Once Daiki tasted defeat, he felt like a man dying of thirst who had just found an oasis. It wasn't like he wanted--or liked--to lose. After all, someone who hydrates too quickly becomes sick. When his team went to the centerline to bow to the other team, Daiki walked out before he could face his humiliation and despair head on. But afterward, alone, he felt the relief pour into his bones and the fog lift from his mind, and it seemed like just like that, summer came and Daiki was playing ball in the neighborhood again--a simple, boring summer.
But then Akashi called the Generation of Miracles on a "meeting", and Daiki went with Ryouta, who said that Tetsuya was planning to go, too. But then halfway there, Ryouta received a message from Tetsuya; that Kagami kid had invited him out to a camp near the beach.
Daiki complained and whined and finally, after impersonating Ryouta to find out what beach Tetsuya had gone to, he found out that Tetsuya was going to the same beach that the Generation of Miracles meeting was at. It was too good of an opportunity to pass up.
He badgered Ryouta for Tetsuya's number and texted him, simply, "Beach Park @ Saturday 11 with the tiger. Bring food." He wasn't even sure Tetsuya would reply--why would he? And he might not even be at this particular beach.
The weekend came with a blaze, and Tetsuya hadn't replied. Daiki thought he wouldn't show up, but if he did, then . . . well, he wouldn't. Tetsuya replied to his texts, even if it was a simple "OK" or "No" or "Yes." But Daiki still showed up with a basketball under his arm. For a Saturday, the park was empty, and Daiki dribbled the ball and stared at the hoop, eyes narrowed.
"Oi! You! Why would you call us out so early in the morning!"
Daiki looked up and grinned. Kagami and Tetsuya were walking next to each other, comically different in height, and Kagami was carrying what looked like two large boxes. Daiki took a running start toward the basketball hoop and bounced it off the backboard. "A lazy tiger never catches his prey."
Kagami glared. Tetsuya didn't even react; he just stood at the edge of the court.
"I brought food," Kagami said, putting his boxes on the ground. "Where's yours?"
"Oh," Daiki said. "I meant for you to share."
Kagami's face looked like it was going to explode. "You--!!"
Tetsuya put a hand on Kagami's shoulder. Daiki scowled a little and dribbled the ball, eyeing the basket. "We can play ball for the food."
"Hmph. You want to lose again?"
"That was a fl--" Daiki stopped himself. He turned to look at Kagami. "It's not about that this time."
Kagami froze, his back stiff. He rubbed the back of his head. "All right."
One-on-one, Daiki knew that he could beat Kagami. He had gotten better--so much better--that they were evenly matched. But Kagami was too hot-headed, always rushing into things, always on the edge of desperation. Daiki's vision was clear, clearer now that it had ever been. But what Daiki wanted to feel was how much Kagami loved basketball; what he wanted to feel was how much faith Tetsuya had put in Kagami, how much of his heart and soul now belonged to Kagami, and not him.
Daiki had fallen into his rhythm and scored five shots over Kagami when Kagami slapped the ball from his hands, his face twisted in rage. "What kind of ball is that!" He waved his fists over his head. "You're treating me like I'm some first-year! This is real basketball!"
Daiki stared at him, and then he burst out laughing. Kagami stomped around a bit more, but it seemed half-hearted from his initial outburst, and Daiki stumbled his way over to Tetsuya, who was eating a sandwich he had taken from one of Kagami's boxes.
"Tetsu, I see what you like about this guy," Daiki said. "He's wild."
Tetsuya's lips twisted into a smile. "Yeah," he said, and he leaned a little bit against Daiki.
It was Daiki's turn to freeze up. He was under the impression that . . .
Kagami stood in front of Daiki, his face burning red--but not the enraged shades from earlier. Something . . . simpler. "Kur--Tets--" He stared at the ground. "Anyway, there's a meeting with your ridiculous group, isn't there? What's with that?"
"I got bored," Daiki said. "I decided you and Tetsu were more interesting."
Kagami's blush darkened. He reached into a box and retrieved a wrapped sandwich. "Here," he said.
Daiki took a bite. Delicious. "Adequate," he said to Kagami, who looked like he was about to blow another fuse. "Anyway, are you staying at a hotel? A beachside cabin?"
Kagami grunted a little. "We're staying at a hotel."
"The bed is large enough to fit four people," Tetsuya said.
How cruel. Daiki could concede that Tetsuya had changed a little. "Well," he said, getting up, "I better meet up with the rest of the Generation--"
"Those guys," Kagami said, grabbing Daiki's arm. "Ditch ‘em." He cleared his throat and said, more politely, "Come with us."
Daiki stared. "What's your intention here? I'm not a dog who needs a bone."
Kagami tightened his grip. "Come with us," he said, again, and then: ". . . please."
Tetsuya stood up and put his hand on Daiki's other arm. "We need someone to fill up the bed," he said.
Daiki stared at Tetsuya. Yes, he had changed a little. But that helpless look in his eye hadn't. He slumped a little. "Fine," he said. "But only because Taiga here can't carry his own weight."
Kagami's face went red like his hair. He stuttered and stammered, trying to force out something incoherent.
Daiki couldn't help the grin that was spreading across his face. "Are you on fire?" he asked, leaning close.
Kagami leaned back so fast and so suddenly that he fell onto his ass. "Y-you! You bastard!" But when he covered his flushed face, Daiki could see the corners of his lips turn upward just a little.
Even Tetsuya laughed. He reached out and held Daiki's hand and Daiki squeezed back. He felt his own face heat up and Tetsuya smiled at him, a little smile.
He was no longer the unbeatable basketball player. There was no expectation, no pressure anymore. He had friends who loved basketball, who taught him to love basketball again.
"Don't zone out!" Taiga dropped a cardboard box into Daiki's hands. "If you're going on vacation with us, then you have to pull your own weight!"
"I thought vacation meant relaxing," Daiki sighed. "You're just a slavedriver."
"He's always like this," Tetsuya mouthed to him. Daiki could believe it.
"We'll relax," Taiga said. If Daiki didn't know better, he would have thought Taiga had morphed into a red lobster. That was how red Taiga had turned. ". . . later." He mumbled something too softly for Daiki to hear it.
"You're an interesting guy," Daiki said, and he and Tetsuya both laughed until they cried when Taiga dropped the cardboard box he was carrying. He didn't feel so thirsty--or alone--anymore.