as he sees shadows approaching.
He places an amiable smile on his face. First impressions are everything.
"And now," he hears Aida saying, sounding very giddy, "we all get to meet the last member of our team! He's been out of commission for the past year, but he's back now, and with him, we'll be on our way to winning the Winter Cup, together!" This elicits some cheering, but mostly there's just curious, excited whispering.
Must be the 'hard-working benched trio' Aida has been informing him about, too.
"Now, I'd like to introduce you to... Kiyoshi Teppei!"
The reaction isn't immediate, mostly because the second years are already aware of his presence (and made their own hello's) and all of the first years are shell shocked, though for different reasons.
"Kiyoshi Teppei?!" The one who fits the description of 'Furihata' exclaims, star struck. "Wow! You have an Uncrowned King on your team too? I had no idea! That's amazing, Aida-san!" He gushes, and Kiyoshi rubs the back of his neck before smiling at the brown haired boy.
"Ahaha... thank you for recognizing me! I haven't gotten out much these past few months; thought the world may have moved on without me," he jokes, standing up quickly and walking over to the red haired devil that has to be Kagami Taiga. "Boy, have I heard about the trouble you cause."
"W-What?" Kagami splutters, looking a little put out. "I haven't caused any - I mean, I rarely, if ever... or, I mean, I guess sometimes I get a little more involved than I've to to, but I don't think that means I'm causing any trouble!"
"Kids will be kids, I suppose," Kiyoshi says flippantly, nodding 'sagely' at Hyuuga, who grins at Kagami's shock. "And you, the small blue one. You can only be Kuroko Tetsuki. Your reputation precedes you."
"Thank you, Kiyoshi-kun," the girl says with a small bow. "I must say, it is an honor to be officially introduced to you. I only managed to meet you once on the court before, and you played admirably. I look forward to playing alongside you," she says kindly. Kiyoshi looks into her eyes, looking for any form of malice or falsity.
Of course he trusts Hyuuga and Aida, but the easy, pretty lies sprouted by that red and golden eyed one were frightening to hear, and he doesn't want his friends to be deceived. It's clear immediately that Kuroko is nothing like the Akashi Seijuro he met on the court that day, though.
"You share my feelings then," Kiyoshi says with a wink. "And even though I might have played 'admirably', you've gotta admit that Teikou destroyed our team! Haha! It was great; really knocked a bunch of members off of their high horses. Our team rarely lost, you know, until you all came along," Kiyoshi says, nostalgia lacing his tone. Kuroko's eyes are a little wider.
She's surprised that I don't hate her, Kiyoshi thinks. Ah, Izuki was right. She is a good person.
"Anyway," he continues, surveying the entire team, "I can't wait to get to know all of you, and to spend time with all my old friends. I miss the times we used to have, you know," he says, shaking his head. "But now, we get to work towards sweeping the Winter Cup. Exciting, eh?" He poses, rubbing his hands together. Aida grins.
"Yes," she says. "Now, it's time for dinner! Apparently, Shutoku is providing tonight, so none of my food. I hope nobody is too disappointed... well, maybe I can convince Coach Nakatani to let me help them, and-"
"No, coach, it's fine, really," Izuki says with a smile. He lays a hand on Aida's shoulder. "You've been working so hard lately, you deserve a break." A single glance around all the rapidly nodding heads forces her to give in and grin.
"You guys are great! Let's go!"
The sun is painted an annoyingly familiar shade of red as Midorima walks back to the lodging cabin from the vending machines, drink in hand. He reads as he walks, rereading the section of book he completely missed out on as he pretended to read in the hospital.
"Ah, Midorima-kun. I was hoping to run into you here," Kuroko says suddenly, appearing out of the woodwork silently. Other than a quick intake of breath, Midorima does nothing more to show his surprise or near heart attack He's spent too many years alongside Kuroko to really be frightened by her presence, even if he never did have a knack for locating her like Aomine or Akashi.
"You always were great at knowing people's tendencies," Midorima says, almost complimenting his old acquaintance, but not quite. Even though they're alone, his walls are up strong, not willing to allow water to flow through its minuscule cracks and destroy its foundation. "What do you need?" He asks softly, looking around nervously, as if he's anxious that somebody from his team will see him being well-mannered.
"I have a favor to request," Kuroko responds, meeting Midorima's eyes.
