The Shadow and the Lights
Chapter Four: One on One
Disclaimer: I don't own Kuroko no Basuke.
Author's Note: Thanks to everyone who took the time to review, alert or fave. Sorry for the long wait guys, hope you enjoy the chapter.
Aomine jogged up the concrete staircase and dug his house key out of his bag, unlocking the door to the apartment he shared with his parents. The new apartment didn't really feel like home yet despite the fact that most of the boxes were unpacked. It was smaller than their last place, but in a newer building with shining floors and modern fixtures.
"Yo. I'm back," Aomine called, carelessly kicking off his shoes and padding into the kitchen.
He was surprised to see that his Mom was out, considering the time and grabbed a bottle of water from the fridge, letting the cap fall to the counter while he downed half the bottle in one swig. Seirin's coach sure knew how to put him through his paces, that was for sure. Even if the drills hadn't been particularly exciting or strenuous in and of themselves there'd still been a lot of them.
He glanced down for the bottle cap once the drink was finished and noticed that there was a note on the kitchen counter.
I've gone to see Shinonome-san and the card girls. Your father's working late so you're on your own for dinner. There's leftover curry in the fridge that you can reheat if you like. Don't stay up too late!
Not wanting to brave the, still mostly full, container of crappy four day old curry that his mother was clearly trying to poison him with, and not wanting to attempt cooking anything for himself Aomine decided he was going out for dinner. Tossing his empty bottle in the recycling he moved down the hall to his room and quickly moved to change into his street clothes. Wadding his practice clothes into a tight ball and tossing them over his shoulder, into the hamper, so they wouldn't stink up his bag.
He was half-way through pulling his clean shirt over his head when he realized he'd been replaying that afternoon's practice with Seirin's basketball team over and over again in his mind. More specifically, the interactions between Tetsu and his new teammates. Aomine scowled at himself, and at his thoughts.
Tetsu was comfortable with the Seirin team in a way that he hadn't been comfortable in a long time. And he was especially comfortable with that Kagami guy, his new light.
A surge of bitter, impotent jealously ripped through him. It hurt too, burning it's way through. Was their partnership really so shallow that Tetsu could replace him that easily? Before today he wouldn't have thought so, but maybe he was wrong. After all, it had been a long time since he'd felt that connection, that perfect synchrony, with Tetsu, and sometimes, in his blacker moods, he considered that maybe it had all been in his head.
His phone vibrated in his pocket, distracting him from his thoughts, and he fished it out and answered it without bothering to check the caller ID.
"Dai-chan, you jerk! I've been trying to call you all day!"
Aomine jerked away from the phone, wincing at the high volume and shrill tone from his childhood friend.
"Satsuki, I was ignoring you. Sorry."
There was a time when that comment would have earned him an hour long scolding but sometime over the course of middle school his childhood friend had learned to pick her battles.
"Jeez, Dai-chan ," said Momoi, sighing heavily into the phone before perking right back up, "How was your first day at your new school? You saw Tetsu-kun, right? How is he?"
"School was school," shrugged Aomine, "And yeah, I saw Tetsu."
"And?" huffed Momoi, "How did it go?"
Aomine took a minute to think about how to answer that, sinking down into his desk chair.
"Not as bad as it could have gone, but that's Tetsu for you I guess. He's just like we're…acquaintances that happened to meet in the street or something."
There was a long pause while Momoi waited with uncharacteristic patience for him to spit out just what was really bothering him.
"He has a new light," Aomine finally admitted quietly, dropping heavily into his desk chair.
"Kagami Taiga-kun," said Momoi, unsurprised.
"Yeah," snorted Aomine, "So you knew about him too, Satsuki."
"I suspected," said Momoi, "I've been gathering data on Tetsu-kun's, team for a few weeks and he was the only anomaly. I don't have any data from his middle school because he's a returnee, but Ki-chan said that he's pretty strong and a good match for Tetsu-kun."
Aomine clenched his hands into fists, the plastic of his phone creaking in his grip. It was true, that redheaded bastard fit with Tetsu the same way that the whole Seirin team fit with his former shadow. The same way he didn't seem to fit with Aomine anymore. And the whole situation was pissing him off.
