Chapter Six

Kuroko couldn't stop his fingers from trembling as he attempted to tie his laces. This would be the first match, practice or not, that he would personally be playing in. He wasn't sure of the merit of memories and dreams but this would be his first physical match against people he didn't know.

Akashi watched from the other bench as he tied his own laces, lips pursed into a frown, but he did not intervene.

It took longer than strictly necessarily, but Kuroko finally tugged the loops tight and snug and rolled his ankle a few times, bending his feet this way and that to make sure his shoes were tight enough.

Murasakibara was still in the processes of changing, movements slow and languid as he crumpled his school shirt into a locker and tugged on his basketball uniform.

The practice match was on Teiko ground and so they could wear their uniforms comfortably in order for there to be a distinction between teams.

At the door of the locker room an impatient Nijimura stood, already dressed and arms crossed rigidly across his chest. He was tapping his foot restlessly, and pushed the door briefly open to lean outside and glance down the corridor.

"Where's Kuroko?" He finally asked, eyes darting about the room and completely passing over Kuroko.

Kuroko ignored him, instead more concerned with making sure his sweatband was sat perfectly against his wrist, and that his bangs wouldn't be a distraction.

From behind him he heard Midorima make a scoffing noise, as if the other couldn't believe that Nijimura was so blind as to not see Kuroko was right there.

Suddenly, Aomine bustled his way past the captain, swearing creatively as he threw his bag down and started undressing as quickly as possible.

"Aomine," Nijimura barked. "You're late!"

"I know, I know!" Aomine wailed. "I fell asleep on the rooftop!"

Nijimura clucked his tongue disapprovingly and asked, "Was Kuroko with you?"

"What?" Aomine's voice was muffled as he pulled his basketball shirt on. "No, is he late?"

Kuroko was pretty sure he heard Midorima mutter, "Oh my god," at realising no one aside from Akashi and himself had realised Kuroko was there.

Instead of bringing attention to himself, Kuroko folded his hands together and stared at his knuckles, trying to understand why he was so nervous. The last time he had played together as a team with all of the others was simultaneous never and a lifetime ago.

"If he takes any longer he's going to miss the formal meeting with the Shoei team," Nijimura tutted, lifting his upper lip slightly in a deprecating sneer. "I didn't take him as the kind to skive."

"Kuro-chin takes exactly as long as he needs to," Murasakibara defended, briefly tangling his fingers in his laces and staring at them languidly before managing to free himself.

Midorima slammed his locker with more force than was necessary, obviously in a foul mood from how violent he was acting.

"Kuroko has been here the entire time," Midorima hissed, and jabbed an accusatory finger at the boy in mention. "So if you could please stop acting as if he wasn't that would be fantastic."

"Midorima-kun is in a bad mood today," Kuroko noted, even as Nijimura strode across the room towards him, something close to what Kuroko could only describe as 'relieved fury' on his face.

"Whether I am in a mood or not is none of your business," Midorima snapped back and began vigorously hunting through his school bag for something, more and more frantic as time passed. Eventually, he ripped the zip shut with such violence Kuroko was surprised the bag didn't tear.

"I cannot play in today's match," Midorima declared, already sitting to remove his sneakers. "I am missing an important item and to play without it would be detrimental."

Nijimura, in the middle of reaching a hand out towards Kuroko, froze, head creakily turning to face Midorima and he asked, in a frighteningly quiet voice, "What?"

"Oha-Asa declared Cancer as number eleven out of twelve in terms of luckiness today," Kuroko explained softly. "With Cancer's lucky item being a keychain from a popular animated television series. Aquarius was in third place, with an exotic fan being my lucky item. I do not have the fan."

Midorima had whirled on Kuroko at hearing him rattle off the explanation and asked, warily, "You follow Oha-Asa?"

"My mother enjoys listening to her horoscope in the morning as she gets ready for the day. I happened to hear it in passing this morning." Kuroko started gently rummaging through his bag and pulled out a heavy bunch of keys, worn down by numerous keyrings.

