The weather quickly grew warm as April turned to May and although summer hadn't even officially arrived yet, the air was still hot and muggy enough to make Megumi want to tear her own skin off.
On a particularly sweltering day, when the teal haired girl felt like the sun beating down on her head might just catch her hair on fire, Momoi's wish about an all first-year team came true barely two weeks after she'd first mentioned the idea to Megumi.
Haizaki Shogo arrived in May, and Megumi instantly hated his guts.
In hindsight, perhaps Megumi could have been a little more tactful about choosing the first words she spoke to him but with the unbearable heat and the knowledge that the dreaded training camp was approaching already putting her in a bad mood and, on top of that, Momoi being involved in the circumstances surrounding the start of their acquaintanceship, their unfortunate first meeting was inevitable.
As quite a popular fellow, Haizaki wasn't a complete stranger to Megumi. They were not in the same class, but the teal haired girl had heard of him and can put the name to a face. She'd know from talking to the other basketball club managers that Haizaki was in the second string, but seeing as they were neither in the same class nor the same string nor had any mutual friends, Megumi assumed that she would go the next three years without ever speaking a word to him. That all changed on an unfortunate late spring afternoon that Megumi would rather forget.
It started when the teal haired girl heard some commotion while performing her now habitual duty of filling up water bottles for the basketball team. Her keen ears perked up when she detected Momoi's voice from around the corner of the gym. If the fact that Momoi shouldn't even be near the gym since Nijimura had just sent her on an errand to the administration building didn't make Megumi suspicious, the distressed tone of the pink haired girl's voice certainly did.
Cursing under her breath about why this sort of crap was always dumped in her hands, Megumi stomped around the corner to investigate and what she saw hit her like a slap to the face.
A boy with messy gray hair and an unpleasant look in his eyes stood way to close to a clearly uncomfortable Momoi. On the ground was a scattered stack of papers, most likely something Momoi was carrying before she got harassed.
Before either Momoi or the gray haired boy could notice her standing there, Megumi surged forward, giving the boy a hard shove that didn't push him back as far as she hoped it would but nonetheless got him out of Momoi's personal space. Then came Megumi's first words to him: "Fuck off, Haizaki."
Even Momoi, who was used to Megumi's vulgar language, was surprised by the sheer hostility in her voice and the expert way she emphasized the boy's name as if it was an insult in and of itself.
Agitation flashed in the boy's eyes for a split second but was quickly replaced with an infuriatingly amused look as he focused his attention on Megumi who now stood between him and Momoi. "Those are some grown-up words for such a small girl," he raised an eyebrow, tilting his head in mock curiosity as he laughed.
Megumi didn't comprehend it then, but later when she recalled the whole confrontation after it was over, she realized he was definitely talking about more than just her height. However, at the moment, the possibility slipped her mind, "That's fucking rich coming from a guy who thinks harassing girls makes him a man."
A barely noticeable vein throbbed in the boy's temple at her provocation, but it wasn't enough to wipe the smug look from his face, "Run along, little girl. Only mature grown ups would understand stuff like dating."
"I think you're twelve and you're an idiot," Megumi shot back in a tone oozing with pure honesty and without a beat of hesitation, glancing the boy up and down in distaste. "Momoi's too nice to say it, so I'll say it for her; you're not her damn type, so get lost."
"Megu-chan…" the pink haired girl tried to calm her friend down, but Megumi nonchalantly swatted her hand away when she tried to touch her shoulder.
"Did he make you drop these papers, Momoi?" the shorter girl all but ignored her friend's hint and bent down to quickly gather the documents, scowling at the dirt on them. "Hurry and take them back if you don't want Nijimura-senpai having a fit." Wait until I tell him what this bastard was doing to Momoi.
In the weeks Megumi had spent with the first string, she'd noticed how protective the captain was over Momoi and although the same could not be said about his feelings toward Megumi, Megumi figured Haizaki was going to get it once she tells on him to the second year; Nijimura-senpai may not particularly like Megumi, but he knew she was bluntly honest and as trustworthy as someone could get. But before all that, Megumi kept trash talking the gray haired boy.