"Let me guess - it's regarding Kagami, right?" He asks dryly, drawing his eyebrows together but keeping his eye roll and scoff stored away for when he's in front of his team. "What do you want me to tell him? I doubt he'll listen to me."
"You're right, of course," Kuroko says, walking slowly alongside Midorima. "It takes more than words to make Kagami-kun see the truth; much like Aomine-kun, he needs to be shown through action. I would like you to speak with him, Midorima-kun. After practice one day, whenever you feel is best. He's improving, but soon, he will hit a wall, and I do not want him to be stuck. Help him. You know what to do."
Midorima looks at his hand, a drop of condensed water dripping down his finger, leaving a translucent trail behind it. "I'll do it," he says. "But only when I know that he's ready. Alright?"
"Perfect," Kuroko says, smiling at Midorima. "You know, you should act like this around your teammates some time; perhaps they will realize that you are not always as bad as you try to look." Midorima scoffs, not scorning Kuroko, but himself.
"Please," he says, "not everybody is as great as you at really being themselves."
Behind a corner, Takao counts the white pebbles in the asphalt, contemplating what he's heard.
They might be monsters, and they might be arrogant, and hell, they may even be the feared conquerors that the media makes them out to be. But maybe, just maybe, some of the Miracles aren't the bad guys.
For two days, Kagami does nothing but run and get drinks, or run and get snacks, or run to get the clipboards Aida 'accidentally' left exactly 500 meters in some direction. One at a time. Always one at a time, as if carrying more than one water bottle at a time will taint it. He isn't an idiot, either; he knows that there are other drinks at the camp, so his 'task' is pretty much useless.
He also knows that it's helping him to improve. He can feel it, in his muscles.
What irks him is the fact that the experience he so desperately needs is right there, and all he needs to do is reach out and grab it... only he can't, because he's not allowed to do anything but running in the sand.
"You're working hard, Kagami-kun. Don't think I haven't noticed."
Damn near jumping out of his own skin, Kagami places a large hand over his rapidly beating pulse, locking eyes with a smiling Aida Riko. "Oh god! Coach, where did you go to conversation school, the Kuroko Tetsuki School of Scaring the Crap out of People?!" He exclaims, taking a few deep breaths before lowering his hand and shaking his head. "What's up?"
"Nothing much," she says with a shrug. They're alone on the two normal courts next to the lodging area, as far as he knows, which is something Aida rarely does, with him at least. "Just... I now that you've been working hard, okay? And I know your practice might seem boring and dumb right now, but I promise that it's helping you. Okay?"
"...Yeah," Kagami answers, picking up a few more balls around the sidelines of the two courts and placing them on the rolling rack he has with him. "I know. Are the others already done cleaning up everything else?" He asks, wondering why Aida is seeking him out specifically. She shakes her head no.
"They're still working on it. But I thought this might be a good opportunity to tell you that. Anyway, when you're done, it's finally my turn to cook, so you have that to look forward to! See you soon, Kagami-kun," she says, waving as she walks away.
He waits until she's out of earshot to groan and complain about her food, though it's quiet and to himself.
"Talking to yourself is often classified as a symptom of insanity, you know, Kagami Taiga," Midorima says, walking forward with his book and a can of some stupid drink, like he's trying to make himself look like more of an asshole. "Though I must admit, I'm a bit nervous for her cooking too, after what I've heard." He looks around, surveying the rack, then all the balls, and Kagami's tired posture, and he smiles. Midorima smiles. "Cleaning up, then?"
"There's a mysterious lack of sarcasm in your voice, and I'm not sure if I like it. Do you have a temperature? How many fingers am I holding up?" Kagami asks, holding up four fingers. Midorima rolls his eyes and approaches Kagami to smack his hand down. He hasn't noticed before, but Midorima is taller than he seems, especially when he's holding himself with this new confidence that Kagami just isn't used to seeing on the green haired shooter.
"Not important," Midorima says easily, brushing it off. "I do have to ask you, though; do you honestly believe you stand a chance in hell against Aomine Daiki when the time comes that you need to face him?" And there's the condescending arrogance, the cruel honesty, and... well, the cursing is new, but it still fits.
"Is this gonna be one of those talks? Because if it is, then you can leave."