Gently removing one from the bunch, he held it aloft.

"I'm sorry it is in poor condition, but it is also important to me. If you will be careful with it, I will lend it to you."

Dangling from his fingers was the plastic interpretation of the character Midorima had been tasked with keeping on his person over the day.

"And what do you want from me?" Midorima's fingers twitched at his sides but he respectfully managed to prevent himself from snatching the item from Kuroko's grip.

"Nothing. It is me paying my debt, for you allowing me use of your first aid kit."

Midorima's brow furrowed before it seemed to click and his expression relaxed. Then, he held his hand out, palm up, and Kuroko dropped the keychain into his hand.

"Please be aware, Midorima-kun, this is a temporary loan. I would like it back at the end of the practice match."

Midorima, busy attaching the keyring to his person in such a way he wouldn't lose it during the match, simply nodded.

Nijimura had stood silently by the side, ready to intervene should Midorima have declined, and did a quick headcount.

"Where's Haizaki? He's playing in the first half, I was going to swap him with Kuroko in the second."

"I haven't seen him," Aomine muttered, now down to his shoelaces, tying them tightly and efficiently, and his assessment was echoed around the locker room – no one had seen Haizaki.

"Tch," Nijimura rolled his eyes skyward. "I'll play first half if he doesn't show up, Kuroko can substitute second."

"Excuse me," Kuroko intervened, lifting a hand politely. "How come I cannot play a full match?"

Aomine unsuccessfully hid a snort, and even Murasakibara had let out a chuff of surprise.

"Your stamina leaves a lot to be desired, Kuroko. I'm not going to risk that," Nijimura pointed out. "In fact, just last week you threw up just after two quarters of continuous play. I'd rather have you at full speed for one half rather than weak willed for the entire match."

Kuroko clucked his tongue but subsided, sinking back onto the bench. The comment stung a little, but he wasn't about to show that, and he simply stared at the backs of his hands, palms pressed to his knees, as the clock ticked down.

Eventually, the coach rapped his knuckles on the door and they all took to their feet in order to walk to their match.

Kuroko kept his arms hanging loosely by his sides as he followed the others into the gym, breathing slowly and evenly. Akashi was stood a little to the side of him, close enough their arms would brush.

It was not hard to feel like he was being walked to an execution, and that Akashi was his jailor.

There was a quiet hum of noise in the gym, a sort of busy bustle, all caused by the opposing team huddled in the far corner, all circled around one another and talking cheerily.

The Teiko coach stepped forward with the Shoei coach and said, "Captains, pay your respects!"

Nijimura strode forward confidently, and a brown haired teen separated from the opposing group to meet him in the middle of the court. Kuroko felt his breath catch in his throat, barely catching himself from stumbling, and Akashi's hand closed on his elbow.

Kuroko didn't hear his enquiring question, didn't see the flicker of brief concern on Akashi's face because, smiling jovially and shaking Nijimura's hand enthusiastically was Kiyoshi Teppei.

For the first half of the match, Kuroko could do little more than sit on his hands and watch with so much intensity he must have been projecting.

This Generation of Miracles was a little sloppy, not yet used to each other, taking a step too soon, too far, or not far enough. They fumbled the ball, and Aomine had shouted at Midorima more than once for his cool, holier-than-thou attitude.

Nijimura and Akashi played with exceptional grace as always and Murasakibara needed little effort to be where he needed, to pluck the ball out of the air as it passed by, or to lazily intercept.

They were shoddy, unpredictable and not yet the finely oiled machine they would be, but Kuroko could already see the potential in what they would become.

Kiyoshi, on the other hand, played perfectly, and Kuroko could see how, in another world, how Kiyoshi and the other Uncrowned Kings could have become their own miracles.

But then the waiting was over, the whistle was blowing, and, since Momoi had yet to make her appearance as manager, Kuroko was the one to politely stand at elbows and offer cool towels and bottles of water, unable to help himself as he tracked Kiyoshi's progress to the other side of the gym.

