"My name is Kagami Taiga and I'm a basketball addict."
Five pairs of dead-looking eyes — including Kise's own, and he knew they were dead-looking because he had checked himself out in the mirror this morning, and excluding Kuroko's, which were helpless and miserable as ever but surprisingly alive — stared at the newcomer at the edge of their circle.
Kise felt a flicker of interest as Kagami began to speak. It was only a flicker, however, and didn't at all dampen the sound of the lonely wind that had been blowing in his ears for months. Aside from himself, only Kuroko looked the least bit curious about the new guy. Murasakibara unwrapped a stick of mentaiko-flavoured Maiubo. Midorima was filing his nails.
Akashi was smiling politely and superficially and with a distant look on his face that suggested he was thinking hard about something else to keep himself from falling asleep. Akashi was good at pretending to listen to other people's problems - up to a point.
To be fair New Guy wasn't making it easy to keep listening. He'd launched into a long story about his brother, who wasn't really his brother, but who'd agreed to be his brother and then decided not to be his brother. The only interesting points were the American street basketball and a woman who walked around naked, but Kagami only mentioned those briefly, preferring to go on about 'Tatsuya' and 'our skull-decorated rings' and 'why doesn't he want to be brothers anymore.'
Akashi's smile had begun to freeze over.
Aomine yawned without covering his mouth, which prompted Kagami to stop - finally -while shooting Aomine a glare.
Midorima cleared his throat pointedly and, after thanking Kagami for sharing in his special snooty Midorima way, directed them all to move on. Kuroko and Midorima seemed to be the only ones getting anything out of the support group process.
They were also the only Teikou regulars who were doing this voluntarily. The other four, Kise included, had been mandated to attend Basketballers Anonymous by the Basketball Committee for Behavioural Management, which none of them had even known existed (including the usually omniscient Akashi) until men in black suits had pulled up in front of their respective doorsteps one morning.
Kise had been forced to take a three-hundred item personality assessment inventory which had then resulted in a four-page report describing Kise's histrionic and narcissistic traits and his inner problems with emotional attachment.
Aomine, Akashi and Murasakibara had undergone similar testing. None of them had taken it well. Akashi had apparently threatened his psychotherapist with a pair of scissors. It had taken a crapton of hush-hush money to keep him out of the forensic psychiatry system.
Midorima directed them back to the Twelve Steps. They'd been at this for one and a half years and still none of them had made it past the second step, mostly because of Aomine and Akashi's inability to surrender to a Higher Power. Murasakibara had eventually been talked around by Kuroko to the concept of a Giant Maiubo in the Sky. Midorima obviously believed in Oha Asa. Kise was willing to believe in whatever he needed to believe in order for the group to make some progress.
When questioned about a Higher Power Kagami just went silent and looked at the silver ring resting in the notch at the top of his breastbone.
That was enough for the rest of the group, but yet again they ground to a screeching halt when faced with Aomine, who these days had taken to showing up in a black T-shirt bearing the words, 'THE ONLY ONE WHO CAN BEAT ME IS ME.'
Akashi in turn answered calmly and unsmiling, "I who always win, am always right."
Beneath Midorima's look of grim acceptance at Akashi's words there was a glimmer of hurt. Everyone knew Midorima was really only in this to help Akashi's left eye turn red again. Not like Kuroko, who was in it for all of them, even if he was particular about Aomine.
Time was nearly up (Kagami's story had taken a long while). Akashi called the meeting to a close.
"Same time next week," he said. "Kagami-kun, you'll need a sponsor. Not you, Tetsuya, since you're already Ryouta's sponsor."
Once again, they all looked at Kagami consideringly. He was an outsider, and he didn't understand what had happened to them at Teikou. And frankly, his light seemed kind of dim.
On the other hand it was good to know they weren't the only ones who had problems with basketball. And well, Kise just had this feeling that perhaps one day Kagami would become one of them. And maybe they could finally get to the third of the Twelve Steps together.
Kise was just opening his mouth to offer when Aomine said, "I'll do it."
Everyone looked at Aomine in surprise. That was three words more than Aomine had spoken in the last six meetings.
For a moment, just for a moment, the wind stopped whistling sadly in Kise's ears.
He said, "Welcome to Basketballers Anonymous, Kagamicchi."