Midorima sat alone in the locker room, taping his left-hand fingers one-by-one, trying to focus his thoughts on the task at hand. Takao suddenly disappeared, to where, he has no idea, but his ever-energetic partner was crying just as they were leaving the court after their match against Rakuzan. "Partner," he muttered to himself, savoring the words. He never had one until he entered Shutoku, never wanted one, but in today's game against Akashi, Takao gave him the roaring pass he promised to give him when they first met. And I didn't catch the last one. He wanted to kill Akashi right there and then, his crazy eyeballs and Napoleon complex pissing him off more than ever, and it took all of his self-control to not grab his former teammate's head and fling him onto the basket.
"Done." He stared at his hand, clenching and un-clenching his fists, and he stood before flashbacks from the Rakuzan-Shutoku game start flooding his brain again. Besides, he does not have time to wallow in self-pity and defeat. His senpais are heartbroken enough, he could at least not sulk and be a burden to them. And Takao still hasn't come back.
He turned to see Takao holding two cold drinks. He tossed the shiruko to him and he caught it effortlessly, images from the game earlier flashing in his mind again—the ball, his shooting stance, Akashi standing between him and his partner, Takao's horror-stricken face. He shut his eyes tightly to shake off the images.
"Shin-chan! Are you okay? Do you feel sick?" He opened his eyes and saw Takao suddenly at his side, holding him by the arm, the smaller boy looking up at him with the same worried, heartbroken look he threw him earlier.
"Don't be stupid Takao. Can I not close my eyes without feeling sick?" He pried his arm from his teammate's grasp and was surprised when Takao didn't even put up a fight. He eyed the boy suspiciously but his partner has suddenly taken interest in something on the ground. He followed the dark-haired male's gaze and squinted.
He almost jumped when Takao suddenly spoke, voice uncharacteristically low and deep. Takao is almost always yelling and chirping happily, he has forgotten that he is talking to a guy past his puberty.
"What?" he snarled.
"Do you hate me?" Takao half-whispered. It must have taken him forever to answer because Takao turned and looked up at him. "Akashi got the ball I was gonna pass to you. Do you hate me?" Takao asked forlornly, dark locks slipping from his hair clip and falling on the smaller boy's forehead. He looked so sad and Midorima wanted to say something nice, but instead he rolled his eyes and muttered, "Not any more than I hate you before".
Takao blinked at their green-haired ace. He knows how important that game was to their teammates—and to Midorima The taller guy never really said anything about it but he knows Midorima well enough to be able to read his mind, even for a bit. And that last pass, the one stolen by Akashi... He sighed. His partner who never makes a shot unless he's 100% sure he can make it, his partner who practices everyday and religiously tapes his fingers, his partner... He clenched his fist. His partner believed in him, trusted him, and yet...
"Takao! Are you going to stand there all day?" Midorima is tapping his foot impatiently, frowning.
He tossed the unopened can of soda in the bin nearby, the sound of metal hitting each other flooding his ear, breaking the silence. There are so many things he would like to ask his partner, but just thinking of them makes him dizzy.
Midorima grabbed his arm and jerked him from his thoughts. He was never really one to grab people and Takao was reasonably surprised. "It's starting to rain," Midorima stated simply and Takao immediately noticed the raindrops getting larger and falling faster by the minute. He wanted to say something smart, or funny, but his head is flooded with so many worrying thoughts he can't seem to come up with anything to say. Not that Midorima was waiting for an answer. Grabbing him by the arm, their ace started walking back towards the stadium. He let himself be dragged back and followed without a word.
"Tch. Now we're all wet!" Midorima complained, drying his hair with a towel. Takao stared at his partner, their perfect player's hair disheveled, glasses lying on the bench, and an overwhelming feeling of affection and sadness grabbed him. He tore his gaze from the taller guy and focused on his damp sneakers. Great! On top of being a loser, now I'll have to go home wearing damp shoes.
"How stupid could you get!" Midorima's deep voice sliced through the silence. He knew this would happen, Midorima blaming him for losing, hating him for falling for Akashi's plan. He had been waiting for this since they left the court and yet the words are still stabbing at his heart. He couldn't even bring himself to mutter an apology.
Takao started for the door. He promised himself that he will swallow whatever insult Midorima will shove down his throat, he deserves it anyway, but having heard the genuine anger in their ace's voice scared him to death. Midorima has beaten him up before, sure, but that's normal—guys are rowdy in nature, beating each other up is sometimes a friendly gesture more than anything else. And besides, Midorima has never really hurt him physically—just a smack on the head (that's not nearly as strong as Takao's screaming suggests) or a soft slap on the shoulders. He would never survive a serious brawl against his giant of a teammate, after all. No, he's not afraid of what Midorima will do. He's afraid of what he will say. That's what he can't survive.
"Takao! Where the hell are you going again?" He ignored his partner's question and continued walking.
"Dammit, Takao! What is wrong with you?"
Midorima grabbed his arm and spun him around with such force, he felt himself losing balance. Had it not been for his partner's tight grip, he would have fallen on the floor face first.
"What?" Midorima was glaring at him with his intense green eyes and he couldn't help but shiver. His partner has that way of looking at people that make opponents cower in fear on court. They have no idea how much scarier his partner is off-court.