"What the fuck are you even doing here, Haizaki? Get back to the second string gym where you belong." A rather hypocritical insult since Megumi herself wouldn't even make third string, but she had learned that rubbing their imperfect abilities in their faces is a good way to annoy athletic types… Except maybe Aomine; the idiot would probably only work his butt off even more if someone were to insult him in such a way.
"Heh," Haizaki snorted, and there was a knowing light in his eyes that Megumi didn't like. "You didn't know? I move up to first string starting today. Why don't you go do your job and get me some water like a good little manager, eh?"
Given enough time, Megumi might have actually complied and secretly spit in his bottle before giving it to him, but she didn't get a chance to carry out the scheme before she heard Nijimura shouting her name nearby, most likely coming out of the gym to see why she was taking so long. For once, Megumi was more than a little relieved to hear the captain's raised voice.
"Nijimura-senpai!" she called back in as polite of a tone as she could because any extra points she could earn with him would certainly contribute to the likelihood of Haizaki getting the punishment he deserved.
"Akechi, quite fooling around and get back to work - " The second year cut off mid-scold when he finally rounded the corner and found his three underclassmen, though he seemed more surprised about seeing Haizaki than the managers. "Oi, aren't you the brat who got promoted today? I was wondering where you were. Skipping out on stretching, are you?"
Hearing the irritated tone in Nijimura's voice as he spoke to Haizaki, Megumi jumped to add fuel to the fire. "Nijimura-senpai, I think you should know that not only is he late to practice, but I found him harassing Momoi moments ago."
The captain quirked what seemed to be a nonchalant eyebrow, but Megumi knew his agitation was burning hotter inside; she could see it in his posture as he removed his hands from his hips, the muscles in his arm clenching. "Is that so, Akechi?"
"Momoi can vouch for me," Megumi replied briskly, crossing her arms and tilting her chin up slightly as she gazed at Haizaki's now frowning face, not even trying to hide her smugness.
After hearing that, Nijimura naturally turned to Momoi with a questioning look, and although she would prefer not to cause such a commotion, Momoi knew that sparing Haizaki would only damage Megumi's credibility, so she nodded in affirmation to Nijimura.
"I see," Nijimura's steely silver eyes landed on Haizaki as he moved to stand directly in front of the younger boy, and Haizaki foolishly stared right back though, as to be expected, he didn't seem nearly as confident as he was when he faced Megumi. "Momoi, Akechi, you two get back inside."
"Right," the teal haired shoved the papers she had picked up into Momoi's hands and obediently dragged her by the arm away from the scene and back toward the gym, blissfully ignoring the sound of Nijimura's fist colliding with Haizaki's jaw behind her.
As Megumi predicted, Nijimura beat the crap out of Haizaki judging by the captain's bruised knuckles and the condition of Haizaki's face when they entered the gym a few minutes later.
Megumi was ready to relay what happened outside the gym to her other friends, but Momoi insisted that she not make a big deal out of it since Haizaki was already paying the price. Although Megumi reluctantly respected Momoi's opinion on the matter, she couldn't just pretend that the whole scene never happened.
As the players finished warming up and were about to start drills, Megumi quietly got Aomine's attention just before he ran off to join his teammates. "Oi, Aomine! Come here for a minute."
Wearing a mixture of mild surprise and curiosity, the blue haired boy jogged over, "What's up?"
"Don't look now, but do you see that guy whom Nijimura-senpai dragged in late?"
"Who?" Aomine instinctively started to turn his head to search for the person in question, and Megumi practically slapped him as she quickly forced his face back towards her.
"I said not to look, goddammit!" When Megumi noticed Aomine rubbing the cheek she'd slapped with a grimace, she quickly backpedaled, her voice lowering, "… Sorry. Are you all right? I didn't mean to… "
"I'm fine, I'm fine…. It doesn't even hurt. I was just surprised." The dark skinned boy swatted her reaching hand away dismissively, and although he appeared to begrudgingly forgive her, it seemed to be more because he didn't want to deal with her fussing over him rather than out of the merciful goodness of his heart. Despite still wearing a slightly annoyed expression, Aomine returned the conversation back to its original point. "Haizaki, right? What about him?"
