"It's tied," Mitsui wheezed, bracing his hands on his knees and breathing hard.
"Are you stupid? It's nine to ten," argued Miyagi.
"No, it's not."
Mitsui had adopted that mulish expression that Miyagi had come to think of as his "I-know-I'm-cheating-and-I-don't-care" expression. The shooting guard could give even Rukawa a run for his money when it came to stubbornness, which was the only reason Mitsui had "won" the sole one-on-one they'd played.
"Bah, no wonder Rukawa never wants to play you anymore. You always cheat your ass off."
"Do not. You assholes are always challening me at the end of practice, 'cause you know it's the only time you can win."
"Not my fault you've got the stamina of a girl."
Miyagi was glad that the other boy was too tired to act on any murderous impulses he might be harbouring.
"So you think girls are weak, huh?" said Mitsui after a moment's thought. "I'll tell your Aya-chan you said that."
"Like hell you will!" Miyagi countered, sounding scared even to himself.
"Got your weak point, didn't I?"
Eyes narrowed, Miyagi regarded the smirking, wheezing, moronic jerk of an idiot in front of him, then walked up and poked a finger at the other's chest. Mitsui tottered for a moment before gracelessly toppling to the floor.
"Got your weak point too."
"Guess you're not getting up anymore," huffed Miyagi, collapsing next to his teammate, realzing that he, too, felt like death incarnate.
"We gotta finish our game--" Mitsui began.
"No we don't, because I won."
"Did too. And you'd probably die if you start playing again, so shut up and lie down."
"Fine, I guess we can leave it at a tie."
"It was a tie."
"Same to you."
The two of them sat there breathing loudly.
That was a stupid conversation, Miyagi thought with what few brain cells remained to him. He really couldn't be bothered to think right now. He couldn't even be bothered to wipe away the sweat that was rolling down his body and dripping onto the gym floor. And speaking of which...
"We still have to clean the floor," he realized aloud.
Mitsui seemed almost to have fallen catatonic, as it took him a long while to answer. "Why should we have to?" he mumbled. "That's the freshmen's job. We're the goddamn captain and vice-captain."
"Yeah, but everyone went home already."
"Christ, how could they take off without mopping up?"
"Very easily, apparently."
"Damn it. I totally forgot to remind them."
So did I, thought Miyagi. And wasn't it ultimately his responsibility to maintain discipline, to make sure all these little things got done? It wasn't Mitsui's fault - the guy had a lot on his plate, after all, as a senior with entrance exams to study for (Not that Miyagi ever saw him studying, but that was beyond the point).
It was weird, though, that Mitsui wasn't berating him for his slip-up. The guy usually never missed a chance to point out his captain's mistakes.
Mitsui interrupted his musings with a loud groan. "I just remembered, Ayako said we have to write up an application for a budget increase before tomorrow."
"What?" said Miyagi, aghast.
"Yeah, she said we have to do it right away or else the volleyball team's gonna steal all the funding--"
"Why did Aya-chan tell you instead of me?" Miyagi whined.
Mitsui summoned up enough energy to whack him on the arm.
"You were busy at the time, okay? Stop being stupid, even if it is in your nature."
"Okay, okay," said Miyagi, rubbing at his arm. "So what do we have to do? Fill out a form?"
"We have to write a letter expressing our sincere and humble wish for more money."
"Ugh, a letter?"
"Yeah, as in writing. You're not illiterate, are you--ow! Bastard."
Miyagi began getting up. "As captain, I delegate this task to you, vice-captain," he said, adopting a mock-official tone. "I've got to go home and do my homework."
"Hell no. I've got lots of homework too," said Mitsui blandly, pulling the shorter boy back down. Miyagi fell with an indignant "Hey!"
They glared at each other, motionless, for a long time.
And then Miyagi remembered what he had just been thinking a moment ago - about a captain's responsibility, about maintaining discipline, and not just over others but over himself as well, and how Mitsui had taken all of that on himself without complaint.
Well, maybe a little bit of complaining.
"Fine," Miyagi said after a moment. "I'll stay and help you write it."
"Sounds good to me." Mitsui's face visibly relaxed. "Oh, I forgot to tell you, you're going to have to defend our funding request before the principal and some other guys."
"What?" exclaimed Miyagi, not liking this new development. "What do you mean 'I' have to do it? Aren't you going too?"
The other boy grinned wryly. "Trust me, you don't want me there with you. The principal really, really hates me."
"Well, he hates me too!"
"Not as much as me."
"Yeah, I guess anyone would be pissed off by you."
Miyagi sighed and flopped onto his back, not wanting to get into another one of their dumb arguments. Mitsui also lay down; he looked extremely tired.
"What do we need more money for anyway?" asked Miyagi.
"New basketballs...the ones we have now are shit...and new doors on the lockers, half of them are broken...and more jerseys, since we only have up to number fifteen."
"That's a lot of stuff. How much money are we asking for?"
The number that Mitsui rattled off was rather large.
"Shit," Miyagi said eloquently.
"Just don't use language like that when you're talking to the principal and you'll do fine."
"Huh. I guess you've done this sort of thing before. Back when you were captain in middle school."
"Yeah, some of it."
"Bet you're an old pro at it."
Miyagi looked sidelong at his vice-captain, who was staring at the ceiling.
"You ever get...nervous, back then?"
Mitsui did not look at him.
"Miyagi," he said, his tone abruptly serious, "you know what kind of captain I was? I was nervous all the time. I had no idea what the hell I was doing, and I was afraid someone would find out so I acted like I knew everything."
It was a shock, hearing the older boy talk like this. Mitsui was proud, above all; but the memory of him crying his heart out at Anzai-sensei's feet still came easily to Miyagi's mind.