"Dai-chan?" queried Momoi, her concern thick even through the phone.
"Yeah," said Aomine, pleased to note that at least his voice was mostly even and unaffected, "They work well together. The coach had me running laps and Tetsu was off his game so I didn't get to see much, but they look like they're comfortable with each other."
"Oh Dai-chan," sighed Momoi, "You and Tetsu-kun should just make up already and play together like you used to."
Aomine laughed bitterly.
"It's not that simple."
"Boys," huffed Momoi, "And you say that girls are unreasonable! Anyway Dai-chan, it's card night so do you want to come over for dinner? Daddy's making omelet rice."
"Your house is way too far for that shit Satsuki, maybe I'll come on the weekend," said Aomine leaning back in his chair, "Actually I kind of feel like Maji Burger, so I'll go there for dinner. Talk to you later Satsuki."
He ended the call before Momoi could start listing all the reasons going to Maji Burger was a bad plan, especially when he'd only just re-learned how to look at canned Pocari without flying into a rage and storming off. He turned his phone on silent ignoring the way his screen lit up to tell him he had a call and a message from his childhood friend and shoving the annoying device into his jeans pocket.
He retrieved his wallet and keys from his school bag, checking to make sure he had enough cash to actually pay for his meal and then slipped into his favourite pair of black running shoes. It was still warm enough outside that he forewent a jacket, his t-shirt plenty of protection against the tepid breeze.
The sights and sounds of his new neighbourhood were almost uncomfortably familiar. He was actually pretty close to Tetsu's house, only a few blocks east of the train station, in one of the new apartment complexes that had finally finished going up last summer. He passed the bookstore that Tetsu frequented and the convenience store where they often bought popsicles when it was just the two of them. If he turned the corner here and crossed the street-there it was, the old streetball court with the netless hoop and the cracked asphalt.
He turned away from that place with some effort and continued down the street to that big Maji Burger that Tetsu liked. It was his usual hangout and most days after school and practice you could find the slender blue-haired boy sitting in the corner with some new book and a vanilla milkshake permanently attached to his lips.
What was he doing here, wondered Aomine to himself, standing on the sidewalk and glaring at the bright, backlit sign. Did he really like torturing himself like this? Or, was he maybe secretly hoping to see Tetsu without school, or friends or basketball getting in the way?
Would it even make a difference if they talked, just the two of them. Aomine was inclined to think not. Their friendship, hell, their entire relationship was based in and around basketball, it was part of the reason they got together in the first place. It was because of that, that when they'd fallen apart as partners they'd somehow fallen apart as lovers.
By the time Aomine had realized it was more than just a spat that Tetsu would come and talk to him about and get over in a few days Tetsu had already left him without so much as a word. But what Tetsu didn't seem to understand was that just because they couldn't be partners anymore didn't mean that Aomine didn't still love him. He was holding onto the secret hope that maybe, if Tetsu would just give him a chance to explain that properly that they could—what? Aomine scoffed at himself and his stupid naively optimistic attitude. Did he seriously think that they could just pick up where they left off as if they hadn't each been responsible for ripping the other's heart out?
"Shut up," he muttered to himself, shoving his hands deeper into his pockets, a dark scowl twisting his mouth and furrowing his brow.
So what if he wanted to pretend it was possible? The alternative was something he didn't even want to think about. He shoved the glass door open with unnecessary roughness and entered the restaurant with his head held high.
The Maji Burger smelled, as always, of cooking meat and frying potatoes and was packed with families and younger kids for the dinner rush. Everybody trying to talk over one and other. Aomine purposefully averted his gaze from the seating area, not wanting to even contemplate facing Tetsu on an empty stomach, and got in line to order his usual teriyaki burger and fend off the cashier's constant attempts to get him to upgrade his combo.
When he had his tray and was ready to sit he let his eyes rake over the familiar configuration of tables and booths searching for the shock of pale-blue that indicated Tetsu. And when he didn't find him on the first try looking again, more carefully, because Tetsu did specialize in being overlooked after all. Even after three years he could still catch Aomine by surprise if he wasn't paying enough attention.