"Hear me out," Midorima says, although his tone makes it clear that Kagami has no real choice. "As it stands, you're set to be simply annihilated by Aomine, to put it simply. Would you like to have a quick one-on-one with me?" He asks, breaking away from the topic at hand suddenly, and Kagami starts, looking around for hidden cameras or another giveaway to a practical joke.
"I mean... yeah, sure," he says confidently. Midorima's skill is in his shooting, and Kagami's strength is in jumping with how he's improved, there's no way he can't win.
Midorima grabs a ball off the rack, then dribbles it a few times. In a split second, he breaks away, running towards the hoop. Kagami's eyes widen, and he grins as he goes to follow his opponent. He's getting closer to the hoop... too close to make a three. Is he gonna dunk? I thought he was all about saying that dunking is stupid and not worth as many points as longer shots!
The shooter, looking out of his element but still skillful, jumps quickly, and Kagami jumps too, ready to feel the mind numbing feeling of walking on air. Midorima leans to the left side of the hoop for his dunk, and Kagami, facing the other way, leaps up with his right foot, and...
...and the feeling his missing. With a look of shock (and mild horror), Kagami falls loosely to the ground. "B-But... I've jumped higher than the hoop before..." he mutters.
Midorima walks softly over to the fallen ball, then picks it up, and puts in in one of Kagami's hands. Grabbing his free hand, he wrenches the boy up, and looks him straight in the eye. "This could go on all night, and I would win every time. Do you know why? Don't answer that, because I'm going to tell you why. It's easy to beat someone when you know exactly what they're going to do. I bet Kuroko told you to work with your left hand, right? Except, you didn't really take her seriously, because when would you ever need it?"
It's all Kagami can do to nod dumbly, because it's the truth. He hadn't really cared about his left hand, even with Kuroko's warning at the beginning of the year.
"Being ambidextrous is important in this game, because it gives you the power of surprise and availability. You dunk over and over, and when you're not dunking, you're still leading up with your right arm and jumping off with your left leg. That leaves two untrained and confused limbs, Kagami Taiga," Midorima says harshly, looking Kagami up and down.
Kagami says nothing, and Midorima finishes his assessment of him quickly enough, nodding in satisfaction.
"Kuroko sees something in you, and right now, I'm not sure if I can see the same hero or not," he says. "You could be great. Maybe she's right, and you could truly be one of us. But how will we ever know that, if you never use your full potential? Players train for years to try to reach your level of skill, Kagami, but do you know what pushes the Generation of Miracles into the higher category?"
"Your skill," Kagami guesses numbly, and Midorima shakes his head with his eyes closed.
"I really don't understand what she sees in you," he mutters, but then he continues on. "Yes, we have skill. But what pushes us into a higher category is the fact that we lived and breathed basketball for four years. I used to practice writing with both hands, and I picked up playing the piano to practice controlling both together. Aomine used to balance on each foot on the edge of the roof, which I don't recommend, but you see how his play style shows no dominant foot. You could be great, Kagami Taiga, but only if you reach."
"Only if I reach," Kagami repeats, nodding. There's a light in his eye, and finally, Midorima sees what Kuroko means when she says that he has that 'something'.
"Few have the potential to reach as far as you can. Don't waste your opportunity." With that, Midorima walks away, leaving Kagami 'alone' in the courts.
In the bushes, a wide eyed Takao looks to his right to whisper excitedly to Kuroko, only to see the girl gone. Instead, he sits down, back to the bushes, and takes some deep breaths.
That was the second time in a week that he's seen Midorima from an unbiased set of eyes, and it's truly enlightening, he realizes.
How different Midorima Shintarou is from the ace of Shutoku.
The next day, Kuroko shares a look with Midorima and smiles slightly, getting only a nod of acknowledgement in return. She looks across the dining area to Kiyoshi Teppei, who has become somewhat of a hero to her.
While she set up an 'intervention' of sorts for Kagami, the fates were setting up the same for her, in a way. And her mind returns to her conversation with Kiyoshi from the day before.
'You have so much skill, Kuroko," he said with a smile. "And it's up to you to decide what you want to do with it. You're at a crossroads right now, whether or not you want to admit it. A crossroads where you need to decide on a style. You can't very well keep up constant misdirection if you're going to play in the spotlight. Nor can you truly combine the two. So what will you do?"
