Yuuri could tell he would regret this. He could just tell.

Wolfram cracked his knuckles, Conrad quietly did his stretching, and Gwendal just stood like a looming rock in the middle of the court, frowning. Behind them Adalbert pulled at his jersey in distaste, Gisela scolding him in full sergeant mode.

The mane of scary chest hair puffing up at the vee of Adalbert's jersey both scared Yuuri and instilled envy in him. He shook his head to get rid of the emotions, distracting himself with the pretty picture of Gisela with her hair in a simple ponytail instead of her usual braid.

Yuuri reminded himself that Wolfram was less than ten feet away. He shook his head again.

Girls shouldn't even be allowed to play with us!

The fifth member should have been Gunter, but the man had been confined to sitting down and not doing anything strenuous after his massive loss of blood at the sight of Yuuri in his shorts. Gisela had opted in, claiming the right of the next of kin.

The fact that Wolfram had grinned that much more scarily when it happened made Yuuri knew that things would go awfully, terribly, tremendously wrong.

It had started with Wolfram complaining about baseball; how dull it was, pitching a little ball at men standing half a field away, how sliding to reach a base was just about the stupidest thing he had ever had the misfortune to witness.

Yuuri had gotten annoyed, and testily asked what would appeal to "Your Lordship, who's afraid of getting a little dirty". Yuuri barely missed the swing from the bat to his head, and cursed fate for bestowing Wolfram with a killer batting arm and zero interest in baseball.

Something more active, he says. Something without ten miles between the players, he says. An interactive sport, he says! Yuuri had been tempted to suggest a game of rugby, but enough of his self-preservation instinct had kicked in and told him giving Wolfram a game where tackling was an honourable act could only result in tears and blood.

His, mostly.

"How about basketball?"

Murata had appeared around then, and since Wolfram was less inclined to insult the Sage and more likely to listen to him, the bespectacled boy had explained the rules of how the game was played. By then the glazed look had entered Wolfram's eyes, the demon not really listening as he imagined winning a great big shiny trophy with knobs on.

The blond had declared that it sounded like a better sport than baseball, and challenged Yuuri to a game.

5 on 5, noon the day after. You bring your men, I'll bring my men, and you don't get to borrow.

Yuuri tugged the neck of his jersey nervously. It was a showdown, with spectators (Gunter, Celi, Greta and the servants. Gunter's ailment had stopped him from distributing flyers to every corner of the kingdom), a proper basketball court (painstakingly drawn by Dacascos in chalk to scale), brand new hoops (Adalbert had bent iron rods into circles, and Wolfram had welded them to tall poles. The nets were made from Celi's old fish-net stockings), team jerseys (Makoku Men Vs. Earth Wanderers. Gunter hadn't slept to get them done in time), and substitutes (...).

Yuuri cleared his throat and looked at his own team, mentally matching them to the hunks of muscle plus Wolfram on the other side.

Shouri didn't look up from his PSP.

His father smiled nervously and glanced to the bleachers, where Miko was sitting and waving excitedly, waiting for her turn as substitute. The Makoku's substitute, Yozak, sat next to her.

Bob stood with his arms folded and shades on, despite being dressed in a bright orange jersey and shorts.

Murata grinned back at Yuuri, adjusting his ridiculously geeky-looking sports glasses that looked more like laboratory goggles than anything else.

It's okay, we'll be fine! Shouri used to play basketball in junior high, dad was a great athlete when he was young, and me and Murata have played before. Yuuri avoided thinking about Bob, whom he suspected would sooner murder anyone who dislodged his sunglasses than actively play. Besides, Wolfram and them don't know how to play at all!

Yuuri had convinced Bob by pleading that they had to do this for the honour of Earth demons. Wolfram had convinced Adalbert to play by pleading to Gisela that they needed the bear of a man.

Hube had felt just a little bit hurt from his position standing dutifully in the shadows that everyone had not thought to ask him to play. Even Conrad had agreed to Adalbert without sparing a thought for the one-eyed man.

Stoically not crying to his wife that night, a frazzled Nicola rocking a sick Eru had pointedly told him it was probably because he couldn't judge distance accurately to save his life. Hube was tempted to remind his wife that he was an excellent sword fighter, but instead took Eru over when Nicola grimly smiled when he opened his mouth.