"Ah, I'm so tired," Murasakibara complained, sagging into the bench and leaning into where Kuroko was stood, causing the other to briefly stagger. "Kuro-chin, swap with me instead of captain, please."

"Nijimura-senpai knows what needs to be done," Kuroko replied evenly, watching Kiyoshi laugh with his whole body and then separate from his team, perhaps to go to the bathroom. Kuroko dropped his eyes to Murasakibara, and shifted his weight so the other would be more supported. "Besides, you're playing very well. I would like to be able to play with you."

Murasakibara looked up at him through hooded eyes, appearing almost suspicious. Eventually, he murmured, "Ah. I suppose."

Nijimura hurried into view and looked up and down the bench, seemingly blind to Murasakibara leaning against thin air as he asked, "Where's Kuroko? I swear he was here two minutes ago." In fact, Nijimura chose to wipe sweat from his face with one of the towels Kuroko himself had given out.

"Nijimura-senpai," Kuroko offered. "I'm here."

Nijimura flinched and abruptly turned his head, looking tired and exasperated all in one at witnessing the tallest of his group actively crush the smallest of his group, all while sat down.

"Murasakibara, you and Kuroko are in the second half, I need you to get off of him."

Murasakibara groaned long and exasperatedly and then staggered to his feet with another grumble.

"Only twenty four minutes to go," Kuroko tried to encourage him, and got a flat stare in return.

"Kuro-chin that is the opposite of what I want to hear." Murasakibara sighed heavily and shook his head slowly before lazily stretching. "But like you said, we get to play together."

"Oh man, I am pumped, Tetsu," Aomine interrupted, swinging a sweaty arm around Kuroko's shoulders. "We are going to kill it."

"Aomine-kun. It's a practice match. There is no need to get worked up."

"Whaa?! I've been looking forward to this all week, playing against someone else, Tetsu! Of course I'm gonna get excited."

Aomine grinned across the court, something feral in his smile and Kuroko eased a step away from him. Aomine let his arm drop down to his side without even looking back at Kuroko.

"Uncouth," Midorima muttered, hand at his waist where he was palming the keychain. With his other hand he was gently flexing his fingers, yet to get into the habit of taping them up before a match.

Akashi, as ever, was poised and perfect, drinking calmly from his water bottle and surveying the room with frightening intensity.

"Have you stretched, Kuroko," Nijimura asked before he could get interrupted again. "Please tell me you've stretched. Please."

"I am sufficiently warmed up, Nijimura-senpai," Kuroko placidly replied, and pulled his sweatband until it snapped against his skin.

"Good." Nijimura gave a smile similar to Aomine's, all teeth, excitement, and very little humour. "I know it's a practice match, like you told Aomine, but we can't let them think Teiko is soft. Show them what you've got – or not. You know how your passes work best after all."

The match ended with a resounding victory to Teiko, the second half of the match finding everything more fluid with Kuroko involved. The final score was 63-54 and something in Kuroko felt grateful for how close it had come, that it wasn't a soul-crushing defeat.

Then they were offering their bows, shaking hands, and Kuroko felt something prickling along his spine. However, when he looked around there was nothing to show for it, and he simply trudged to the bench and sat down to catch his breath.

Despite having stretched, his legs felt like lead and his heart was hammering in his chest. His shirt was stuck uncomfortably to him by the sweat, and he couldn't find the energy to wipe his face or grab a bottle of water.

"Are you okay, Tetsuya?" Akashi asked, offering a bottle of water and Kuroko could do little more than curl his fingers around it and then let both hands hang between his knees, staring at the lip of the water bottle.

"A little winded. I will be fine."

"Do you need help getting to the locker room?"

Kuroko shook his head and took to his feet, lifting the bottle slowly and drinking deeply from it. When he lowered his hand again and opened his eyes, Akashi's eyes darted suspiciously away and Kuroko wondered what he had been staring at.