Megumi wasn't sure if she was thankful or bothered by how quickly Aomine let it go, but she reluctantly followed his lead, "Be careful of him. If you care about Momoi, don't leave her alone with Haizaki. Ever. Got it?"
Unease flickered in Aomine's eyes and apparently he was pretty sharp when it came to matters about his childhood friend because he actually managed to guess what was up, much to Megumi's astonishment, "He was hitting on her."
"Couldn't take no for an answer, the bastard."
"Is Satsuki okay?"
"She's fine. And don't tell her I mentioned this to you. She didn't want me to bring it up."
"That sounds just like her," Aomine furrowed his eyebrows and let out a loud sigh as if he was exhausted just thinking about the issue. "Thanks for telling me anyway, Akechi."
"He's not very scared of me," Megumi admitted, expression mirroring Aomine's as they both side-eyed the grey haired boy whom Nijimura, wearing an innocent smile, was introducing to a scowling Coach Sanada, "but if it's you with Momoi, I think he'll leave her alone. Nijimura-senpai can't always be beating up underclassmen."
Aomine's eyes widened as realization dawned on him and his gaze darted to Haizaki's face, "Nijimura-senpai did that to him just because he tried to hit on Satsuki?!"
"Lower your voice," Megumi shushed loudly, contrary to her own command. "He probably did it because Haizaki was a cocky first-year who showed up late to warm up, but yes, I think he also did it for Momoi."
Aomine didn't say anything as he watched Nijimura with eyes shining in mind awe, but Megumi figured that he likely had some newfound respect for the captain that went beyond simple admiration of his athletic abilities. The teal haired girl narrowed her eyes at the majority of the other players who were already in line for drills, and she poked Aomine to get his attention.
"Quit staring and go do drills or Nijimura-senpai might come for you next."
"Good point," the boy agreed with a shudder, turning to leave, and Megumi watched his back as he hurried to join his teammates.
Then the teal haired girl glanced over at Nijimura, a good upperclassman despite his harsh attitude, and was glad, though she'd never admit it aloud, that there was someone who was willing to beat people up for Momoi in her place.
"Megu-chan, you have to tell me what kind of special assignment you got from Akashi-kun!"
"What are you talking about?" Megumi replied unintelligently as she gave Momoi a bored look, obviously irritated that the other girl had interrupted her focused task of removing a splinter from a new pair of chopsticks. So engrossed in the task was she that her bento lunch sat untouched on the table, cruelly mocking Murasakibara who sat across from her.
"I heard from Midorin!" the pink haired girl clarified, "He said that Akashi-kun gave you a special assignment because your memory is really good."
It's been almost two weeks since Akashi took notice of Megumi's eidetic memory, and he had suggested that she do some exercises to keep it sharp. While Megumi personally would prefer to keep her eidetic memory, she didn't understand why Akashi seemed so concerned with whether or not she lost it. It's not like this kind of memory would somehow benefit the basketball team or Akashi himself, or at least Megumi could not think of a way it would.
The teal haired girl finally got started on her bento and habitually gave a portion of it to Murasakibara ("because he looks pathetic like that!" was Megumi's excuse when anyone asked her why she always offered food to the giant.). "Stop calling it a 'special assignment.'; it's embarrassing. It's nothing glamorous if that's what you're thinking. I'm literally just memorizing pictures. "
"Why?" Momoi didn't seem the least bit put off by the mundaneness Megumi was trying to emphasize.
"Because," Megumi put down her chopsticks and bento moodily, knowing that she won't be getting to it anytime soon, "I have a photographic memory and if I don't train it, it'll disappear as I get older."
"Oh, I see! Akashi must want you to use your memory to help benefit the team. He's always coming up with interesting ways to help the team and proposing them to Nijimura-san."
"… Uh, how exactly would a photographic memory help in sports?"
"How would I know, Megu-chan?"
"U-um…." An imaginary bead of sweat slid down Megumi's temple; she had had a hunch that this conversation was going somewhere productive, but turns out it was just a false alarm.