"I… Shin-chan, I'm sorry. Sorry I couldn't pass the ball properly after all my high talk. Sorry we lost. Sorry I can't be your partner anymore." His words are spilling out now, and he breaks down in tears.
Takao is beautiful and vulnerable when he cries. He cries silently, tears streaming down his cheeks steadily, eyes downcast. Midorima stared at his partner uneasily, unsure of what to do. Takao is usually the one who would read his mood and console him. And now their lively Point Guard is in tears, shaking violently… He let go of Takao's arms and cleared his throat. There's something he doesn't understand.
"Why can you no longer be my partner?"
Takao looked up at him, trying to stop his tears from falling. He looked so heartbroken when he spoke.
"Because I'm a failure… And Shin-chan has no need for a partner who passes the ball to their opponent. And…" He nearly choked on his words.
"And what?" Midorima demanded.
"You are so mad at me," Takao whispered, biting his lower lip, tears falling faster now.
So that's it. The idiot thought he was mad at him. Well, he was, but not because of the game. He massaged his temples with his knuckles. He's about to get a headache.
Takao is slumped on the floor now, still crying, his bangs damp from the rain, his face stained with tears, his spirit drenched with defeat. Midorima eyed him uneasily and swallowed twice before speaking.
"Idiot." No response from Takao.
"I wasn't mad at you because of the game. I was mad because you stood like an idiot under the rain and got us both wet."
Now he has his partner's attention. Takao was staring at him with such a pained and disbelieving expression, he feels like hugging and killing him at the same time. How stupid could this stupid guy get?
He knelt down in front of his partner and placed his left hand softly on top of the dark-haired guy's head. Takao looks like a child. "Then I can still be your partner, Shin-chan?"
His head hurts from too much crying and now he can't think straight. He swears he misunderstood his partner so he asked the crucial question and waited for the blow.
"I don't like working with a partner. I have no intention of looking for another one."
Takao blinked at him. He must have heard him wrong. "What did you say, Shin-chan?"
Midorima rolled his eyes at him, obviously annoyed at having to repeat his words. "I said you're still my partner."
Tears started rolling down his cheeks again and he hugged their ace, burying his head on his shoulder.
Just like a child. He wrapped his arms around Takao, waiting for the smaller guy to calm down and stop shaking.
"Takao. It's time to go."
He opened his eyes and saw their ace standing beside the bench he's lying on, ready to leave. Shin-chan must have carried me here when I fell asleep. His mind wandered off to what happened an hour or so ago and his cheeks flushed in embarrassment. He immediately sat up. "Cold!" He looked down on the floor. His feet are bare.
"Your shoes were damp," Midorima said simply, as if that explained everything. That's when he noticed that Midorima changed his shirt again. I must have gotten his shirt wet when I hugged him earlier. Strangely, he doesn't feel cold. He looked down at his shirt and noticed that he's wearing dry clothes. He suddenly felt like kicking himself.
"Ano… Shin-chan… Thanks for changing my clothes." Midorima has his back to him, getting something from under the lockers.
"You're irresponsible, Takao," the larger guy growled and tossed him something. Shoes. He didn't bring an extra.
"My shoes are too big for you and Miyaji-senpai didn't have an extra pair with him so I borrowed from Seirin." Their Shooting Guard grimaced. "Anyway, that's Izuki-senpai's spare so return it tomorrow."
Seirin. Midorima hates Seirin with a passion. He couldn't imagine him going there asking if they have an extra pair of shoes. He couldn't imagine him asking anyone for anything. But he did... For him. The gesture was warm and touching.
Tch. Asking Seirin was the last thing he wanted to do. But he can't let Takao wear his damp shoes again or go home barefooted, can he? Good thing the red-haired idiot wasn't there when he asked. Aside from Izuki's lame puns and Kiyoshi's over-friendly gestures, he got out of Seirin's locker room basically unscathed. Even their female coach didn't bat an eyelash. Apparently, they're used to players borrowing shoes from other teams. Ah, Kagami's shoes… He knew it, they looked like Aomine's jordans.
"Shin-chan, wait up!"
"It's your fault our senpais left without us." Midorima shot him an angry look.
"Gomen Shin-chan…" He must have said it too sadly because his partner actually stopped and faced him.
"Stop apologizing, Tak—"
He flung his arms around his partner's neck and planted a kiss on the stunned guy's cheek. Midorima blushed immediately, his emerald eyes shooting daggers. Takao jumped back as far away from Midorima as he can.
The smaller guy laughed his usual hearty, playful laugh. "Just a brotherly kiss, Shin-nii-chan!" he laughed again.
He didn't appreciate Takao's kiss. He doesn't like it when people get too close and invade his personal space. Any other day, he would have yelled at Takao and beaten the hell out of him. But not today… Takao just started laughing again. He figured he'd indulge him today, a reward for working hard, a way of thanking his partner for sticking with him through the bitter and the sweet, through victory and defeat.
But somehow he still wants to beat him up.
Takao stopped the rickshaw in front of Midorima's house. The taller guy jumped off and opened the gate, unlocked the front door and stopped.
"Aren't you coming in, Takao?"
"Eh?!" Takao looked at him incredulously, thoughts of his little act flooding his memory. He felt his face redden.
"You always come in. Aren't you coming in?" Midorima is holding the door open, tapping his foot impatiently.
Takao threw his head back and laughed, a puzzled Midorima staring at him, wondering if the Point Guard has already snapped.