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It's Your Play Now

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Hey guys!

So this story starts at the end of Kuroko and Hinata's final year at Teiko. Here, Hinata had moved to Tokyo with his family for a couple years, and spent those at Teiko with Kuroko and the rest of the Generation of Miracles. :) Those years aren't directly part of this story, so I won't be writing them, and we're going to get straight to the good stuff!

(You'll get to learn about Hinata and Kuroko's time together the farther in we go, along with the others in the story. The specifics aren't that pertinent to the development, so there wont be a whole lot of in depth study of their pasts. This story does have a full plot though, and it doesn't just follow one of the stories or the other. This is a true cross over, with a whole lot of convoluted stuff getting thrown down by both sides. And it's already well on its way to complete, with side stories and everything, so put this up on your alerts, cause we're going places people!)

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This is cross posted on Fanfiction.net, so no worries there- we'll be adding up the chapters here as we double check for editing. 


"I can't do this anymore."

The words barely ghosted past his lips- irrationally, he wanted someone to be able to hear them, to reassure him that this wasn't really happening. The cynical part of him quipped that someone hearing him was pretty much as probable as someone seeing him- that is, not much.

It hadn't been long since the disastrous match between Teiko and Meiko, where his team had beat down his best friend and drove him out of basketball forever. Maybe a month? It felt like an eternity.

His team didn't need him anymore, that much was certain from the way only half came to practice and the rest didn't put in much effort.

Even if they had needed him, he didn't know if he could've brought himself to play on the same court as them. He got a lump in his throat and his heart threatened to pound out of his chest every time he thought about it. The thought of playing on the same team that had completely destroyed Ogiwara's love for basketball was . . . unbearable.

-They're your team you can't abandon them, can't abandon basketball, don't quit don't quit why why why-

Time seemed to speed by and drag at the same time. Every time he looked at the clock it seemed it hadn't moved a millimeter but weeks had flown by without him noticing.

It was just . . . nothing seemed to change. Nobody else seemed to have been affected at all by what had happened. Why weren't they affected? He was still reeling, still trying to come to terms with the way the world had suddenly tilted on its head, and they were all able to go on with their days as if nothing had changed.

But then.

Then Hinata didn't come to practice.

He should look into it. It made no sense. Even if the rest of the Miracles didn't try, even if half of them skipped on a regular basis, Hinata had never given anything less than 100% to basketball. Never gave less than 100% to anything.

He did nothing. Hinata was just like the rest of them, it turned out.

If he ended up using misdirection in the hallways more than usual, who was going to know? Who would even notice that he had gone missing? Certainly not the Miracles.


He was so blind. How could he be so blind? He was normally so good at picking up on people's emotions, so good at reading them and making sure he didn't overstep his boundaries.

So how? How had he made the mistake of lumping Hinata in with the rest of the Miracles? He had known. Known from the beginning Hinata wasn't like the rest. Wasn't anything like them, not even close. Hinata wasn't all honed power and genius skills. He was hard work, was rash, and brave, and reckless, and pure reflex, but he wasn't a Miracle anything like the Miracles he was sunshine while they were darkness and rain and terror.

It had taken him weeks to notice that Hinata didn't have the bounce in his step like he normally did. It was obvious, if he had just looked. The usually peppy orange haired boy might as well have had lead feet with how heavy his steps were.

It only took a glance after that to see the dark bags under his eyes -he had never been able to sleep well before matches but this was different- the new tremor that was in his hands, allowing his normally quick reflexes to fail him again and again, the way he never spoke more than a word to anyone at one time.

Instantly, Kuroko felt his heart drop in his chest.

Of course. Hinata was just as much a part of the team as Kuroko had been -extra not used forgotten- Unlike the rest, though, Hinata hadn't let his talent go to his head. He had only wanted to play for the team. Had only ever wanted to belong.

Like Kuroko.

He felt sick. He had pulled away from Hinata just as much as the rest, when Hinata looked like he needed the company even more than he did. -Not again, never again. First Ogiwara, and now Hinata as well, why did he keep doing this-

The day came when he went to hand in his resignation for basketball. It was too quiet, with no Hinata or Murasakibara or Aomine, and it had hurt just to hear the sound of a basketball bouncing, of it swooshing through the hoop.

Hinata walked up to him the same sheet of paper in hand, eyes understanding and haunted, shoulders hunched as if trying to swallow himself whole. Kuroko had cracked a little caring smile, one that seemed to lift the guilt and terror and replace it with childlike wonder.

Then, with a hand gently tugging Hinata's paper out of his grip, he added it to his and laid them both on the desk.


They didn't see much of each other in the next couple weeks, but it wasn't because he was avoiding Hinata this time. If anything, he began going out of his way to make sure the oranget ate and kept up on his homework -milkshakes left on his desk and little sticky note reminders.- He told himself he wasn't avoiding anything, but Hinata still reminded him a bit too much of what he'd lost. Soon. He'd be able to talk to him again soon. He just-needed a bit more time.

Graduation found Hinata's head of orange bobbing through the crowd towards him. Kuroko was surprised to see him walking so determinately, the fire that had been missing from his own eyes crackling tentatively in Hinata's.

"I'm going to Karasuno." Hinata said. "I played volleyball back in... back before middle school, and I loved it back then... I think... I think I could love it again." Kuroko nodded.