She hadn't known the day before. Still doesn't. And she respects Kiyoshi, so much, always has, but even more now that she knows that he had the guts to come up to her and tell her that he saw her flaws and he refused to ignore them.
Seemingly out of nowhere, she stands, bringing her small serving of food with her to sit across from Kiyoshi, and subsequently close to Aida, Hyuuga, and Izuki.
"I have been thinking about what you told me yesterday," Kuroko says smoothly as soon as there's a lull int he conversation, and the looks on the other's faces shows Kuroko that it was truly only Kiyoshi acting on impulse when he confronted her, and not the whole team.
"Oh?" Kiyoshi says, locking eyes with her. "And what did you decide, then?"
A second of silence. "Girls don't usually play on boy's teams," Kuroko says, instead of giving Kiyoshi a straightforward answer. Kiyoshi leans forward on his hands, eyes sparkling.
"Correct," he says.
"I have been told through my entire basketball career by many that I do not belong in this sport, nor do I belong on boy's teams. But I have managed to break through those expectations and create my own. I am a strong believer not just in 'natural talent', Kiyoshi-kun, but also in the choices that we make and how hard we work. I earned my place on a boy's team by working, and I intend to continue working as hard as I can. Boundaries are meant to be pushed. And just because nobody else has been able to balance something before, it does not mean that it is impossible. So, my decision, I suppose, is not to choose."
Kiyoshi sits for a moment, his smile growing wider and wider. Izuki looks shocked by how forward Kuroko is acting, while Aida smiles slightly, knowing that she was right about Kiyoshi bringing the girl out of her shell.
"I knew I was going to like you as soon as you introduced yourself to me," Kiyoshi says, looking slightly... proud. He truly is the older brother of the team, Kuroko realizes. "And I look forward to seeing what it is that you create in this game."
Kuroko nods, excusing herself and walking over to the table where, oddly enough, Kagami and Midorima seem completely fine sitting next to each other. Takao looks unsurprised by the development (he was there the previous night, after all; he'd been caught in the situation while he was walking back to the cabin, just like her) as well, and smiles as Kuroko comes and sits down next to Kagami.
"Hey! Look who's getting along," he winks, gesturing towards Midorima and Kagami, who seem to be discussing something about basketball. Kuroko nods.
"Amazing, how things like that happen," she says, blunt facade back up and strong. Takao meets Kuroko's eyes, and in that moment, she knows that he knows that she set it up - the confrontation between Midorima and Kagami. He's perceptive, after all, and he really does care for Midorima. Kuroko finds herself thankful that somebody finally is, and can be in her stead.
"Truly," Takao says. "I really can't wait to play a real game with you guys, especially after you all improve," he says, sharp eyes glinting. "Playing somebody with your skills was a challenge, one that I'd like to repeat, if possible. So, try to stay in the tournament, at least until we can beat you."
"Good luck to you too, Takao-kun," Kuroko offers, knowing that she won't likely see Midorima or Takao until the Winter Cup itself after their training camp is over. "My only hope is that the most deserving team should win."
"Me too," Takao says, grinning. "Perspective is weird like that, you know. Changing the way you look at something - or someone - can really change the way your mind works a lot." Kuroko freezes, catching Takao's eyes and seeing sincerity in them.
He doesn't think you're a monster. He doesn't think you're horrible. "Thank you, Takao-kun," Kuroko says softly, a weight of a thousand bricks falling off her shoulders.
"Thank you," Takao says to her in return nodding in Midorima's direction. "Really."
A/N: Just when you thought the chapters couldn't get longer. This is 14,000 words, give or take, because I wanted to fit this all into one chapter. Please drop a review. If anybody has any weird favorite characters that don't get much attention, send me a PM about them or tell me in a review, and I'll try to include them (the reason I ask to describe their personality and tendencies is just in case I don't know them well).
Sorry if Midorima was a little OOC, but I like to write him less like a total tsundere (like most people) and more like somebody who's just extremely guarded, which I honestly think is more accurate. He obviously gets teased a lot, more often than not about his personality, so it makes sense.
Also, no AoKuro in this chapter, but next time for sure. I might make Aomine show up to the whole street tournament with Murasakibara thing, but more as a side character looking for like frozen lemonade or something. He will not be included in the Murasakibara vs. Kuroko pre-rain scene, no matter what.
Thank you for the support. You're all great!