When Akashi Seijuurou heard that Tetsuya had quit the basketball club, even before the official retirement of third years was announced, he shrugged.
"He's only anticipating events."
Ryouta rubbed the back of his head, looking uncertain. "Well, I suppose we're all quitting, in a way, but..."
"That wasn't what I meant." Seijuurou looked around the spare classroom where he had called his team to him. Shintarou was sitting neatly at one of the empty desks, hands folded lightly, still careful of his fingers even now that the tournament season was over. Daiki was sprawled along the boxy sill of one of the windows looking out, one hand draped over his knee, open and empty and desperately wanting. Ryouta had perched on the desk whose chair Atsushi had taken, swinging his feet while Atsushi nibbled pineapple pocky and waited silently. They were the most brilliant players he'd been able to find and train; he thought they would do.
"It's time for us to separate."
Shintarou frowned faintly, adjusting his glasses as if that would help him understand Seijuurou more clearly. "What do you mean?"
Seijuurou leaned back against the teacher's desk and spread his hands. "We've won. We are the strongest team in Japan. Where else will we find competition, now, but in each other?"
Daiki's dangling foot, which had been tapping restlessly against the wall, stilled.
"As you choose your high schools," Seijuurou continued, suppressing a smile, "choose separate ones. I want your words that all of you will cease to think of each other as teammates and instead play each other as opponents." Something he had already prepared them for, after all.
They glanced at each other, and he waited patiently for the obvious logic of the thing to register with them. Atsushi was the first to shrug and nod, fishing out another stick. "If you think it would be good."
"I suppose you have a point," Shintarou allowed, slowly. "It would allow for more balanced competition." He was still watching Seijuurou narrowly; of all of them, Shintarou was the one who knew him well enough that he might intuit the point of this exercise. That was all right. It wouldn't keep him from carrying through the exact sequence of moves Seijuurou mapped out for them.
"Might even be interesting," Daiki put in, still looking out the window as if he didn't care, but the hand on his knee was clenched now.
Ryouta was the last, as Seijuurou had known he would be. Ryouta was the only one besides Tetsuya himself who still played by his emotions. "I'd miss the team." He pouted briefly at the room in general, and Shintarou gave him an exasperated look. "But I guess that could be fun too, playing against you all." His play-pout dissolved into a genuine smile, edged and glinting. "Let's see who wins."
Seijuurou nodded, satisfied. "Very well. Then, for the last time, the team is dismissed."
They stood and stretched and clattered out, Ryouta already asking Daiki for a practice match while they still had the chance, Atsushi turning away down this newly named path of separation with cheerful ease, Shintarou lingering for a last long look over his shoulder before sliding the door quietly shut behind him. Seijuurou leaned back on his hands and smiled up at the ceiling through the motes of dust dancing in the air. He knew who would win, of course; it would be him. He was the one who had pushed these players to become what they were, and they had never made a move he hadn't seen coming. The opening was concluded. Now it was time for the middle game to begin. And when the end game was reached, the rightness of all his moves would be revealed for all to see.
It would be a victory worth winning, just as he had planned, for years, that it should be.
When Akashi Seijuurou heard that Tetsuya had quit the basketball club, even before the official retirement of third years was announced, he frowned. Obviously, Tetsuya wanted to make a point of his disapproval, not that Seijuurou had missed it in the first place.
He expected tracking Tetsuya down to take a little while; it wasn't an easy task, even for Seijuurou, when Tetsuya wanted not to be found. In the end, though, a single question to a classmate led him straight to the roof where Tetsuya was leaning against the safety rail all alone. Seijuurou contemplated this move, standing in the doorway. Tetsuya had always been the easiest to handle, of his players, but today he clearly wanted a confrontation. Very well.
"A formal resignation seems a bit overdone, considering we're all retiring in a week."
Tetsuya didn't turn around. "A week is too long."
Seijuurou came away from the door to stand at the rail beside him, watching him. "Do you really think I haven't seen it?"
"You haven't done anything about it." Tetsuya's tone was even, as always, but it was still an accusation. Seijuurou hid a smile; perhaps this pawn would reach gold after all.
"What would you have me do? Try to reduce their strength? Force them to cooperate when their talents make individual play the most natural thing?"
"I don't know!" Tetsuya actually raised his voice, fingers a little white with the force of his grip on the rail. "I just know it's wrong. Something's missing."
Seijuurou sighed. Tetsuya was the one he had the highest hopes of, in some ways, the one whose perception might let him control a game as surely Seijuurou himself did. His tactical awareness was already superb. His strategic sense, on the other hand, still had a ways to go. "Are you going to quit basketball itself?"
"I..." Tetsuya stopped there, unable, even now, to say that he wanted to leave the game, and Seijuurou let his smile show.
"Then I'll have the same promise from you that I'll take from the others, when we retire. Choose a high school none of the rest of the team is going to and give me your word you'll play with all your strength for your new team."
At last Tetsuya turned to look at him, blinking. "...you want to split up the team?"
"How else will they keep playing?"
Tetsuya was quiet for a long moment, and finally turned back to the rail and the bare trees below. "I still don't think this was the right way to do it."
Seijuurou felt a moment's exasperation. Tetsuya still had yet to understand that the only way to prove a strategy or approach right was to win. Seijuurou's methods of developing his players had won steadily, and this new strategy shape would continue to win the ultimate game, the one in which all of his players achieved 'promotion'. This way won; therefore it, and he, were right. Sometimes Seijuurou got tired of having to point that out. Well, perhaps by the end of the game Tetsuya would see it himself. "Will you come?"
"To a school without any of you," Tetsuya said slowly. "To... the tournaments. With a different team."
"All of us in different teams," Seijuurou agreed patiently. "To play against each other, now."
Slowly, Tetsuya's back straightened, and his gaze was level when he nodded. "Yes. I'll do it."
"Good. I'll see you there, then." Seijuurou turned briskly toward the door and the stairs down from the winter chill of the roof. He glanced back, once, before he went in. Tetsuya was standing straight and steady at the rail, one hand closed into a fist. Seijuurou smiled.
He still expected to be the one who would face Daiki, and give him back the life of his game. Ryouta had the potential to match Daiki, but he still let his emotions get in the way of his playing. Tetsuya would have to find suitable pieces of his own to work with before he had a chance, and that wouldn't be easy. But Seijuurou wouldn't discount them. They might do it after all.
They were, after all, his players.