It went unspoken that he couldn't love basketball again. Kuroko had anticipated that much, and while a part of him ached that Hinata, who had loved basketball so much, had become turned off by it as well, -stupid Miracles, they've moved on from enemies to teammates. When will it end?-

Besides, who was he to judge, when he couldn't even bear to be around the court?

In a tentative voice -he had promised not to leave Hinata behind, the shadows that had been plaguing the oranget were gone now, or at least buried under determination, so strong why couldn't he be strong- he said, "I could help you practice."

A spark of hope lit in Hinata's eyes that had Kuroko's heart aching but also felt- curiously - like something was sliding into place. Like shifting gears. Like change.

He dared to hope. Maybe. Maybe, like Hinata, he could find the will to love a sport again. He may never forgive basketball for taking away so much -Ogiwara, his and Aomine's bond, Hinata's happiness- but he could definitely help Hinata move forward.


Summer break seemed to go by in a flash. Hinata wanted to spend every spare moment practicing, whether it be with the neighborhood volleyball ladies or alone with Kuroko.

Kuroko didn't know how anyone managed to resist Hinata's puppy dog eyes. Too often, Kuroko let himself be tugged along hour after hour as Hinata ran, spiked, and trained.

Most days he went home too exhausted to even think- but, if he were being completely honest with himself, he didn't really mind that. If training all day was a way to keep the dark thoughts from swirling endlessly in his brain, than that's what he would do.

Besides, those hours did not go to waste. Not only did his stamina slowly increase, but he got a front row seat to volleyball chasing the shadows from Hinata's eyes.

Besides, they didn't spend all their time on practicing. Training ended up balanced with runs to Maji Burger, countless vanilla milkshakes, and often meandering conversations that lasted for hours.

Kuroko learned a lot about Hinata that summer, about his family, about his likes and dislikes, and most of all about Hinata's idol the Little Giant. Kuroko secretly admired the volleyball player, if not for getting Hinata out of his funk, then for his determination to win in a sport of height. Not that he would ever tell Hinata that- the orangette's obsession was big enough.

The sun was just dipping below the horizon, and Hinata and Kuroko were finishing up practice- they always finished with receives nowadays. Hinata's needed the extra practice.

"Ne, Hinata," Kuroko started, thinking through his words. He had thought of it ages ago, when he had first sent applications to the different schools. But the idea had only been a seedling then. If he was honest, it had grown on him every hour he had spent in Hinata's company. "What would you say if . . ." He paused, uncertain. Hinata's head tilted in question.

It wasn't a question of being welcome. He knew Hinata. There was a part of him, though, that wondered if - if he could pull the Generation of Miracles down from their thrones, one by one, if he just found the right team. To make them acknowledge their mistakes, to make them acknowledge his basketball.

But he had made a promise.

Steeling himself, he finished quickly, "How would you feel if I came to Karasuno with you?"

At Hinata's blank stare he hurried onwards. "I know it was your dream to go to the same school as the Little Giant but . . . but I started liking volleyball," Hours and hours of practice over the summer, the same pleasure of points scored, of exertion, of success, but completely different, because in volleyball, you couldn't score alone.

Even the Ace needed help from his teammates, even the ones who scored the points couldn't have done it without others playing their parts. "And I- I don't want to be left alone again."

Hinata was blinking rapidly. Doubt made his gut churn, his feet shift underneath him. He had been so sure Hinata wouldn't mind, but maybe he had read him wrong? Did he really only want someone to practice with him this summer before he could go off to a real team? -Not welcome not wanted not needed-

But then Hinata was bounding forward, the lead weights that had once weighed down his feet completely gone for the first time since this whole thing started. In a motion to fast to even see Hinata was wrapped around him and spinning around and around.

"Woohoo! I was hoping you would come, but I wasn't sure! You never said what school you were going to so I assumed you would be going to knock some heads- cuz you always looked mad anytime you saw a basketball- and you could totally do it too, cuz you're awesome." Hinata stopped spinning, leaving him to find his balance as he started to grin.

"But now you're coming to the same school as me and are you gonna join the Volleyball Club with me!? Cuz that would be awesome you could totally be on the team and like set to me and stuff and then when the other team isn't looking we could set for you and you could spike like Wham! And they'd never know what hit 'em and- this is gonna be awesome, just wait and see!"

Kuroko merely watched in wonder as his chest loosened. He wasn't wrong- he was wanted. Hinata wanted him to come. Had hoped for it, in fact. The thought brought a feeling he couldn't describe, and in that moment, tinged with relief and hope and genuine happiness he hadn't felt since that match, he smiled.

It wasn't his usual one, he could tell that right away. It wasn't playing at the edge of his lips, it wasn't a suppressed smirk or grin. It cracked his face open the way Hinata's grin always had, and for a moment he just allowed himself the bliss.

After all, he didn't need misdirection around Hinata anymore -had promised not to use it. Not leaving him alone again.- He could let his emotions show around his friend. And Hinata was his friend, he had found. Hours and hours of practice and just hanging out had cemented that fact.

In fact. . . Looking at Hinata, he found the boy staring at him with something like wonder, his mouth hanging open. He tilted his head, brow furrowing.

"What?" He asked. What had he said?