He didn't think that anyone noticed that it was he that found the 3 meter long poles the hoops were attached to, or the trouble he had to go through to find them. It was not a good two days for Geigen Huber.

Yuuri moved to the centre of the court, where Dacascos stood as referee. Another thorn in his side; while he knew he was the King, and usually any and all bias of his subjects would be in his favour, given a choice between facing Yuuri's wrath and Gisela's wrath, the bald man would happily fling himself at Yuuri. Plus the man knew even less about basketball than Adalbert, who had arrived barely an hour ago to be briefed by Wolfram.

"Alright everyone! Since the game is usually really long with quarters and stuff, I think it'd be better if we make it like college games! So each half is twenty minutes, we can decide how long we want the break to be after the first half! I think everyone knows the basics, right? You can't grab the ball and run, you have to dribble it" Yuuri demonstrated with the orange basketball he had brought back with him from Earth along with his teammates. Everyone nodded solemnly.

Yuuri rubbed his chin. He'd already explained the scoring system, but since he himself wasn't very familiar with it, the 1 point, 2 points and 3 points awarded per shot would have to be discussed over. It wasn't supposed to be a serious game, they could bend the rules a bit, but...

"You aren't allowed to beat anyone else senseless, and no stabbing Wolfram I'm looking at you give your sword back to Gunter, that's it I guess. For the first game, at least. Any questions, ask my mom" Miko stood and shouted "Hello!" to everyone, Yuuri cringing. "She's got a rule book, but it's okay if we don't play it exactly the way we do on Earth. Most important thing is that we have fun!"

He was hoping for a rousing cheer from everyone, but only Greta shouted "Yeah! Fun!". The demons were huddled together, and as they disbanded and Dacascos drew the whistle to his lips, Yuuri felt a strong black aura envelop his side of the court.

Shouri carefully slid his PSP into its felt cover and slipped it into the pocket of his shorts, smirking to himself at the thought of kicking demon butt and impressing his baby brother. Murata had moved to stand right next to Bob by their hoop, while Shouma moved to stand behind Yuuri as his son faced a grinning Wolfram to reach for the ball.

With an almighty heave from Dacascos the orange thing flew straight into the air, both boys tensing for the jump and leaping once the ball began falling back towards the ground.

Yuuri knew he had jumped well, could feel the air pull against his cheeks, the slight burn in the muscles of his legs, all giving him height, height, height.

Only Wolfram was soaring above him, and Wolfram was slapping the ball to Conrad, and Yuuri was in mid-air, and he couldn't understand how the blond could've jumped almost his own height up, and he couldn't understand why Gwendal was kneeling on the ground chanting something.

By the time Yuuri was back on ground, Conrad was hurtling through, dribbling like he was born doing it, keeping admirable speed while he was at it. Shouma tried to block and steal, but Conrad simply reversed and threw the ball where he stood, several feet away from the "D".

The ball moved in a gentle parabola in the air, Murata and Bob admiring the beautiful motion as the ball clattered through the hoop above them.

Murata and Miko clapped, while Greta wrote "3" on the chalkboard under "M.M"

Wolfram was smirking, and Yuuri was wondering if someone had neglected to mention that the demons had a remarkably similar game by the name of "bucketball", and the three brothers were world-ranked players.

Wolfram was smirking, but Yuuri had to look up.

He frowned.

"Wolf, how come you're standing on a bump? Wasn't the whole court smooth when we started?"

"Wimp, where I'm standing is the least of your worries. Be prepared to cry!"

***

Score: 28:10, Makoku Men leading.

Gisela proved to be a mean forward, her passing adept and fast, her form small and easily hidden amongst the mass of flesh of her teammates. As she scored yet another dunk, she calmly explained as she swung from the hoop to a Murata admiring her shorts, that having to do tourniquets in the middle of a battle with axes and spears whizzing past her ears required "a damned lot more hand-eye co-ordination than this game, and I will blind you if you try to look up my pants again, Sage, thank you very much"

From what a panting Yuuri could gather, there was a fixed 2:2:1 positioning amongst the demons. Gwendal and Adalbert led the charge, barrel-like chests and crippling frowns deterring Shouma and Shouri as they moved towards them. Yuuri easily ignored both scowls, as he knew they wouldn't actually hurt him.