"What's it like having that kind of memory?"
Internally sighing in disappointment, Megumi, after thinking about the question for a moment, actually gave a sincerely thought out answer instead of dismissing the inquiry, "It's not what you think it is. I don't think people without it can imagine it, so whatever idea you have in your mind right now, forget it because it's wrong."
"So you don't just take a picture with your mind and look at it later?" Aomine, sitting across from Momoi, asked, narrowing his eyes in contemplation as he looked off into space.
"No," Megumi shook her head, "That would be perfect photographic memory, and I may have had something like that when I was very young, but it's not like that now. Now it's more of a gut feeling than a logical analysis of a 'photo' in my mind." She paused here to think about how to best describe her memory so that even a dimwit like Aomine would get it.
"After I see a scene and I'm asked to recall specific details, I have a feeling that this thing was like this or that there were this many of that. Like a normal person, I consciously focus on certain subjects in the scene like major objects, people, and colors, but my sub-consciousness sees the picture as a whole. Even if I don't tell myself to remember a particular detail, the subconscious part of my mind still knows since it took in the whole picture, and that translates into this gut feeling. Of course, if I know I'm going to be tested, I will do my best to consciously memorize everything, but it's impossible to get it all, so in a way my sub-consciousness can fill in for the parts of the picture my consciousness missed."
"Huh?" Momoi and Aomine both tilted their heads to one side at the same time with blank looks on their faces when Megumi finished.
God, I'm bad at this…. The teal haired girl dragged her palm down her face at the clueless looks on bother her friends' countenances. And even after I tried so hard to come up with a good explanation… Fuck me life.
"Y-you know what?" Megumi began with a smile that could only be described as forced. If she had a shred of experience in sports, she could compare the gut feeling to something Momoi and Aomine were familiar with, but she couldn't. "It's probably better that you just think of it as taking a 'picture' with your mind. Forget what I said."
"No, I have to understand this!" Momoi insisted, leaning into Megumi's personal space. "Please explain it again, Megu-chan."
"Um, I'd rather not."
Megumi perked up, eyes wide, as she came up with a way to distract Momoi. Ignoring the pink haired girl's protests, she dug into her own bag and produced the art history book she'd been using to practice and tossed it over to the other female. "Now, you want to be helpful, Momoi? Pick a painting, let me see it for a few seconds, and then ask me questions, got it?"
Momoi, eyes lighting up with interest, quickly picked up the book, "Any question?"
"Like 'was there a cat in this painting?' or 'what color was the umbrella?', that kind of stuff."
"I got it. This is going to be so much fun, Megu-chan! How about this one?"
"I don't know about fun, but..." Megumi took ten seconds to scan over the relatively easy picture before Momoi took it away and started with the questions.
"How many dogs were in the painting?"
"Were any of the dogs wearing hats?"
"Were any of the dogs smoking a pipe?"
"What was depicted in the painting on the back wall of the room?"
"Ships of some kind."
"How many lights were in the room?"
"What color was the light?"
"…." Momoi hesitated, unsure of what else she could ask about. "What time does the clock show?"
Megumi paused, brows furrowing in concentration as her eyes darted around calculatingly. "… Two o' clock?"
"So close, Megu-chan. It's actually 1:10."
"Dammit." Megumi visibly shrunk at being notified that she was wrong.
"That's amazing, Megu-chan!" Momoi gave Megumi a comforting pat on the back. "I bet Akashi has an idea of what you can do for the team with that kind of memory and - "
" - or he's just nice and informed me of how I can keep my talent from disappearing," Megumi stated in a bored tone. "Either way, I'm not doing this for the basketball club. This is so I can increase my own awareness of my surroundings and also feel good about myself."
"Well, at least Megu-chan's honest…" Momoi breathed out a disappointed sigh, brows furrowing in exasperation as if she was dealing with a disobedient child. "I hope you'll change your mind though."
Refusing to look anyone in the eyes as she spoke, Megumi concentrated on poking the contents of her bento, "What are you talking about? You know I'm transferring out of here the minute I'm allowed to at the end of July, right? Don't think I've changed my mind just because you guys are being buddy-buddy to me."