A finger came to rest in front of his face. "You- You smiled!"

Kuroko blinked, bewildered and then bemused. He tried hard to not let his smirk show. As it was, he raised an eyebrow. "And?"

The shock was gone from Hinata's face, and was instantly replaced with ecstatic jumping and whooping. "Kuroko smiled! And he's coming to Karasuno with me! And he's joining volleyball!"

At that point he stopped jumping six feet in the air and looked at him. "You- You are joining volleyball with me, right? I said that before, but I don't know if you ever actually said..." He looked sheepish at this fact.

Kuroko simply nodded though. "Ah, please take care of me," He said, bowing. Hinata, in typical fashion, completely waved this off and wrapped an arm around Kuroko's neck and dragged him in the direction of Maji Burger.

"Don't do that, we're friends! Friends don't have to do that-- But let's go! We gotta celebrate!"

Hinata chattered the entire way, bouncing intermittently, seemingly unable to contain the endless energy stored in his body.

Kuroko smiled softly as they walked along, knowing he had made the right choice. Giving up basketball was more than worth Hinata's happiness, and he had even gained something else in return. Sure, volleyball wasn't basketball, but it was something he could dedicate himself to, and who knew- maybe their new team would be better than their old one.

At least, that was the hope.


Aaaand that's a wrap!

I should be posting weekly, so you can expect the next chapter soon!

Ja ne!

~Mikey And  Raph

Chapter Text

 

Thanks to all those who left kudos! It means a lot to us both :) enjoy the next chapter all leave comments, casue we love to talk!


 

Miyagi, as it turned out, was almost five hours away on train. For Kuroko, who'd grown up in the strict confines of Tokyo, the distance seemed like an eternity. Still, he couldn't find the strength to be annoyed by the travel time. Instead, there was a strange sense of relief as the distance between himself and the Miracles grew by the kilometer.

It was lucky that he didn't believe in hoarding, because everything he owned had had to fit either into a suitcase or- or be left behind. Renting out a new place was a bit more concerning, even if a part of him had tried to reason that his parents wouldn't even notice the cost. To him, the expense could be what tipped the scales to make his parents notice. The longer he could avoid actually asking them...

Or, at least, that had been the plan- Hinata, it seemed, had had other ideas.

"You really don't have to do this, Hinata-kun." Kuroko said, tripping slightly as his suitcase whacked his shins. "I could just as easily rent a hotel room until I find an apartment."

"Nope nope nope!" The oranget replied, skipping along and dragging him in his wake. "You're taking the spare room and that's it. And you know you can't call me that here, it'll get confusing-- just call me Shoyo!"

"But-" He tried again, only to be interrupted once more. -Honestly, Hinata's lack of manners more than make up for however polite I am.-

"Look," Hinata said, turning and planting his hands on his hips. "Mom's really looking forward to having you over. She's missed me bringing friends over, and she's heard a lot about you since we moved here, and you refused to visit ealier."

Kuroko shifted a little bit. It wasn't like he had been trying to be rude, but Hinata had been traveling back and forth from Tokyo to Miyagi countless times to help his family move in. It hadn't made sense to Kuroko to impose while they were still trying to transition.

"Besides," Hinata continued, nodding in a satisfied way. "Why pay for a hotel room while you have a perfectly good, rent-free house right here!?"

Kuroko sighed. Arguing with Hinata was like arguing with a brick wall, sometimes. This wasn't something worth fighting over, either. The less money he spent, the better he'd feel about moving without his parents knowing.

"Fine, but I really do need to get an apartment closer to school." Kuroko warned. "Visiting a friend might be fine for a while, but it's not feasible long term."

Hinata waved a hand. "Yeah, yeah, whatever! As long as you promise to visit! Mom said you shouldn't be eating milkshakes for breakfast, lunch, and dinner!"

Kuroko blinked at the matter-of-fact way Hinata had spoken, as if it were true just because of who had said it. The only person Kuroko had heard spoken of that way before was Akashi.

"What about you? Does she know you ate popsicles every day?" Kuroko asked.

Hinata blushed, looking away and striding forward. "O-of course she does, idiot!" The lie was perfectly evident in his stutter. "Besides, it's not like that's the only thing I eat!"

"You really shouldn't be calling me an idiot, Hinata-kun," Kuroko said, hiding his amusement under the guise of a reprimand. "I wasn't the one who almost failed his entrance exams."

Hinata spluttered and shook a fist at him, beginning a rant Kuroko had heard many times before, and so only listened to with half an ear, amusement curling at the edges of his eyes.

-Honestly. Even getting Aomine riled up was never this fun.- His amusement died as quickly as milk curdling, turning sour in his stomach. The relief he felt at being far away from the Miracles was tainted by the notion that he might, in fact, just be running away.

Hinata, though, was more perceptive than people gave him credit for. The oranget flung an arm over Kuroko's shoulders, jolting him out of his darkening thoughts. "You're mean," He scoffed. "Now come on! The faster we get home the faster we get to eat Mom's cooking!"

Kuroko blinked at the unfamiliar word Hinata had spoken with such ease.

Home.

He eyed the person at his side, studying the skip in his step and never ending chatter. Did Hinata realize what he had said? That he had, intentionally or not, added Kuroko into the we that made up Family?