The pair after them had the smallest players. Gisela and Wolfram made use of the cover provided for them and would almost magically appear to score a shot from within the "D". Yuuri was all that stood between them and scoring points, since his family were attempting to not look petrified as they were cornered by Brutus 1 and 2, while Murata and Bob had given up all pretence of being part of the game, idly chatting at the side.

And while Wolfram and Gisela were inexperienced, both had tremendous drives, and were wholly bent on winning. Determination laughed in the face of experience. It also occasionally laughed in the face of laws, both natural and imposed.

Yuuri's kind-hearted attempts to politely slap the ball away were met with a snort from both before one prettily scored.

The ground was springy when they jumped, and, Yuuri suspiciously noted, at those times Gwendal was always kneeling down muttering something.

Gisela was a dunker.

Wolfram's favourite move was a lot more… Wolfram; near the hoop, he would jump into the air, throw, and demand the ball go through the hoop. More often than not, the ball had no option but to oblige, no matter how interrupted its departure from Wolfram's hands by Yuuri's wildly waving ones.

Conrad usually sauntered, taking his time to enjoy the heavy scent of manly perspiration in the air, staying out of the way of the probably-illegal intimidation. Whenever Yuuri proved particularly annoying, the boy-girl pair would choose to pass the ball to him, and more likely than not, Conrad would do a perfect three-pointer.

Sometimes, Shouri slipped away from Gwendal's distracted muttering to stop the ball as it was being passed from Wolfram to Gisela or the other way around, and he would be able to move fast enough to score. Sometimes, Yuuri slapped the ball out of Conrad's hands to dunk a shot.

Yuuri had no doubt that the home team was being kind. When he did get the ball, Conrad never tried to stop him, and only Gisela and Wolfram were determined enough to try a steal, which even he could see was done half-heartedly.

Half-time came, and the Shibuya men nearly-collapsed to the ground in exhaustion. Celi's boys were jogging around the court, cooling down to avoid muscles cramping.

As Wolfram's pale legs came into view from his face-down position on the ground, Yuuri groaned and looked up to see his friend smiling at him. Out of the corner of his eye he could see Gisela handing her teammates suspicious looking drinks in paper cups, which were probably illegal energy boosters unknown to mere honest-playing Earthlings.

"Wimp, you still alive?"

Yuuri grumbled something in reply, and Wolfram laughed as he kneeled down, prodding Yuuri's shoulder.

"You didn't expect us to be so good at it, did you? Your own fault wimp, how you could even consider me and my brothers being incompetent at anything is amazing. Overnight practice can get you a lot, you know. Still..." Wolfram smiled, standing up and pulling Yuuri up with him, "I have to admit that I'm having fun. We took it slow in the first half; I think you had better encourage your team to be more... enthusiastic, wimp, or even I'll feel bad completely demolishing you. We're giving you the ball to start the next half"

Wolfram grinned his maniacal-laughter-is-right-around-the-corner grin and left to discuss war plans with his team members.

Yuuri dusted himself off, and wished he had a bandanna to tie around his forehead. He couldn't be sure that Shibuyas of generations past were just mild-mannered farmers whose little villages were completely overlooked by conflict, so Yuuri attributed his surge of determination to the Samurai blood running in his veins.

Demolish me? You're 50 years- Yuuri recalled Wolfram's age and amended the thought to -100 years too young! And since Gwendal obviously doesn't mind using his magic to help his team, I don't see why we shouldn't play fair with that!

He smirked a Wolfram smirk to himself, because while Gwendal was macho and Wolfram was mighty, he had three Maou-s on his team.

They huddled, Miko pouring ice tea for everyone as she cooed over how "handsome that tall blond man is, I've never seen him before!" When Shouma complained that it was exactly that man that was stopping him from even getting the ball, Miko had clasped his arm, stars sparkling in her eyes. "He's a rugged handsome-type man, but my Uma can definitely defeat him! Just show him all the muscles you got from playing golf!"

Murata coughed to cover a snicker and pushed his glasses further up the bridge of his nose. Yuuri glared at one-half of his least-productive players, and clapped his hands together.