"Yo, Aomine," came a familiar voice, but not the voice Aomine wanted to hear, in fact it was probably the voice Aomine least wanted to hear.
Kagami's violently red hair and height made him easy to spot. He was sitting at Tetsu's preferred seat by the window. It was slightly out of the way, which made it less likely that people would try to sit there when they inevitably failed to notice Tetsu. Kagami had a small mountain of burgers on the tray in front of him and several empty wrappers, and was sipping from a jumbo size fountain drink.
"There aren't any free seats so you might as well just sit here," offered Kagami, with an odd sort of casual politeness.
Aomine was annoyed to note that the redhead was right, the restaurant was near to bursting with people and waiting for a free seat to open up would be troublesome.
"I should've ordered this to go," Aomine said, more to himself than Kagami, and dropped into the seat across from the redhead, watching with a sort of disgusted fascination as another burger disappeared into the black hole that was apparently his stomach.
"So what did you think of your first practice?"
Aomine shrugged, swallowing down a bite of his own burger, grateful to have something with which to occupy himself so he didn't have to put his full attention on Kagami, "Practice is practice, the techniques don't vary too much from what I'm used to so far. Is Tetsu coming?"
"Nah, Kuroko's got chores so he's eating at home tonight," Kagami informed him, apparently unfazed by the fact that Aomine knew Tetsu's regular routine.
Aomine was more annoyed to find that Kagami apparently was used to meeting Tetsu here after school, another privilege that previously only Aomine had been privy to, and tore almost violently into his food, unable to completely erase the frown that drew his brows together.
It was then that he noticed that Kagami was dressed in sport pants and a t-shirt, clearly he'd been getting in some extra after-practice, practice. There was a sports bag on the floor underneath his seat too.
"Hey, Kagami, you got a ball in there?" he asked nudging the bag with a foot.
"Yeah," grinned Kagami, "Changed your mind about playing me in a one-on-one?"
"Mm? Not really, but I do want to know what kind of guy Tetsu chose to pair up with," said Aomine with affected indifference.
"Fine by me, I've been itching for the chance to take you on."
By some unspoken agreement they both wolfed down the rest of their burgers, sending challenging looks across the table all throughout the meal and then made their way over to the streetball court.
"You need to warm up?" asked Kagami, rolling his shoulders and bending to pull the ball out of his bag.
Aomine snorted a bit at that, "No. Now just shut up and play. I'm not expecting a real match out of you. This is just a test."
"You're too full of yourself," said Kagami through gritted teeth.
Aomine watched him clench and unclench his fists, and tilted his head slightly to get a better look at him. The redhead was direct and his intensity of focus was unnerving, and exciting. His heart was racing with anticipation and his fingers itched and tingled for the feel of a ball and a predatory smirk curled his mouth.
"I'm not looking for something that doesn't exist. I already know you won't beat me, I'm not expecting you to even get very far. Like I said, this is a test. I just want to know what kind of a match you are for Tetsu, and how much you can do to relieve my boredom."
The ball came flying at him and stung Aomine's hands a bit when he caught it, widening the smirk. Kagami looked about ready to kill him but his focus wasn't on something as pointless as punching him in the face. The power forward took a deep breath and focused his attention completely on Aomine. It was a heady feeling, being the object of that focus.
"Kise, Kuroko, and now you," said Kagami with a scoff, glaring into his eyes, "The Generation of Miracles seems to be filled with guys specifically born to piss me off. Come at me then, and I'll crush you!"
"You'll certainly try," snorted Aomine.
He turned his wrist and bent his knees slightly dribbling the ball in an easy steady rhythm as Kagami settled into a position of readiness barely a foot away from him in the middle of the court.
The first feint was a test of Kagami's reaction time and Aomine was pleased to see that at least the red head could keep up with his speed at this level. Kagami moved immediately to put pressure on him and Aomine had to concentrate a bit to keep from losing the ball to carelessness, weaving right and then breaking left and spinning back the other way, into a roll, speeding past Kagami while the redhead was busy trying to figure out where that sudden burst of speed and agility had come from, and took a lazy shot.