Maybe, Kuroko thought, stopping as Hinata ran forward to meet the orange bundle running at him and spinning her in the air as an older woman stayed in the door frame, laughing at the scene. Maybe I can have a home here.


The next couple of weeks were spent both finding and moving into a new apartment. Hinata's Mom -please, call me Mayumi- had been shocked at the amount of stuff that he had brought, and hadn't even hesitated before throwing herself into the task of helping furnish his "new home".

Of course, that didn't stop her from inviting him over for regular meals or dragging him when he inevitably refused. That was how he had gotten here tonight, in fact, her using a "pre-school party" as an excuse to fix a veritable feast.

Finally, though, they had gotten to the point of this whole meeting -if there even was a purpose for the party besides food and playing games.-

"Turn for us, would you, Kuroko-san?" Muyumi-san said from her chair, Natsu quickly taking up the chant.

"Yeah Ghost-nii-san! Turn, turn, turn!" She wiggled off her Mother's lap to demonstrate, whirling around in dizzying circles and giggling, and completely ignoring Mayumi's gentle -English in the house Natsu-chan-

Natsu had been cutely skeptical of him at first, poking and prodding him -'To see if he was real!' She had wailed when Hinata had snapped at her.- But she had seemingly gotten used to him after him showing up nearly every night for dinner.

Obediently, -He could see Natsu had learned how to do puppy dog eyes from her big brother, because she wielded them with deadly precision- Kuroko turned in a circle so they could see how his uniform fit.

"Not bad," Mayumi-san acknowledged, pulling it taught in a couple places. "Won't need any tailoring, at least. That's good." She grinned down at her energetic son, who was busy posing for Natsu to make her giggle.

"Yours, on the other hand," She said, grabbing Hinata by his collar. "Will need quite a bit of work. Didn't we order a small for you as well?"

Hinata wiggled in her grip uncomfortably, trying and failing to find a position that didn't have his collar choking him. "Yeah, but it doesn't fit like Tsu-kun's does! I don't know why!"

Mayumi-san finally had mercy on him, but didn't let him go far, instead grabbing her sewing box from off the table where it had rested. "I'll never understand genetics... even I was never this small... Well, I'm just going to have to tailor it to fit. The jacket will only need to be taken in a bit, but those pants..." She trailed off, reaching down to roll up the bottom of Hinata's pants so they no longer dragged on the ground.

Natsu crawled into Kuroko's lap instantly as he sat down, quickly settling and tugging on his new suit. "Ghost-niisan, can you tell me a bedtime story?"

"Now, Natsu-chan," Mayumi scolded gently, voice slightly muffled by pins stuck in between her lips. "You can go to bed without one tonight, can't you?"

Natsu's eyes filled with tears as she wrinkled his uniform with her tiny fists. "B-but, but then the monsters will get me!"

Mayumi sighed, sliding another pin into place, Hinata shifting this way and that to see what she was doing. "Daddy should be home soon, why don't you wait for him?" She asked, but her tone suggested she already knew the answer to that question.

Natsu's bottom lip began to tremble, and Mayumi sighed again. She pulled the remaining pins out of her mouth, moving to get to her feet, but Kuroko was already standing, Natsu cradled on his hip.

"I'll read to her, Mayumi-san. Consider it a thank you for helping me this past week." Kuroko said, reaching for a tissue so Natsu didn't wipe her face on his brand new uniform.

Mayumi-san paused and then chuckled, settling on the floor again. "No thanks, Kuroko-kun." She said, aiming a bright smile at him. "I've missed having a house full of boys. It's so much less empty with you here."

He couldn't move, couldn't form words, couldn't even respond as her smile dimmed and then spread into something more gentle but no less vibrant.

He couldn't help a twitch as Natsu pulled on his hair demandingly. "Bedtime story, nii-san, bedtime story!"

That jolted him out of his reverie. He turned away from the older woman, trying to stamp down an unfamiliar feeling clogging his throat. "And what story would that be?"

She perked up, starting a list that had Hinata spluttering behind him and Mayumi sighing, but Kuroko didn't even comment before nodding his assent. He only vaguely remembered a time when he was read bedtime stories- he couldn't remember who, only that it wasn't his mother or father.

There was the sound of a door opening and a male voice calling out, both mother and son replying enthusiastically. Smiling gently, he settled down.

Family definitely wasn't something Kuroko was familiar with- not with his parents always out on business trips- but he was learning more the longer he spent in the Hinata family's company.

No, he decided, laying Natsu on his lap and cracking open a well-worn book. I don't mind moving here too much at all.


It wasn't until he was standing in front of the school's gates that Kuroko realized he was nervous. He knew he shouldn't be- this wasn't Teiko, after all, and he was miles away from anyone he knew, with the exception of Hinata. Still, his fingers trembled slightly on his bag.

I'm fine, he tried to convince himself. There's no Miracles here- no danger. You want to be here.

He sighed, finally forcing himself through the doors and into the hallways. The familiar crush of people around him that he wove his way through served to orient himself, somewhat. He wasn't completely out of place here, wasn't the center of attention, wasn't whispered about like he feared. It was just people trying to get to class on time, slightly high off the new school year. Regular. Normal. No danger.

He breathed.

Kuroko and Hinata weren't in the same class.