"Okay men-" "And women Yuu-chan, don't forget your mama!" "-and women, sorry mom, well, we're getting beat pretty bad. The guys, they don't really know how to play Earth games politely, so I think Gwendal's been a bit trigger-happy with his magic-"

Shouri spluttered with displeasure, putting down his cup and coughing, outrage on his face. "They've been cheating? I knew it! I knew they couldn't be trusted to-"

"Shut up Shouri. Ask mom, nowhere in the rule book does it say that 'the use of magical contracts with elements to improve your game is disallowed'. The best is just-" he flips through the book his mother passed to him until he reached a dog-eared page "-'An attempt to unfairly disadvantage an opponent through physical contact is illegal and is called a foul'. They're not even disadvantaging us! They're just advantaging themselves. So I was thinking, since we're playing serious Shin Makoku basketball instead of the normal, unmagical game we're used to, maybe we should start using magic too?" Yuuri wiggled his eyebrows at Bob in an attempt to get the point across, but stopped when the man simply stared back.

He grasped at whatever straws were left.

"We can't just take this without trying to fight back! We're being beaten by a girl! And Wolfram!"

"What was that wimp?!" From across the court Wolfram looked up from his war counsel, some finely honed sixth sense informing him of his wimp treading where a wimp ought treadeth not.

"Sorry Wolfram, I didn't mean anything by that!", Yuuri ducking quickly to avoid being murdered by the glare sent his way. "Please, that is going to sleep in my room tonight, and there's nothing I can do to stop him, but at least could we try to make sure that he doesn't have this to gloat over?" Yuuri did his best puppy-dog look, and his battle was won.

Bob removed his sunglasses. They were playing ball.

***

The players assembled again for the second half, the dark aura of Wolfram's team battling with the burning do-or-die Kamikaze spirit of the opposing predominantly Japanese team.

Even Adalbert stopped looking at them like they were mice. His eyes now held the respect he held for violent goats. Shouma was initially worried by the change, but puffed up his chest as he reminded himself that if both his sons could become monarchs, the least he could do was stand up to one extremely muscular demon who looked like he had just returned from clubbing a few dinosaurs to death.

His self-motivational internal monologue was murdered by his common sense when it detected that the talk was doing more harm than good, and hey, were his knees knocking before this?

Testosterone saw to the stopping of the knee-knocking.

Yuuri faced Wolfram at the centre again, ball in hand, desperately praying to get through this game with a shred of his dignity intact.

Dacascos blew the whistle, and breathing on the fumes of adrenaline and the fierce worried purely-Yuuri determination not to have Wolfram sniggering at him again, Yuuri played.

Slowly he bounced the ball against the ground, getting comfortable with the solid impact of the ball hitting his hand on the rebound, watching Wolfram's eyes following the up, down, up, down motion. A blur past him, and bounce, bounce, away the ball went, Wolfram's leap to stop it from reaching Shouri stunted when Gwendal's command was nullified by Bob's glowing golden eyes.

Shouri dribbled and ran, ducking under Adalbert's clumsy arms until a grinning Gisela blocked his movements, the bespectacled Shibuya cursing his inability to function like a normal living creature in the face of that most scary of unholy foe, the Woman. Yuuri and Murata were ahead of Shouri already, Shouri's blind throw just managing to be caught by Yuuri before it went off court.

From far off, Yuuri heard a voice cry out. He turned, only to have a sprinting Wolfram moving towards him, looking like the very hounds of hell could learn a trick or two from him on bearing down on their victims.

"Bite down on something, Yuuri!"

"What do you mean-"

In hindsight, Yuuri was very glad that he hadn't been holding the ball very tightly. At least he got away with both arms.

The ball took off like an angry comet, moving with dizzying speed from the impact of Wolfram's right foot on it. Yuuri had ducked to the ground the moment the ball left his hands, hoping that nobody would die.

Dacascos was about to blow the whistle on the violation but nearly swallowed it instead when the ball went flying past his head, the ball's friction with the air causing a burn mark on his ear.

He too crumpled to the ground, Gisela running to him as every single other person stared slack-jawed at a Wolfram who stood looking confused at all the attention.

Yuuri feared for his life too much to say anything. Especially since his face was about 3 feet away from Wolfram's foot, and he found himself cursing fate again that Wolfram had the kick of a lean rhinoceros but would probably find football too lengthy.

