But! Just as Kuroko wrenched his sphere of emotional horrors back into existence (while emitting a gasping cry of animal-like pain just for effect), the gym doors were yet again flung open from the outside, and a voice cried out, “Stop right there, in the name of--!”
The voice stopped to think for a moment.
“--in the name of getting a good night’s sleep! Yes, that’s exactly it! Because some of us work and go to school and participate in club activities all at the same time and need our beauty rest! Thus those evil-doers who would make too much noise at night shall be punished! By me!”
It was Kise.
Everyone, from Aomine to Akashi to the crying Kuroko to even Kyuubei decided, in unison, to ignore him.
And for good reason! One could not help but want to ignore Kise, who was, despite the hour, outfitted in an immaculate little number from the Ralph Lauren spring collection. His pants were freshly pressed, pinstriped and slate-grey. His shirt was starched and blindingly white. He had a tie on. His shoes were shoes and not house slippers. He strode into the gym, fuming loudly about how everyone was just way too loud, the loud-mouths, in his loudly beautiful clothes.
Meanwhile, Kuroko was holding the ball out to the others, poised on the edge of the effervescent end, and Aomine and Akashi were summoning all sorts of magic sparkly shit in a threatening and highly manly way.
“Hey! Isn’t anyone listening to me?”
“Tetsu, just toss it already,” Aomine noted in a viciously bored voice--that is, his normal voice. “Can you see this magic sparkly shit? We’re ready for jump ball.”
“Wait,” said another voice.
The doors banged open again again, incidentally hitting Kise in the butt, and in strode Midorima, glasses slightly askew. He was wearing pyjamas, neatly tucked in, and house slippers. In his bandaged left hand he carried his lucky item, a lovely green plastic wand topped with white angel wings that he’d bought off a little girl on the street.
“Can a man not be allowed to sleep his allotted and proper eight hours,” he said, but then the door exploded open again again again, this time striking both Kise and Midorima in the buttocks, and of course it was Murasakibara, looking considerably grouchier, meaner, and more sleep-deprived than either Kise or Midorima. Also taller and more likely to casually murder someone.
“Noisy,” he said, eyes half-lidded.
And thus the whole dysfunctional gang was here.
Kyuubei gave a silent, satisfied little mew.
- 0 − 0 -
“Akashi,” said Midorima, “what is going on here?”
Akashi’s face, smoothly impassive and also just plain smooth, betrayed none of his thoughts. “Exactly what it seems.”
“It looks like you are playing one-on-one in skirts with Aomine.” Then Midorima startled and looked at Kuroko. “You’re not wearing a skirt.”
“He’s not wearing much of anything,” said Kise
“We’re doing more than playing basketball,” said Akashi, ignoring Kise. “We are attempting to end this farce.”
“Farce?” Midorima’s eyebrows furrowed.
“A type of dramatic production,” Murasakibara supplied.
“I know that. What I don’t understand is Akashi’s metaphor.”
“What’s a metaphor?” said Aomine and Kise at the same time.
“The farce is the idea that we are a team,” Akashi cut in, before the stupider elements in the room could take over. “Now that Nationals are behind us, we no longer need pretend we are allies. I had thought to wait until high school to settle things, but perhaps,” and he sighed, a strange little hiss of breath, “perhaps it is better to simply end it here.”
“Yeah.” Aomine stretched his arms lazily. “I don’t want to wait for high school. We’ll have crappy teammates in the way and they’ll be whining about working together and shit. Let’s play now, right here.”
“No,” said Midorima. “You should not do this. Not in this place.”
Kuroko looked up from his contemplation of his black despair ball.
“Hah?” said Aomine. “Why the hell not?” He swung around to face Midorima in a swirl of sparkles. “More to the point, who are you to tell me what to do?”
Midorima sniffed; he looked over Aomine’s shoulder, at Akashi. “You set a rule: you told us that we are not to play each other while we are still at Teikou. I only thought I should say something to fulfill my duties as vice-captain, for whatever that’s worth.”
Akashi stared back. “And is your conscience assuaged?”
Midorima’s expression went carefully blank. “…I suppose it is.”
Kuroko looked down again.