"Yeah, right," he said with difficulty. "How could your team have won the IH if you didn't know what you were doing?"
Mitsui kept staring at the ceiling, obviously lost in memory.
"The only reason we did so well was because I had a vice-captain who held everything together. He was kind of like Kogure, you know? He did all the little things."
"You're selling yourself short," insisted Miyagi. "You're a good leader. You probably deserve to be captain more than I do."
Finally looking over at him, Mitsui said, " Don't be stupid. You're a point guard for a reason."
"Hah, because I'm short."
"Miyagi, you notice that the best point guards are leading the best teams in Kanagawa? Maki, Fujima, and now you and Sendoh."
"Don't remind me about Sendoh. I was gonna be the number one point guard in Kanagawa when Maki and Fujima graduated until they made that guy point guard."
"The point is," said Mitsui, ignoring him, "you'll be a good leader. I have faith in you."
Miyagi could not say anything for a moment. Mitsui, the guy who once put him in the hospital for a year, the one who had tried to destroy the team because of anger, and pride, was...being nice?
Mitsui hardly seemed able to believe it himself.
Thank you, Miyagi wanted to say, but somehow could not bring himself to utter those words. He also wanted to deny what Mitsui had said, but could not bring himself to do that either.
The words of praise hung in the air, unanswered, resonating.
Faith was a strange thing, thought Miyagi. He had thought that it would be a burden to know that someone believed in him, counted on him. But, for the first time since he had become captain, he did not feel burdened at all.
During these past few since the IH, the gym had been so empty without Akagi's booming voice and Sakuragi and Rukawa's arguments to fill it. Akagi and Kogure had stopped by occasionally, and the team had gone to visit Sakuragi in the hospital, but it wasn't the same. Of course it wasn't the same. In his crazier moments, he had wondered whether the game against Sannoh had been nothing but a dream after all. He thought about it now, how Shohoku had become...just amazing, for that short while. They had clicked, all of them, perfectly. He would have to make that happen again, he realized, and for once the thought did not scare him.
Maybe...being a leader meant accepting faith gracefully, and granting it in equal return. Hadn't Sakuragi and Rukawa finally proven that?
"It's so quiet without Sakuragi and Rukawa here, isn't it?"
Miyagi turned his head to look at Mitsui in surprise.
"I hate to say it," the shooting guard went on, "but I can't wait for those guys to get back."
"Yeah," Miyagi agreed, laughing. "I can't wait to see Hanamichi do one of his failed dunks."
"Or his 'ultimate face shot.'"
They laughed for a while at Sakuragi's expense.
"I wonder if he gets how bad that name sounds. Man, I love this team," said Mitsui mirthfully, clutching his stomach.
"Me too," Miyagi agreed. "Even without Rukawa and Hanamichi around, Mitsui-sempai always does dumb things to make me laugh."
Mitsui kicked him in the shin.
"Don't call me sempai anymore. It's just Mitsui. You're the captain now, and you obviously don't respect me anyway." "
How can I respect someone whose teeth I knocked out when it was seven against one?" Miyagi countered. That kick in the shin had actually hurt.
"It was five to one, jackass. Learn to count."
"It was seven to one...Micchi."
"Do NOT call me that."
"Well, then don't kick me!"
"Fine, Mitsui." The name rolled off his tongue easily enough.
The two of them went quiet after that, too tired to come up with more insults. Miyagi could see that the sun was beginning to set, even though it wasn't that late yet; autumn had set in. Things were too quiet nowadays, but they were peaceful as well. He could live with that for a while.
Beside him, Mitsui began to snore.
Miyagi could feel himself drifting off as well. As his eyes drooped to a close, he thought to himself that maybe he could get along with his trouble-making vice-captain after all.
"Oh, Ryoootaaa Wake Uuuuuuup."
Ugh. His back hurt. He was lying on a very hard, very flat floor. He'd had a very, very strange dream in which he'd made Rukawa captain and Sakuragi had proceeded to beat both of them up. Actually, that wasn't such a strange dream. It was scary to think what those two idiots were going to be like in their senior year...
"Ryota!" He recognized that voice.
"Aya-chan!" He jumped up immediately and wiped the drool off his face.
"You idiot," she scolded, dropping the sweet act, "your mother's been looking for you. She called my house wondering where you were. You realize what time it is?"
"Oops, we fell asleep," he said, hoping she would think it cute.
Ayako did not look impressed.
"We? We who? The only one I found when I got here was you."
Miyagi looked at the distinct lack of Mitsui on the floor.
"That's weird, Mitsui and I fell asleep beside each other..."
One of Ayako's eyebrows raised suggestively.
"It wasn't like that," Miyagi said quickly, "we were just tired from our one-on-one. I guess I slept longer than I thought." He laughed nervously.
"Well," said Ayako, suddenly businesslike, "since I'm here you might as well show me the funding application."
"Ah, the funding application?"
The funding application.
And Mitsui had already left.
Even Ayako was surprised when Miyagi heartily swore, "That bastard!"
At home, Mitsui sneezed.
This is the first story in my "Captains" series. Each story will focus on, to some extent, the difficulties that ensue when the old captain graduates and a new one gets thrown into the fray. Ah, the tragedy of high school basketball. Hopefully the stores won't be too repetitive - I'll try to do something a little different with each one. But since I'm a girl they're going to be all emotional and plotless. :0
I do hope that I haven't girlified Miyagi and Mitsui too much - the boys of Shohoku are a bunch of alpha male assholes, after all, not a collection of touchy-feely pansies. Or at least the starters are. I must admit the bench players are kind of a bunch of pansies. Just look at Kogure's bunny t-shirt.
All hail Kogure, queen of pansies! (Kogure: "I resent that.")
The next story will probably be about Ryonan, by the way.