"One," he said, retrieving the ball and lobbing it at Kagami, rejoining him at centre court.
Kagami's stance was more overtly aggressive than his own, Aomine evaluated. He tended to favor his right side, hunching slightly over the ball, and his opening feints were fast but textbook. It was almost too easy to read and that pissed Aomine off enough to get right up in Kagami's face about it.
When he stopped thinking and just moved, reacting to Aomine's lightning quick movements, he was better. His instincts were good, even Aomine could admit that. If he kept up like this Kagami could probably hold him off pretty well, maybe even make an even match of it.
Too bad this was just the smallest fraction of Aomine's ability. His smirk took on a wicked edge and he picked up the pace, bumping up a level but keeping to traditional basketball.
"Two," he called triumphantly from across court, as Kagami tried to process his last series of moves and the sudden jump in skill.
Kagami wasn't blown away instantly, and he didn't give up, even as it became painfully clear he was outclassed in almost every way. But that was all that could really be said about him. He was fast, he had talent, raw and unshaped, and he might be honed into a formidable weapon with a little patience and a lot of hard work. But he wasn't a match for Aomine, and Aomine hated himself for the tiniest flicker of disappointment that fluttered through him.
Disappointment meant he'd allowed himself to hope for the existence of something that wasn't there and Aomine had learned the hard way that there was nothing worse than false hope. It just made the inevitable disappointment an even harder pill to swallow.
He slowed and frowned at Kagami's sweating form. He was breathing hard and there were beads of moisture rolling down his face and into his eyes that he swiped at impatiently. His fierce gaze was somewhat tempered. His temper had calmed over the course of their little match and now those direct red-brown eyes looked at him with speculation and caution but not, Aomine was pleased to note, fear and hopelessness.
Tetsu had found perhaps the only guy outside the Generation of Miracles who could look like that after a match that would end with a score of 23-1. Aomine didn't know whether he admired his former shadow his choice, or if he was infuriated by it, so rather than think of Tetsu he chose to focus on Kagami.
"Getting tired?" shot the redhead.
Aomine shot him and annoyed look and rolled past him to sink another basket.
"Twenty-four," he counted off lazily, tucking the ball under him arm and settling it against his hip, "We're done here. I've seen what I needed to see. Kise must really be slacking if he let himself be taken by surprise by the likes of you."
"Arrogant bastard, you're not even really trying, are you?" spat Kagami, leaning his hands against his upper thighs.
"Why would I need to?" countered Aomine, "I told you this was a test. I was thinking that maybe Tetsu's judgment was being clouded, but I can see now this wasn't so much of a choice as a lack of options."
"What are you yapping on about?"
Aomine fixed him with a sharp look.
"You can't draw out his full potential."
Kagami's head jerked up. The redhead was scowling again but Aomine paid that no mind looking beyond the other player, across the court and focusing his attention of the faint shape of the net in the gathering dark.
"He's a shadow. The stronger the light, the darker the shadow. In other words, he becomes stronger or weaker depending on the strength of the player that serves as his light."
He felt it, hovering just out of sight. The hum of pure focus that promised him victory and he drew on it just a little, just to show Kagami what he was truly up against, ignoring the faint twinge of protesting joints as he accelerated to his max speed, barely noticing as Kagami rallied himself to block. Passing Tetsu's new light as though he wasn't even there.
"Twenty-five," he intoned, his voice flat.
He lobbed the ball back over his shoulder to where he knew the redhead was gaping after him in amazement and heard the smack of rubber on flesh as Kagami caught it automatically.
"Your light," he announced, making for the road without looking back, "Is too dim. See you tomorrow."
AN: Next chappie we get to hear what Kagami thinks of this whole mess, and of Aomine ;). Also, I had someone ask me about the M-rating in a review and I thought I should mention that there is a plan for some serious boy on boy action in later chapters, though it won't be for a little while, and have rated the fic accordingly.