His walk to the locker room was slow, easy on his haggard limbs. For the first few minutes Akashi had hung around and then, impatient about wanting to get out of sweaty clothing, he'd taken his leave and walked ahead.

That left Kuroko to quietly walk the corridor by himself, lost in deliberations as he eased his breathing into something more natural.

When a broad hand dropped on his shoulder from behind out of nowhere, Kuroko barely refrained from flinching, but couldn't help the loosening of his features in surprise at seeing the hand attached to Kiyoshi.

"Ah, s-sorry for scaring you…" Kiyoshi laughed sheepishly, rubbing the back of his neck. "But…but if you don't mind, can I ask you a few questions?"

Kuroko blinked placidly and then hesitated almost visibly as he glanced down to himself.

"O-Oh, not right now! We can meet outside?"

"Can I ask why you want to talk to me?" Kuroko inquired politely and Kiyoshi's face twisted into an unreadable expression before he simply shrugged.

"I liked your technique in basketball. Wanted to chat before we all got bussed away."

Kuroko saw the near physical pain it caused Kiyoshi to lie like that, but finding himself intrigued, he simply nodded his head and gave Kiyoshi some simple directions to an alcove they could talk in just outside of the main gym.

"Then, I shall see you in a minute…" And Kuroko purposefully trailed off, pretending he didn't know exactly who he was talking to.

"Oh, oh," Kiyoshi laughed awkwardly. "I'm Kiyoshi Teppei."

"Kiyoshi-san. I'm Kuroko Tetsuya."

"T-There's no need to be formal, honestly. We're pretty much the same age."

"Then, Kiyoshi-kun?"

Kiyoshi smiled, wide and brilliant. "That sounds better! See you in a minute, Kuroko-kun!"

Before Kuroko could say his goodbyes, Kiyoshi was jogging down the corridor as if he hadn't just played the same hectic basketball game as Kuroko.

"As an opposing team, I hope you realise I cannot give all of my trade secrets to you," Kuroko declared at Kiyoshi's elbow, and watched the flinch roll down the other boy's spine.

"You startled me, Kuroko-kun! No, no, I know that. Actually…" Kiyoshi wrung his hands together, looking mildly constipated as he seemed to work through something complex. "I just…your passes today, during the practice match they…they just looked familiar, and I was wondering…man, I'm going to sound crazy…" the last part was a mutter and Kuroko was sure he wasn't supposed to hear it.

Instead, he clasped his hands together in front of him, straightened his spine slightly and asked, "Are you also remembering Seirin, Kiyoshi-kun? Or, rather, Kiyoshi-senpai?" It could have gone wrong, so terribly wrong, broaching the subject so suddenly. Kuroko was a firm believer of tearing the plaster off, rather than tugging it in increments.

Kiyoshi reared back as if struck, staring down at Kuroko with a look of bewilderment. Only a handful of seconds later was a bright smile crossing his face and then he crushed Kuroko in a bruising, back breaking hug.

"I knew it!" He crowed victoriously even as he lifted Kuroko from the ground. "I knew it. When they said we were facing Teiko again, so early in the year, I thought it was going to be like before, never seeing you but you were there and it was different."

"Yes, I was quite alarmed at the deviation too," Kuroko replied placidly, voice muffled against Kiyoshi's shirt. It was stifling, being caught in such a hold and being held so close, but he couldn't find it himself to care, quietly lifting one hand to grasp at the side of Kiyoshi's shirt.

"I thought I was going crazy," Kiyoshi muttered, his breath washing over Kuroko's hair and rustling stray strands. "I'm glad that I'm not."

"I felt the same, Kiyoshi…Kiyoshi – "

"I think, in this scenario, I need to be called Kiyoshi-kun, or people will get confused and start asking questions." Kiyoshi sighed and pulled back, keeping his hands on Kuroko's shoulders. His eyes were bright with happiness, and he couldn't seem the keep the smile from his face.