I wonder if that counts as an attempted assassination, thought Yuuri.

"Hey! Wolf-chan!"

Wolfram turned to flash his stunning smile at Miko, who was waving at him, other hand on her hip.

"Wolf-chan! You aren't allowed to kick the ball in this game! I think you get a penalty for that!" The woman flipped through the book, before calling out again. "I can't find the penalty for kicking the ball, I think you get a warning, so I'm warning you not to kick it again, okay?"

"I forgot!" Wolfram adorably slapped his head in faux irritation. "It's okay, mama!"

"Oh, and I'm sorry Wolf-chan! But it says here that if you get the ball out of the court, you have to give the ball to the other team! Is that okay?"

Wolfram nodded with a smile, an angel when Miko was looking.

Conrad helped Yuuri up as Wolfram jogged off to get the ball, Gisela applying a balm to a whimpering Dacascos' ear.

"Sorry, Yuuri", because when your brother nearly kills a man, you call him by his name. "Wolfram can get a little... over-excited, especially when he's playing. Or fighting. Actually, you should feel really lucky that wasn't his special Twilight Kick"

"What's...-What's his special Twilight Kick?"

Conrad smiled as he patted his back.

"It's when his foot is on fire and he jumps off the ground to kick you-... it, I meant it. Quite a scary sight to see coming at you, actually. Ha. Haha." Conrad couldn't quite keep eye contact. "It's called twilight, because it's bright when it's coming at you, then afterwards everything goes dark"

Conrad spoke from pain of experience. Yuuri wondered if there was a support group somewhere in the city where people traumatised by Wolfram's violence gathered to hold hands and share healing ointment recipes. There probably was. He wondered where he should sign up.

"Yuuri! Your ball!"

Yuuri had stared into the eyes of enemies both living and undead, fought more people than he wish he had to, seen the chaos of an upset forbidden box.

The sight of the basketball whistling through the air straight to his face nearly stopped his heart.

Halfway through composing his will and final testament as the murderous sphere approached him, a hand shot out and grabbed the ball, plucking it out of the air like it had been stationary.

"Wolfram! Be more cautious, His Majesty was not prepared!"

Wolfram shouted a sorry from several meters out of the court, and Gwendal gruffly passed Yuuri the ball. Dacascos had been sent off to sit quietly next to Gunter, Gisela announcing that he was too unstable to referee the match, no one daring to say a word against her.

"Do we have a spare referee?"

Murata's glasses glinted in the sun as he raised his hand, smile wide and dangerous.

"I can referee! I certainly know the rules and violations better than Dacascos. Mama can substitute me!"

Miko was on court before Yuuri could protest. The game was getting out of hand, had probably gotten out of hand some five minutes after the first half started, but having his mother playing just begged for trouble. He also couldn't trust Murata not to do anything very Murata, including but not exclusive to tampering the rules to make the game more interesting.

Yuuri was certain that if the game got any more interesting, the death toll would go up. He had collapsed to the ground twice already over the course of the game; pessimistically he felt that since third time's the charm, he could end up six feet under it.

"Oh, and Lord Bielefeld? I'm not that familiar with the penalties, but I think Shibuya gets a couple of free throws after having his ball kicked so hard, so if you guys could line up along the lines leading up to the hoop?"

Wolfram shrugged and did as he was told; all the players sans Yuuri stood like the Guard of Honour of the pole. Yuuri stood a little further back than the end of the line, trying to remember all the manga Murata had made him read, that anime with lots of pretty boys playing basketball his mother had traumatised him into watching.

Something about the left hand is only for support… So what do I do with my right hand?! Wait, didn't Wolfram say all they had was one overnight practice? How could they possibly have mastered shooting from so far?! Is Conrad secretly as big a fan of basketball as he is of baseball? But then Wolfram! How could he shoot so well? Do I just throw it and pray, or really aim, or fling it and misuse my Maou's power? Argh! How am I supposed to-

Preeeeet!

"Shibuya, you aren't allowed to just hold the ball and stare off into nothing. You fouled your own free throw, you're down to the last one. My advice? Just throw the thing. What's the worst that could happen?"

"I could hit Wolfram. Or my mother"

"Aim high, Shibuya."

