When Takao first meets Midorima in high school, it's just weird, weird, weird. Teikou's Miracle Shooter is tall, taller than maybe any human has a right to be, serious-faced, stern and strange. Looking at Midorima in the halls, it's easy to think that this person should be a musician, or an artist, something else just as suited to those jealously kept fingers, meticulously wrapped. Weirdest of all, their brand new ace wears her uniform long and her hair in pigtailed plaits and carries a tape dispenser which she calls her lucky item (Takao looks back on this, sometimes, and sighes for his naivete; the lucky items have only gotten worse), and when they're picked from the first-years for a showcase match against the seniors, she adjusts her glasses and says to him, "Pass me the ball."
"What?" he says, intelligently.
"You're the only other one here who has the potential to make the regulars, even at a school like this," she says. "Get the ball, and pass it to me." The other first years bite back their protests under the watchful eyes of the coach, but Takao can read the gleam in their eyes, they won't do it if they can help it. This is their chance to shine, to make the regular team, and Takao can understand that, at least. No one wants to sit in the shadows forever. But she's unravelling the tape from her fingers and they curl into the unconcious curve of a basketball, eyes fixed on the hoop, and she ran all the warm-ups and drills without shirking or condescending, and Takao wants to shine too, the only way he can, in every way he can.
He gets the ball, and passes it to her.
Sometimes he thinks of it as the start of everything, the long graceful arc of the ball, floating lazily downwards towards victory, and Midorima jerking her head at him, saying "We're on defense," as she strolls by.
Kise swans in a few minutes late for her interview in between jobs and is impossibly, improbably, even prettier in real life: long light hair, curled and styled and highlighted; huge eyes and long lashes; every inch of her height showcased in her fluttery little Teikou skirt and thigh-highs.
"I'm sorry, I'm sorry!" she says, hands with their deco nails clasped in front of her and bowing profusely, "It's just that since Teikou doesn't need us anymore I'm booked so much now and they just won't let me go! Coach, Sempai, I'm so sorry!"
On the tour of their- if he does say so himself, and he does- amazing gym and court, she picks up a basketball in the silence of the few stragglers around to give prospective stars a look at their future teammates, and almost bounces it before she catches herself ruining her nails. She shakes her lovely head ruefully, and says to the coach, "I'd be very pleased to consider Kaijou," meaningless politeness pouring out of her mouth. Her phone is already in her other hand, toys dangling off it so that it looks like her wrist would snap under it's weight.
They nod and stare, because apparently Kise of Teikou is just that intimidating. The rest of the interview passes without incident, but all Kasamatsu can think about is are they really doing this, is it really going to happen? Is this really Teikou's Generation of Miracles, have they all been under a spell for three years of victory and a season of overwhelming invincibility? She's tall, sure, but what else? Is Kaijou really going to bet their hopes on her? She's a girl, Kasamatsu isn't good with girls, any girls, let alone girls like Kise, who do things like apply makeup in class and blink at him like they know everything he doesn't, just girls. Kise wanders back out the gates like a butterfly, and Kaijou folds their hands and prays.
She's a little bit less flashy when school starts and the sighs of a thousand fans follow her around like the wind rustling through trees, and she beelines for the gym, even before the official start of practices, setting off those ripples in her wake.
"I'm the captain," Kasamatsu says, in the absence of anything else to say to a player like her, flicking idly through her phone. If he stares at the hoop just over her shoulder, she's just another uppity junior. "Practices... haven't started yet."
"Oh," she says, and lowers her lashes to look at him. He barely comes to her shoulders, and he can feel her ticking off the boxes: tall, but not tall enough, third-year, last chance to take the school anywhere. Not very good-looking. Won't look her in the eye, though she appreciates that might be hard.
She looks at him, and snaps the phone shut, putting her bag to the side, pulling off her blazer, rolling up her sleeves. "I really shouldn't," she says, pink lips pursed, "But if you'd like to, Sempai, we could play a game? It's been a while for me, though." Kise twinkles a laugh at him, and something like an ice-shard. "I'm wearing shorts, don't worry."