He stared at the board sullenly, mindlessly moving his foot so it didn't get stepped on, and sighed. He should've expected it, really. Hinata had struggled all through middle school keep up... but his grades had always tended more towards "abysmal" when compared to Kuroko's "average", so the split made sense. Still, he would've liked the safety of having someone he already knew in his class.

Instead, the only interaction the two had was in the morning as Hinata had rushed past his door and into his assigned room seconds before the tardy bell rang.

The rest of the morning proceeded much as he'd predicted, from having to force himself to be noticed so as not to get sat on as well as standing in front of the teacher so he didn't get marked absent.

The teacher called on him throughout the class, glaring as if blaming him for her inability to see him, and looking thoroughly disappointed when he could answer all her questions.

So it was with relief that he embraced the bell signalling lunch- so much that he forgot himself for a moment. Forgot that he was invisible. Forgot that he needed to check the walkways before going into them so he didn't get stepped on.

His head stung. If this is what forgetting does, I'm never doing it again, Kuroko thought with a moan. "Wha- what did I trip on?" The person who'd bowled him over asked quizzically.

"Me," Kuroko deadpanned, not bothering to move as the male jumped off him as if electrocuted.

"Ah!" Half the class joined in his exclamation. "When did you get there?!"

"I've been here the whole time. You rammed into me when you came in." He said, not able to hide a disgruntled tone of his voice. Was it really too much to ask for someone to be able to see him?

"A-ah. Sorry about that." The guy said, stumbling into an awkward bow.

Kuroko breathed slowly, straightening and brushing off his pants. There was no use getting upset over this- it happened everywhere he went. Not around Hinata, a voice said snidely, and he pushed it out of his mind. "Don't worry about it," he sighed, falling into a bow himself. "I'm Kuroko Tetsuya."

"Kageyama Tobio," The new guy said, finishing the introductions with little fanfare. At the supposed end of the show, the class dispersed, whispering amongst themselves and shooting him suspicious glances.

Well, he thought, pulling out his lunch. At least no one can say my life is boring.


And that's a wrap!

Again, thanks to all those who favorited, followed, or reviewed this story!

Please, please review! We love hearing from you, it only takes a couple seconds, and it means the world to us!

Ja Ne!

~Mikey and Raph

Chapter Text

“Kuuuuurokooooo!!!!” The familiar call had Kuroko sighing, though a small smile still slipped through his lips. Of course the orangette would try and find him for lunch. Still, he was making a racket and the other students were muttering to each other, so he walked over to stick his head out the door right as his friend raced by.

“Hinata,” he called calmly, mildly entertained to see him skid to a halt and whip around. That amusement died when Hinata threw himself at Kuroko and whipped himself around using Kuroko’s neck as a turning point in a way that was quickly becoming the norm-- though he thoroughly wished it hadn’t, because his neck was not made to hold a person up, regardless of how small Hinata was.

“You gonna come in and eat or what?” Kuroko finally said, and Hinata sprung off and beamed at him, gesturing for him to lead the way.

They finally settled down to eat outside (Hinata loudly declaring it was too good a day to waste away inside), and Hinata instantly went on a rundown of everything that had happened in the couple hours since they had seen each other.

“And then she was like ‘Since you’re obviously smart enough to not pay attention, you should be smart enough to tell me the answer to number four’ and there was this awesome guy next to me that gave me the answer but Sensei was totally onto me and man, I thought studying for the entrance exams were hard!”

Kuroko shook his head. “You should try to listen more in class, Hinata. Otherwise you'll never catch up.”

Hinata burried his face in his hands, before attacking his meat and rice again. “I know but there's so many words, and it's not like I can follow along on the board very well... At least I can play volleyball!”

Kuroko had to restrain himself from rolling his eyes. “If your grades drop too badly, Hinata, you run the risk of getting kicked off the team.”

Hinata promptly choked on his chopsticks. “W-wait! I thought that was just at Teiko! They do that here too?!”

Kuroko tilted his head. “I can’t be sure of their policies of course, but you know if you keep your grades up it’ll be easier to get into a college. Who knows, if you pull them up enough you could join me in the more advanced class next year.” It would take a miracle, but maybe that would be enough to motivate Hinata into studying more.

Sure enough, Hinata’s eyes burned with determination. “Yosh! I’m gonna study so hard they’ll have to put me in your class! Just wait! Hey, you’re still gonna help me study, right? You always know how to explain things so clearly...”

Kuroko nodded absently, at the same time as he noticed the guy that had run into him earlier-- Kageyama Tobio? Was watching them curiously from the vending machine around the corner. He blinked a couple times, before turning back to Hinata.

“So, made any friends yet?”


As soon as the bell rang, Kuroko made his way to the door, knowing that Hinata wouldn’t wait a moment before rushing off to the gym. At least if he were there he could rein in the orangette a bit.

As expected, Hinata came rushing through the halls, expertly dodging through the crowd and spotting -always strange, how Hinata could find him so easily now- Kuroko. It was nice to see Hinata hadn’t lost his touch being out of practice with basketball for so long.

The thought hurt something fierce, and Kuroko shoved it out of his mind, focusing only on the here and now. And here and now, Hinata was running at top speed, dragging an unresponsive Kuroko with him.

“C’mon, c’mon! The sooner we get changed the sooner we get to the gym the sooner we can practice the sooner we can play!”