Defeated, Yuuri did as he was asked. Adopting the classic pitching position in baseball, leg up, leg down, and away it goes. The ball made a straight line for the basket, and it would stretch the imagination to imagine it going in. The Makoku Men didn't move, expecting either the ball to fly clear across the hoop and out of the court, or rebound off the metal hoop and into their hands.

They did not expect Shouma jumping, with added assistance from Bob, and clumsily thunking the ball through the hoop. Evidently when he was back on the ground, neither did Shouma. The older man hugged his wife who ran squealing into his arms, but gave Bob a dirty look. Yuuri wondered if he had had any intention of attempting to score.

"My Uma just saved Yuu-chan's terrible shot! Uwa, I knew you were still an athlete underneath it all!" Shouma didn't have the nerve to ask what was implied by "underneath it all".

Moral rose among the wanderers. Let's…

Play ball.

The basketball was passed quickly, Yuuri's team burning with enthusiasm, Miko calling out encouragement and helpfully squealing distractingly when the home team caught the ball. Shouri outran Gwendal, who was far too stoic to be caught dead running around in shorts, and lightly skipped over the leg Adalbert stuck out, running with the ball, giant triumphant smile on his face, before Murata whistled the game to a halt.

"Brother of my friend… You are supposed to bounce the ball, not grab it and run around with a big grin. I know Von Grantz tried to trip you, but the most at-wrong player is still you. Hand over the ball to Gwendal, see, he's caught up with you, hand it back, and we'll start"

Shouri could have died from embarrassment, especially when his father came up to pat him on the back in shared male pain.

Wolfram snickered and dribbled with one hand, the other hand shaking out the sting that accompanied every pass from Gwendal.

So the little earth boys are getting cocky, are they?

Yuuri knew that look intimately, and knew it didn't bode well for anyone.

"Gisela! Commence operation Dirt Wimp"

Gisela was passed the ball, and smiled. Remembering to dribble, a one-woman force chaos tore into the defence of the other team, Wolfram's hasty fire spell keeping a halo of flames around her. Bob was distracted cancelling out Gwendal's repeated attempts to push Gisela into the air, and Shouri was shouting at Murata that that was a violation if ever there was one.

Yuuri scowled and summoned a simple water dragon to kill the flames, blue tendrils hissing as they came into contact with the halo. Adalbert sidled unseen to within a few feet of the hoop, and caught Gisela's eye before he nodded. Wolfram saw the exchange, braced himself, and shouted.

"Now!"

Gisela passed the ball to Adalbert, ducking to avoid getting hit by Yuuri's water dragons that were speedily moving away to catch the ball, when there was a yell from Wolfram and the blond fell to the ground.

Yuuri was distracted and shocked. "Wolfram!" He released command of the dragon, the disembodied water wetting all who stood in its path, and ran to Wolfram, worrying that his attack on the other boy's fire had somehow been translated into an attack on Wolfram.

Adalbert scored a two-pointer, Yuuri reached Wolfram, and then, there was shouting.

"Wolfram are you- …Oh my god you were faking it! I can't believe you can still smile what is wrong with you I thought I'd hurt you! All that for a score… This isn't a war game, you guys are better players already without you messing with my mind!"

"I don't see how this can be blamed on me, wimp. You really shouldn't be looking at your opponent's wellbeing in a contest, and I wasn't faking it. I just thought I had dropped my… hair tie, only I suddenly realised that I don't tie up my hair"

"Murata that cannot count as a goal! What that blond brat pulled could have seriously hurt Yuuri! It's definitely illegal, you just aren't interpreting it right! I demand to talk to a real referee! You shouldn't condone acts of violence!"

"Wolf-chan! Wolf-chan! That was such a pretty trick! Can Wolf-chan teach Yuu-chan how to do that?"

"I scored a goal! And Belma said I was too much of a loner to contribute to a team sport!"

"Dear, I don't think it's such a good idea to distract Mister Bob about magic tricks while he's having a… glaring contest with Wolf-chan's brother"

Gisela drew breath.

"ATTEN-TION!"

All arms immediately straightened at the sides of their owners, as backs cracked into a rigid posture, legs opened to the width of their shoulders. A command like that by-passed the brain and held up the soul. The basketball was the only thing in motion, rolling slowly after being dropped from its loving embrace in Adalbert's arms.