Yet Midorima hesitated. He said, “…Akashi, what will you do afterward, if you win against Aomine? Will you play against each of us in turn, and try to defeat us all?”
Murasakibara snorted. “I already played Aka-chin once, and look how well that turned out. You sure you wanna do it, Mido-chin? Though we’ve all gotten a lot stronger since then. I could win now maybe.”
“I known my own strength,” Midorima said, chin turned up. “But regardless of who wins…I cannot counsel our playing against each other now. It would be but a moment’s excitement, at the cost of greater apathy afterward.”
“Yeah, it would make things more boring.” Mursakibara yawned. “I think it’s a bad idea too.”
“Also, Oha Asa said it was an unlucky day to play destined matches against one’s former friends. Aomine, why are you laughing?”
Aomine had covered his face with one hand and his shoulders were shaking. His laugh was not a nice one.
“Does the universe not want me to play this match? Am I just going to keep…going on like this forever? Why do you all have to be…”
Kise, for his part, gave Aomine a look of consternation; then he pursed his lips, pointed his hips, and forced a laugh. “By the way, Aominecchi, I love your new fashion choices! But don’t you think the skirt is kind of late eighties? That fabric!”
Aomine uncovered his face and narrowed his eyes, nakedly dangerous. “If you guys won’t let princess Akashi play, I’ll play you instead, Kise. For whatever that’s worth.”
“Oh, is that how it is?” Kise’s smile turned nasty. “We haven’t played in a long time, Aominecchi. Maybe I’m better than you now.”
“That’ll be the day.”
Akashi’s voice cut in, blade-like. “No, I will play. Tetsuya, the ball.”
Kuroko opened his mouth. Then he closed it, and opened it, and closed it.
“You imitation of a fish is admirable,” Akashi said, “but like I said, this farce is over. Give us the ball, Tetsuya. Do not fear. We are simply going to play a little game.”
Kuroko made his eyes large and fishlike too. He said nothing to Akashi, made no move forward or back. Merely stared into the void of Akashi’s gaze, the inescapable future written there…
“Just a one-on-one, you say?” Murasakibara said suddenly. His voice came out uncommonly clear from beneath those long, unkempt bangs. “To me it looks like Aka-chin and Mine-chin want to kill each other. Actually kill each other.”
Kise took in a quick breath.
Midorima tried to speak. “Kuroko, don’t--”
Akashi was smiling. “Tetsuya, do.”
And Kuroko, eyes wide, as if waking from a nightmare, seemed to disappear, a wisp of darkness dissolving in the light--but Akashi leaped forward so fast he might as well have disappeared too, and metal flashed, golden light flashed, Kuroko’s darkness was shredded like paper, all his shadow puppetry revealed for what it was--a mere farce, a pretending to power, because a farce is a type of dramatic production as Murasakibara explained earlier and so is shadow puppetry, so the metaphor worked, sort of. Anyway, it was bad. Really bad for Kuroko, who was rolling around and clutching his lacerated abdomen in agony, black mist dissipating around him, but then--
“Copy Basketball Power!”
“Fate Basketball Power!”
“Food Basketball Power…I guess.”
There was light…or even more of it, at any rate.
“I guess I can wait,” said Akashi, and settled in to watch the light show/peep show with some small measure of interest.
- 0 − 0 -
Several minutes later and Aomine was bored. Not that Aomine being bored was unusual, but…
“I’m more bored than usual,” he said in a dangerous, bored voice. “Seriously, how long is this going to take?”
Swirly twirly sparkly warkly whooshy fwooshy weeeeeeshy--
“It takes longer when several people transform at once,” Akashi said. He was getting bored too, despite all the pretty colours. “We shall have to kill them later for wasting our time. For now, let us commence our one-on-one.”
Aomine stood up with a languid tiger’s grace. His grin was full of teeth, but his eyes were as dark as his soul gem. “Yeah. Let’s go.”
Akashi’s gaze turned distant. “I have seen the future. I will destroy you all sooner or later. It might as well be sooner.”
He looked pointedly at Kuroko and, more to the point, pointed his pointy scissors at Kuroko, and Kuroko got the point.
“…” said Kuroko, for that was all he could say.