Kuroko relaxed a touch. Hinata’s logic never failed to make him want to smile.

He couldn’t argue even if he wanted to, so he allowed himself to be tugged along, easily matching the long strides Hinata made. It wouldn’t have been possible before this summer, but spending so much time with his friend made sure they were perfectly in sync ducking through the hallways.

They changed in record time and Hinata blew past all the people holding out club forms, tugging him along for the ride.

But his feet became glued to the floor when he heard a call come from behind him.

“Basketball! Join the basketball club!”

Kuroko shifted, glancing behind him to where there were a couple upperclassman handing out forms, evidently trying to recruit first years for the team.

“Kuroko?” Hinata’s voice asked, hand clenching around his wrist once.

Kuroko looked back to him, unseeing.

Don’t give up on Basketball yet! You can make it, I know you can! Aomine’s voice reverberated in his head, making him intake a sharp breath.

-Don’t you want everyone to be able to play together again?-

The images came to his mind before he could stop them.

Kuroko munching on a blue popsicle, Hinata gesturing excitedly, telling a story, and accidentally hitting Aomine with his wet popsicle, and a fist fight ensuing. Akashi broke them up with a single word, and had to stop Aomine from murdering Midorima when he inevitably made a remark about his Light’s IQ.

Playing on the court again, but with passing, communication, smiles making the Miracle’s light’s all the brighter. Winning, not because they were from Teiko, but because they worked together, enjoying the game they all played.

Dimly he heard the upperclassman call out again, felt Hinata’s hand tighten around his again, and shook his head sharply, bile rising in his throat. He could picture it so clearly. He wanted that scene so badly it hurt.

His eyes flickered up to Hinata’s, and he stopped. Hinata was glancing over his shoulder, where the voices were coming from, face slowly paling to a sickly green.

His mind cleared, as if someone had dumped a bucket of cold water over his head.

Kuroko had already made this choice. Had made it before he’d even left Teiko-- so why? Why did it keep nagging at him? Why was he guiltily happy when Hinata used his famous agility? Why did he want to check for basketball membership? Why did he keep wondering about which schools the others went to?

It didn’t matter what he wanted. He’d chosen to come to Karasuno, to stay with Hinata, to give up basketball, and he wasn’t going to back out on that now.

Hinata shook his shoulder, drawing his eyes back to his. “Tsu-kun? You okay? You not feeling well?”

Kuroko couldn’t speak, for a moment.

He drew in a shaky breath, taking in Hinata’s worried visage, the hand on his arm, the head tilt that brought him close enough to hear even a whisper. Hinata, who was still glancing over Kuroko’s shoulders at the other kids, who probably was having his own flashbacks to middle school, and was focusing on making sure Kuroko was alright.

“I’m fine,” He said quietly, making his spine straighten millimeter by millimeter.

He had chosen to come here, to Karasuno. He’d chosen to give volleyball a chance, and he had loved it. Still loved it. Second guessing that choice was pointless.

He had made a promise, and nothing was going to stop him from keeping it.

So he shoved the guilt down and followed Hinata away from the basketball club.


Shoyo couldn’t stop grinning as he pulled Kuroko yard after yard towards the gym.

They were finally here. Finally get to meet their new team.

It had surprised him to see the bluenette come up to him one day, eyes dark, asking if he wanted any help practicing volleyball.

He hadn’t known Kuroko very well back then, despite all his efforts to befriend the other before... everything. But months and months of training together had completely cemented the fact that Shoyo wanted Kuroko to come to Karasuno with him. And now they were here!

They had a new start. A new chance. Shoyo would play in the Ace’s spot, Tsu-kun behind him, setting or receiving he wasn’t sure yet. His friend was great at both. Leagues better than Shoyo, at the very least. Plus Kuroko couldn’t seem to manage the height on his jump the way Shoyo could, so all the better for Shoyo to take the spiker’s spot!

The thought only made Shoyo charge more energetically through the school hand in hand with Kuroko, unable to stop the beaming grin that spread across his face.

But then Kuroko stopped moving. Shoyo had very nearly lost his balance before turning to see what had caused the sudden halt.

It only took one look at Kuroko’s pale face to realize how fast he must have been going, and he wanted to kick himself. He knew very well how Kuroko used to collapse when pushed too hard. He knew, but had been so excited he’d forgotten himself.

He came closer, studying his friend intently, tightening his grip on Kuroko’s wrist. “Kuroko?” He’s not flushed, not more than a little pale, and we haven’t run far enough for him to be exhausted yet . . .

Other than that, though, he couldn’t see anything-- Shoyo stopped, eyes locked on Kuroko’s face.

The blankness was back.

Kuroko had never been very expressive to begin with, but Shoyo had seen him open up over the past couple months. He’d been proud of each and every smile that he’d been able to wrangle out of him, but before that, Kuroko had been absolutely blank every second of the day.

The same blankness that was back now.

He hated it. What he hated more was he had no idea what had caused it .

“You want to join the basketball club? Grab a form today!” The call came from the hallway they’d just come from. He’d been so focused on getting to the club that he hadn’t been taking in any of his surroundings.

Now, though-- just hearing the word brought back memories of swishing the ball in the net, running suicides until he dropped from exhaustion, the sound of a buzzer finally marking the end of the match

Suddenly Hinata knew for sure why Kuroko had those shadows in his eyes.