"No, I don't think you'll be transferring away, Megu-chan."
"What?" Megumi growled in both agitation and confusion in response to the blatant challenge and raised her head to find Momoi smiled sweetly as always but with an underlying smugness that made the teal haired girl very uneasy.
"Megu-chan wouldn't leave Teiko, not when she has a stable chance of earning her athletics credit as a manager without doing any real exercise. Does she really think she can find a deal as good as this somewhere else in the middle of the school year?"
Megumi's eye twitched and she bit back a few choice words about Momoi's use of the third person while referring to her when she's sitting right there. But the expression of "aha, got you" on the pink haired girl's face didn't sit well with Megumi, forcing her to speak up in her own defense, "In fact, I do think I can find a school with a classroom based PE class. Shall we bet?"
Momoi shook her head, giggling at how surprisingly sensitive Megumi's pride was, though she had to give her friend credit for the attempted fake out, "You're very good at bluffing, Megu-chan, but I understand you well enough to know that that's all it is. Even if you did find a school like that, the act of transferring in and of itself is a huge pain, especially when you don't have a good reason to. Plus, what difference does it really make whether you're a manager in a basketball club or a student sitting a PE class? Either way, you won't have to do much exercise, so why bother going through the trouble of transferring just so you can earn your credit in a classroom setting? Also, didn't you say you were going to beat Akashi-kun at shogi no matter what? You can't play him if you go to a different sch - "
Face-palming with one hand while using the other to cover Momoi's mouth, Megumi let out a sigh, her exhale passing harshly between her teeth, and hung her head as she collected herself before barking in response, "All right, I get it!"
Momoi, looking satisfied that she got her point across, nodded and Megumi removed her hand reluctantly. Then, the gray eyed girl proceeded to turn slightly away from her friend, evidently giving her the cold shoulder after she successfully called her bluff, which gave Momoi a chance to giggle about Megumi's petulant attitude.
"Such a tsundere, Megu-chan..."
Ignoring Momoi's quiet comment, Megumi stuffed her mouth with food in order to cope with her defeat, but something else still bothered her, something about how easily Megumi was able to read her.
One could assume that Momoi was simply sharper than she presented herself, but Megumi believed there was more to it than that. Although at the far back of her mind Megumi was aware of her own bluff, she took her own declaration about transferring quite seriously. How could Momoi have called a bluff when the bluffer herself wasn't even consciously aware of the bluff? And not to mention the pink haired girl made some very good points, ones that Megumi knew, of course, but had tried to ignore while speaking. The teal haired girl was starting to consciously rethink the whole transferring out idea, which was something she did not often do once she'd made a plan.
I'm losing it. Goddammit, Momoi.
When Megumi got home that evening, she startled as she found that the front door was unlocked. Someone as methodic and aware as Megumi would never forget to lock the door, and therefore that could only mean one thing: her mother was home.
The overhead light in the genkan was lit, a welcoming scene that Megumi had not seen for a long time, and the girl was greeted by the aroma of her mother preparing dinner, a scent almost identical to that of Megumi's own cooking.
The teal haired girl dropped her bag and shoes faster than she normally would and headed for the kitchen with wide strides, a greeting at the tip of her tongue as she opened the sliding door. "Hello, Mo - "
She cut off as a couple of things immediately processed in her mind as bad news as her eyes quickly surveyed the room: one, the basketball cub training camp information and permission sheet was not where she left it this morning on the dining table and two, her mother was standing by the stove, a large spoon in one hand and a familiar white sheet of paper in the other. It didn't take a genius to put two and two together, and Megumi's mouth fell open in a silent wail of "nooo."
"Oh, Megumi, welcome home," her mother greeted with a smile as she looked up from the paper. She was a tall lady with bony wrists and hair and eyes that matched those of her child. "Close your mouth, dear, you'll catch flies."