He colours, and snaps, "Fine." Uppity junior, uppity junior.
Kise demolishes him, but she must like what she sees, because she extends a hand to him where he's sprawled on the floor, blown away by her dunk, looking at up her bright head haloed in the lights of the gym. Kise plays like a monster. All the video in the world doesn't do justice to it. Why Kise, Coach had said, stern before the sempai, because Kise was going to be the best.
"It's all right, Sempai," Kise says, smiles. "I just hate losing too."
"You should get along better with the team," says Momoi to her, and Aomine snorts, leans her head on the broad lines of his shoulders and watches his pink head lecturing her about her life again, endlessly. Kagami has turned out to be a disappointment, and Aomine can't imagine that he'll be any better with her shadow on his back in the court. Sigh. Disappointing. It was better before she got this good. She'd thought playing against high school boys would be better, harder, but it's the same old faces and the same old plays, no one to look forward to but her own, and Aomine would quit basketball, but then she'd have nothing left.
Aomine isn't listening to him, but it's been a long time since she's bothered to, and Momoi keeps up the refrain just to make sure that she doesn't fall by the wayside and drop out of her life the way she's almost but not quite dropping out of basketball.
It's never managed to get any funnier that their manager sometimes carts their ace around on his back like a child or like a queen, and that it's an automatic part of his duties to her; but then again, short of dragging Aomine to matches in a sack, it's the only way to get her anywhere she doesn't want to go. Sometimes it's just a snap choice, and she tends to be right, they don't need her for this, but it's the principle of the thing. Someone less cautious and more stupid had once grabbed her by the wrist and tried to drag her to the court for practice: Imayoshi had not bothered with sympathy.
But when she does bother to step onto the court they believe, really believe, that Aomine can do this. She'll take them all the way to the top. It's worth almost anything to them. Momoi can only hope that it will be enough to keep Aomine tied to them in a team of no teamwork, that Touou will be the way towards healing the slashes in Aomine's basketball.
That Kuroko knew what she was doing, just as she always has.
Kagami looks up, and then, hurriedly, up again, and experiences a moment of dizzying vertigo; he's never seen a girl so tall, taller than him, hand reaching for Kuroko like a normal person reaches for a doll. Her hair falls over the new girl's expression, but Kuroko is actually getting irritated and Kagami thinks again and again with that damn team.
Himuro watches tolerantly. Murasakibara talks about her former teammates, but never as her former teammates, all about how Kise-chin is so so pretty but too pushy it's annoying and Midorima is weird but fun to tease and Mine-chin and Kuro-chin are inseparable and everyone is nice about finding her nice snacks and Aka-chin is always to be listened to. It's like pulling teeth to even get her to say something about how Aomine played boys out of boredom and the rest of them fell in love or line with basketball, like magnetism, like water running across rock, and then scattered to their different schools, like moving into formation.
It's only on the court, caught up in the game she hates, that Murasakibara even starts to seem a part of something even bigger than she is, diminished and dissatisfied, but still overwhelming. She takes players apart in the game, and tells them about how she hates them, and sees the truth written in their eyes: here's someone who's been born better at their sport than they will ever be. Why don't they just give up now? Even as a girl, she's just been blessed like this.
She hates them, she says. It's sickening, she says. But when she turns her head in response to Taiga's taunt, Himuro thinks monster, along with everyone else there, and wonders how she can say, really, how she can say it, that she hates basketball after all.
"Okay," says Riko, hand over her thumping heart. "Okay- take off your shirt, then."
Kuroko eyes the line of boys with their bare chests watching them owlishly."Er," she says.
"Just do it," says Hyuuga. "Get it over with."
Kuroko nods, and reaches for the hem of her shirt and lifts it up, up-
"WHAT ARE YOU DOING?" yells Kagami, who reacts the fastest, and Kuroko stops with the band showing, her back thankfully to them and says "But I'm a girl."
"Next time," says Riko, pulling Kuroko's shirt down, "Open with that."