So, pushing down the bile threatening to spew from his throat, he put a hand on Kuroko’s shoulder, making sure his voice was low -not just courtesy, if he talked any louder he thought he might actually puke- .

“Tsu-kun? You okay? You not feeling well?” He said, watching and trying desperately to catch any of the normal quicksilver emotions racing through those impassive blue eyes.

“I’m fine,” Kuroko whispered, straightening from the curled position he’d instinctively taken.
There was nothing, not even a squint-- and it hurt to see. Oh, how he wished Kuroko would just trust him enough to understand whatever the bluenet was going through . . . but, he thought reluctantly, they had only been friends for a couple months.

He’d get Kuroko to talk more about it . . . later.

In the meantime, Tsu-kun needs a distraction! Shoyo thought with forced cheer. Thankfully, that’s what Shoyo tended to excel at. Pasting on his biggest smile, he bounced in place. “Alright, then let’s go! The gym awaits!!!”

Kuroko moved willingly this time, a bit quicker than before.

He’d take it.

The rest of the dash across the school passed in a literal blur, and Shoyo never letting go, even when he starting bounding through the air in massive leaps. He landed finally on the ledge of the gym, whooping. He heard Kuroko coming up behind him, breathing a little hard after the run.

“I win!” Shoyo shouted, beaming when Kuroko twitched a familiar grin at his antics.

“Actually,” Kuroko panted, leaning over his knees. “I think . . . that guy got won the ‘First to the Gym’ prize.”

“Ehhhh?” Shoyo groaned, looking over at the kid who was staring at them, ball in hand. His eyes furrowed. He seems . . . kinda familiar . . .

“It’s you,” The person said, eyes widening.

“Me?” Shoyo asked, cocking his head. Do I know this guy from somewhere?

“You-- you went to Teiko,” The guy stuttered, making Shoyo stop moving, studying the black haired first year looking between him and where Kuroko was taking off his outdoor shoes. His stomach dropped as the kid continued: “You beat my middle school.”

Chapter Text

What is he doing here? Kageyama thought, mind whirring through all the reasons why someone like Hinata Shoyo would choose to come to Karasuno, of all places.

Besides that, he thought furiously, hands clenching against the volleyball, did he get the wrong gym or something? He’s supposed to be playing basketball.

Kageyama watched as he glancing behind around in confusion, then raised a hand and pointed at himself. “Wait, me?”

The pure confusion in his tone make Kageyama pause. He didn’t know anyone else who had orange hair, was short, and kept the company of someone invisible, but maybe . . . “You--you are Hinata Shoyo, correct?”

“Yeah,” the newly confirmed Hinata replied, “But I don’t know who you’re supposed to be,” he finished bluntly. He winced nearly immediately, and Kageyama’s gaze flittered to the side, trying to see what had caused it.

There was nothing there.

Still, he was waiting for an answer, so Kageyama bowed, trying his best to make a good first impression. Is it a first impression if we’ve met before and he doesn’t remember it?

“I’m Kageyama Tobio,” He said, introducing himself. “We met briefly last year.”

“We did?” He asked, sounding rather shocked before propping a hand on his chin, evidently thinking hard. “You weren’t part of the basketball team, were you? I would’ve remembered playing against you.”

“No, I played volleyball.” Kageyama said. Hinata said nothing, shifting a little bit.

He really doesn’t remember? He thought, slightly incredulous. Someone who’d had such a big impact on his middle school life?

Hinata merely shrugged, whispering something with the invisible person next to him.

Kageyama, meanwhile, was just trying to figure out how exactly Hinata didn’t remember meeting him. After all, it wasn’t something Kageyama was likely to ever forget.

“Seriously, who does he think he is?”

“I know, how are we supposed to be able to spike those reckless tosses he sends?”

“Hey!” Kageyama growled, whipping around. The two stiffened, turning away and avoiding his glare. When all they did was continue muttering as they walked away, he couldn’t help the tightening of his shoulders as if shielding himself from their words.

After all, it didn’t matter that they were hosting a small tournament, or that other schools participating would hear their comments. They didn’t care about who heard them complaining--when even the coaches didn’t comment, though, he knew he was on his own.

Eventually, he took refuge just outside the gym doors just to get a respite. He wasn't hiding, he told himself. But even he wasn’t sure if it was the truth anymore.

Unfortunately this was just about the time when another sports team walked past. He was determined to stay out of their way, to not give them any reason to belittle him, but then something knocked into his shoulder, and he snapped.  

“Oi,” His glare instantly turned to the person closest to him, which just turned out to be a “Shrimp,” He blurted aloud. The orange haired kid whipped around, leveling him with a sharp stare.

“You talkin' to me?” The shorty demanded.

“Oh no, here we go,” The mutter came from what Kageyama assumed was one of his teammates.

“Sorry, but,” Kageyama said, trying to backtrack, but realizing as the shrimp strode forward that yes, he really was tiny. “How are you supposed to play when you’re so short?”

Kageyama would swear to the moment he died that Hinata looked like he was an animal in that moment. All dark persona and eyes that would still shine even in pitch black.

He’d learn to never poke fun at the things that truly mattered to Hinata, because, despite how much they fought on a daily basis, Hinata was really scary when he got mad.