"Sage! Officially, was it in violation of the rules for Wolfram to have done what he did?"

Murata flashed his glasses.

"No. No it wasn't, Ms. Christ"

"You heard your directing officer! There is no problem here but the stupid ones you have made for yourselves! This is a game for adults! Children whining about unfairness, either buck up and realise that life is always unfair, or quit like lily-livered cowards! Do! You! Hear! Me!"

"Ma'am yes ma'am!"

She was sweetness incarnate again.

"I'm so pleased we've solved that! Shall we continue?"

***

Time was almost, almost up. Every one was breathing hard; skin glistened in the noonday sun from the sweat. Miko's hair was tied in a bun to keep it off her neck, Gisela had hiked up her shorts, and Gwendal had taken off his socks.

M.M to E.W, 52 to 25, no injury time, Murata proclaimed, after being informed by a grouchy Adalbert that injury time would be used by him to inflict some.

Yuuri had made a success of his first and only attempt at playing dirty, but after Wolfram's response he didn't have the heart to try again.

It was somewhere in the 30-point range, with Wolfram holding the ball, calmly calculating the distance to the hoop. The sun was high, hot, and Yuuri didn't want to embarrass himself. In admiration of Wolfram's technique, several players from both teams had tried the fainting gag, bodies thumping to the ground mostly to the inattention of the other players. The most notable attempt was of Shibuya Miko's, who had chosen to dramatically proclaim how hot it was, before crumpling delicately. Shouma was by her side in a moment, shouting for an ambulance, before the supposed-to-be out-of-it Miko told her worried spouse that it was all a ploy, that she was doing it because "it's all the rage with demon basketballers!"

Yuuri thought that he should give it a go, but was too embarrassed to make much of a sound.

Even if no one noticed, Yuuri had thought, it wouldn't be much of a loss. This is so stupid.

Quietly he fell to his knees, hands landing on the dirt in front of him.

"Yuuri!"

Wolfram had thrown the ball at Shouri so hard he had nearly suffocated from his lungs compressing, and ran towards Yuuri. "Yuuri! Wimp! Are you hurt?" The blond's hands slapped onto Yuuri's back with a loud thump!, and he was channeling healing magic before he had sat down.

Yuuri discovered that a shot of healing magic in the middle of a hot afternoon after strenuous activity felt like a spiritual injection of sweet vanilla ice cream and vitamins.

Wolfram had demanded the game halt, Yuuri was forced to get a thorough check-up from Gisela, and drink some horrible herb drink to fight infections before they continued.

Yuuri didn't try it again.

Now there was a minute to game over, and the ball was in Bob's hands, much to Yuuri's surprise. The man was undulating, he ordering the ground to fling him towards the net in the most spectacular slam-dunk ever, Gwendal having none of it.

They couldn't win, that much was obvious. They had done better in the second half, but the Makoku Men were relentless and frightening.

There was disappointment in Yuuri's heart, and then there was a voice.

"Wimp, if you can score a goal before time's up, I'll personally consider this match a draw. Even if I'll still take the giant trophy with the gold knobs on it, I won't tease you about losing when we're alone. Better hurry though, Yuuri, you don't have much time left"

It was a scene right out of a manga. An unscrupulous foe would unveil himself, and in his place would stand a kind, compassionate man who had taken a wrong turning in life. The hero would succeed, and there would be much rejoicing.

"Bob-san! The ball! The ball!"

The basketball was passed perfectly, and landed in his hands like a dream.

Yuuri moved, his mother shouting encouragingly behind him.

The beat of ball against ground sung in his head, the attraction to the sport holding him utterly in its thrall. There, in front of him Shouri stood, hands out, path unblocked.

He passed. Conrad slapped it off its course, fully-intending to execute another breath-taking 3-point shot. Yuuri digressed, ran on legs made of bone, muscle and determination, and caught the ball before the brunette did.

He panted and ran, ducking under Gwendal's attempt to grab him, skipping over Gisela's laughing uppercut to the ball, and then there. It. Was.

Just him and the hoop, and the promise fulfilled of no teasing from Wolfram.