Snapping her jaw shut, Megumi tried to act natural as she inched closer to her mother, eager to grab the permission slip back without her noticing. All the while, the girl cursed her luck; the one day she left the paper out in the open was the day her mother managed to come home at a healthy hour for once. In an attempt to distract her mother who had put down the paper and gone back to cooking, Megumi inquired about her day.
"I'm sorry I don't come home more often for dinner, Megumi. I wasn't feeling well in the afternoon, so they let me get out early. I thought I'd make dinner for you before I go rest since it's usually the other way around after all …But what is this about a training camp?"
"E-eh?" Megumi twitched, freezing as she reached for the paper that was the source of her problems.
"I found this permission form when I came home today," Mother indicated said form with a tilt of her chin. "What's it about, Megumi?"
"Oh, this…." The girl discretely glared at the innocent sheet of paper as if it was a person before sighing in reluctant defeat; if she acted suspicious now, her mother would never let the subject drop. "The basketball club I'm in is holding a week long training camp. If we want to go, we have to take this form back."
"Yes, I told you last week, Mother. I've joined the basketball club."
Megumi wasn't surprised her mother didn't remember; as busy and tired as she was with a fulltime job at the hospital and classes at the local college on weekends and sometimes at night on weekdays, it's no wonder she's not completely there sometimes when Megumi talked to her.
"Yes, Mother. Anyway, it's nothing important. Don't worry about it," the girl casually tried to throw the flyer away, but her mother stopped her.
"I think you should go, Megumi. It sounds like a lot of fun," she frowned a little at Megumi's eagerness to avoid the training camp, and confusion almost instantly turned to worry. "Is someone in the club mean to you? Do you have any friends there?"
Too many, Mother, too many. Megumi mentally deadpanned as the faces of Momoi and the rainbow-headed quartet flashed in her mind. "No, I'm not being bullied and yes, I have friends. But if I go for a week, who would cook for you when you get home late?"
Her mother's eyes softened as Megumi reassured her, and she smiled upon hearing her worries, "I can surely handle myself for a week, dear. I want you to go have fun with your friends, okay?"
"Mother, I don't - "
Megumi knew all too well that her mother was pretending not to make a big deal about her joining a club and getting the chance to go on a trip with friends; becoming too excited about such mundane things - although not so mundane for Megumi - would inevitably make the girl uncomfortable and cause her to close up about her school life. Already, her mother's care was starting to wear Megumi down and she found herself unable to outright reject her suggestion, and when the older woman forced her into a long overdue hug, Megumi knew she was done for.
"Good girl, Megumi." After giving her daughter an approving pat on the cheek, the mother pulled away and took the permission form from Megumi's limp hands.
Megumi kind of wanted to hug her a little longer, but stayed back as her mother busied herself with the signing the form; one would never be able to tell just by looking at Megumi's mother's tall and thin build that the woman could give such warm hugs. Megumi blamed her own weakness on this fact along with the fondness she felt at having her mother home before dark for the first time in weeks.
"Here you are, dear," the completed permission sheet was placed in Megumi's hand, and she gave a weak nod of thanks to her mother.
An entire week with that lot. My God. Megumi imagined the members of the first string along with the newest addition, Haizaki. I thought it couldn't get any worse, but apparently it did.
Just as Megumi floated away like a ghost toward the staircase in the hallway, her mother, oblivious to her internal deadness, cheerfully called after her, "Oh, by the way, Megumi, you must introduce me to you friends some time."
Choking on her own breath, Megumi faltered in her tread for a split second before tripping down the steps she had just climbed.
A/N: 5,000 words and not much really happened in this chapter, did it? I'm so sorry if this one was kind of boring;; I promise I'm not favoring Aomine and Momoi! There will be a lot of fun with all the other GoM next chapter because we're going to training camp~
Free cookies to anyone who can identify what painting Momoi used to test Megumi's memory! One cookie if you can name the series it's in and a whole plate of them if you can name this particular painting!
Next time: Training Camp start! Momoi is convinced the third string gym is haunted, and Akashi is clearly Nijimura's favorite kohai... You can be sure the GoM and Megumi will be spending some quality time together huhu... -w- Plus, what's Kise up to? See you next time!