"Kiyoshi-kun, then. I also felt bewildered. One is happenstance, two is a coincidence, three is a pattern. Perhaps there are others."

"Three?" Kiyoshi's brow wrinkled and Kuroko was suddenly struck by how young his future teammate looked, spry and agile and he found himself grasping at the edges of Kiyoshi's sleeve almost desperately.

"Kuroko?" Kiyoshi asked, hands on Kuroko's shoulders gentling. "Are you okay?"

"Hanamiya Makoto," Kuroko said, the name falling from numb lips, unable to describe the panic that caught in his throat. "Kiyoshi…Kiyoshi-senpai, please, I…"

An unspeakably fond expression crossed Kiyoshi's face, and he drew the shorter boy into another hug.

"I will do my absolute, utmost best, to prevent that from ever happening again, Kuroko. I promise you. I was looking forward to many years of basketball in my future, and I'm looking forward to it still. This time, I won't let him stop me. But Kuroko, you mentioned something 'bout three of us?"

"Yes," Kuroko told Kiyoshi's shoulder rather reluctant to leave the warmth of his loose hold. "Kagami-kun phoned me last week, rather bewildered as to what was happening."

"Kagami!" Kiyoshi lit up, moving a step back to see Kuroko's face, as if determining whether or not he was lying. "Really?"

Kuroko smiled briefly, a small quirk of his lips and nodded.

"Yes. He risked international fees in order to contact me. We've been communicating by email so far, at least until he finds himself here in Japan."

"That's a point." Kiyoshi grinned widely again and started rummaging through his bag, pulling out a pad and pen. "We need to stay in communication too. I thought I was going crazy."

"You did mention," Kuroko replied fondly. "How long have you known?"

"Mm…it's been nearly two months for me, since I thought I'd lost the plot."

Kuroko blinked and quietly said, "For Kagami-kun it has been week. For myself, nearly fourteen days. When the school year began was when I woke seems to be different for each person."

Kiyoshi patted his shoulder and startled when there was a shout of his name from down the corridor and, uncharacteristically, he swore. Before he could say anything more, Kuroko snatched the pen and paper from him, hurriedly scribbled his email address and quickly added his phone number, and then shoved both writing accessories back.

"If you call first, and email first, I will have your details. Then we can communicate easily."

Kiyoshi smiled even as he tucked everything away, crinkling the page slightly in his hurry.

"Talk to you soon, Kuroko-kun," he said fondly, and jogged down the small alley and towards the entrance of the school, even while Kuroko tried to remember how the warmth of his hands had felt.

"Well," a sly voice rang out from behind Kuroko, just as he'd made the decision to walk back inside. "Isn't this a pleasant surprise."

Haizaki sprawled an arm over Kuroko's shoulders, obviously having crawled out of wherever he'd been hiding to avoid the practice match.

"You see, I couldn't be bother to take part of a practice match when it would be a waste of my time and decided to nap outside here. What should I hear instead but the wonderful, darling Kuroko talking with someone from the opposing team?"

There was something about Haizaki's tone of voice that set Kuroko on edge, tension tightening his shoulders implicitly.

"You see, when you made first string I was a little surprised. Not entirely so because why wouldn't somebody with your skill make it onto the team?" Haizaki's arm tightened slightly as he spoke. "So I didn't think about, carried on playing basketball and decided everything was just an elaborate plot I had dreamed up. But then…"

Haizaki's free hand lifted, an open cellphone in his grasp, and when his thumb pressed down on one of the buttons, a tinny recording of what was clearly Kuroko and Kiyoshi's conversation filtered through.

"You two know each other. Which means," and here, Haizaki grinned down at Kuroko and Kuroko saw the maliciousness in that smile which would breed into what the older Haizaki became.

"I'm not the only one to remember."

And so chapter six comes to an end, with people from the past(future?) flocking to Kuroko like nobody's business!

Hope you enjoyed this chapter!