He jumped, he shot, and waited for the epic manga plot to take itself to conclusion.

Sadly, no one had thought to give the other players the script. Adalbert leaped into the air to grab the ball, Shouri lunged at Adalbert to stop the sacred parabola from being disrupted, Gwendal shot himself up with a pillar of dirt, Bob retaliated by summoning winds to blow Gwendal off his pedestal, Gisela was standing a little ways off, not at all interested in being trampled, and Shouma and Miko had their hands clasped in prayer for the success of the shot.

Limb hit limb hit limb hit ball, and then it was the wind carrying it off, and Murata blew the whistle and the time was up, and Yuuri turned because the ball had been whacked and blown in the opposite direction of his throw, and it arched downwards, landing, landing, landed.

In Wolfram's hands, the blond's face twitching in an effort not to break into howling laughter.

Yuuri didn't know whether to laugh or cry; evidently having been lucky enough to rule a country, all other forms of fortune, including the undisturbed trajectory of a ball, would fail him.

"Hey Wolf!" he called, the other boy looking up with his lips in a thin line to avoid bursting into laughter, over the sound of outright brawling behind him.

"Remind me never to bet on sports"

***

It was night, the awards ceremony having ended an hour ago, full of booze and boyish exuberance, a drunk Adalbert singing with an equally drunk Conrad, Greta asking Gwendal what "Uncle Conrad means when he says fuc-?"

Everybody was in bed, warm and happy and full.

Yuuri waited for Wolfram to finish getting dressed, waited until the blond had climbed on the mattress before he spoke.

"Wolf, I didn't get the shot in at the end... How come you haven't insulted me more than your usual list of "idiot!" and "wimp!"? I appreciate it and all, but it's kindof weird..."

Wolfram brushed his fingers through his hair, happy to smell the shampoo instead of sweat and dirt.

"I thought about it. We've never played the game, but when people like Gwendal and Gisela and Adalbert and Conrad are in a team, I knew you had lost even before we had started. I don't know, wimp" he shrugged. "I thought that if you hadn't been playing with some of the best elemental users and warriors in the kingdom, you would have scored. So I shouldn't be insulting you, not really" He shrugged again.

Yuuri was touched. That's so considerate of him! And here I was thinking how unfair the game had been, when actually if anyone had the unfair advantage, it would have been my team!

Yuuri teared up a little at the show of beautiful sportsmanship, and decided he would forgive Wolfram for all his baseball insults, because underneath all the sneering and mocking and snickering beat the heart of a true athlete.

"And the thing is, wimp, there wasn't really a need to insult you"

Eh?

Wolfram dragged something heavy off the floor and onto the bed, a solid gold divider between them.

"I'll be rubbing this in your face every day for the rest of the month. I wouldn't be a good sport if I added insult to injury, now would I?"

He buffed the surface of the trophy, and smirked at his reflection.

"G'night wimp"

There was, Yuuri came to conclude, something fundamentally wrong with the standards the Mazoku had towards courtesy and being graceful winners. He could see himself, years from now, repeatedly hitting himself on the head for introducing sport to Wolfram.

He sighed, slumping into his pillows, snuggling in and hoping to drift off quickly.

Is it normal to be so resigned to a lifetime of losing at age sixteen?

Yuuri really, really doubted he could watch a basketball game again without feeling immense trauma.

Maybe it's a godsend after all that Wolfram doesn't play baseball and make that painful for me too.

"Mmm... in the end, Earth games aren't so bad, wimp... Maybe I should.... Play baseball wif you next" Wolfram mumbled sleepily, burrowing deeper into his pillows.

NO!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!


End.

Don't worry if you've no idea how basketball works; I don't really understand it either, which is why this could be said to be a rather long tribute to Slam Dunk, best basketball manga ever. I'm not touching the computer again for another two weeks or so, think of this as a parting gift! There're quotes from Ouran, Gin Tama and Monty Python, if you look at it right. Anyone care to hazard a guess? It was a lot of fun writing this... Though I have no idea how well I write sports-action scenes. Badly, I suspect, but I still really liked this fic, so meh.

See you guys with some new stuff in June! And remember to review! Or I'll get angst-y and start writing giantly dramatic stories, and where will you get your healthy dose of crack then????

XD I'm a niche writer, I am~