“Height doesn’t matter!” The kid yelled, pointing a finger into his face. His blue haired teammate scoffed a little, but-- to Kageyama’s surprise and irritation, didn’t disagree.

“If you can’t pull your weight, you’re nothing but a hindrance,” Kageyama stated. If this kid’s teammate’s weren’t going to show him the way the sports world worked, then it fell to him.

They stared each other down, the intensity only building until it was nearly suffocating. They might’ve sat there forever if not for the call from the gym. “Look out!”

A ball came flying out, bouncing off the floor and high into the air.

Before Kageyama could even think to move out of the way, though, a blur of orange jumped up and caught it. His mouth gaped. The kid had jumped nearly six feet in the air to grab that, with an agility most of his team couldn’t match.

“Wha--” He stuttered, watching as the shrimp started twirling the ball on his finger, staring in fascination at it.

“Hey, send it back!” Came the call. Shrimp paused, rolling the ball across his arms and shoulders without even taking his attention of the person trotting towards them. Then, with a quick grin and flick of his shoulders, it was in the air again, only a moment passing before he was jumping and sending it smashing down to the floor, ricocheting up and over Kindaichi’s head.

“Oi, Chibi-chan, stop showing off to this guy and get to the locker room,” The blue teammate drawled. “You know Akashi’ll be mad if you make us late to our game.”

“Ah, shoot!”

As if his teammate had hit a switch, the shrimp’s intense demeanor instantly vanished, transforming him into a slightly nervous middle schooler.

A slightly nervous middle schooler that was currently running down the hallway away from Kageyama.

“H-Hey!” Kageyama yelled, trailing after him. The shrimp paused uncertainly, half-turning to give Kageyama a bewildered stare. “You didn’t tell me your name,” He said, eyes glancing down at the jacket that he wore. Teiko.

A shiver made the hair on the back of his neck stand on end. Oikawa-senpai had told him a little bit about Teiko. Apparently, they had a motto for 100 wins, 100 victories. Basically, they weren’t allowed to lose.

So, he thought, eyebrows furrowing as he came to a halt in front of the kid. How does he win when he’s so short? Even if he can jump . . . His teammates’ faces entered his mind. Even if his teammates jumped, they still couldn’t spike the tosses he gave. What made this kid any different from them?

“Ah, I’m Hinata Shoyo!” The bewildered look was gone, replaced by a bright grin. “I play small forward for Teiko! Ah, that is, when Akashi puts me in,” There was a small pout at that, but genuine irritation in his eyes.

Hinata wanted to be able to play. Kageyama felt the sentiment to his core. He’d been taken out of games before, just because he couldn’t sync up with his teammates.

“What-- what makes you different?” He demanded. “How are you able to keep up with them? How do you get them to listen to you?”

Hinata cocked his head like a bird. “Listen to me?” Then, he burst out laughing. Kageyama was lost for words. “Man, I wish I could get them to listen to me. Aomine makes my life miserable most of the time, and man, Kise can be a royal pain in the butt.”

“So-- how do you get along with them? How do you play, even when they’re...” Kageyama floundered. It had been obvious from the moment he’d seen them-- they were a true team. They joked, bantered, but none of it was meant viciously-- not like his team did.

Hinata’s eyes sharpened, but this time he didn’t feel like prey in an eagle’s claws. This time, he felt like he was being examined. It wasn’t necessarily any more comfortable.

“The Miracles... they’re flawed, sure. But they each have their own gifts, ya know? And we’re all a little strange. If nobody could look past that, we’d all be lonely! And I don’t want anyone to be lonely, so I’m gonna make sure that we all stick together! Cuz we’re a team!”

Kageyama couldn’t speak. His mind was whirring-- spinning, trying to figure out what Hinata was saying. Did he mean-- did he mean that teammates were supposed to stick by you, no matter what you did? Then why did his not do that? Were they not real teammates?

“Hinata, Akashi says he’ll add ten laps to your warm up if you’re not ready in two minutes,” A deadpan voice came from down the hallway. Kageyama jolted, as did Hinata, but then the oranget was cursing and running down the hallway.

“Dang it, I’m late!”

Kageyama didn’t realize he had reached an arm out to try and catch him til all he had was a hand full of air.

“Ano,” the deadpan voice said, and Kageyama flinched, stepping backwards and whipping his head around to try and find where it came from. “I’m right here,” It came again, and a head of blue hair filled his vision. “I just wanted to say . . . If your team doesn’t accept you because you’re different, that’s not your fault. Don’t give up just because you haven’t found your place yet.”

And then the blue was gone, before he’d ever gotten a good look.

But now. Now it was plain to see-- both Hinata and the blue ghost were here. Except for whatever reason, they didn’t remember him.

While he’d been reminiscing, they’d started warming up, jackets and shoes tucked away neatly in a corner. He watched silently as Hinata jogged around the gym, chatting excitedly with the empty space next to him.

He contemplated continuing his serving practice, but he didn’t remember what number he left off on, and he wanted to talk to them anyways.

He fell into step with them as they looped back around, consciously choosing the side that Hinata wasn’t beaming at. He didn’t want to run over the ghost again.

“-And I figured that we’d at least get to play on our first day, right? So I’m just wondering what positions we all get! Do you figure they’d rotate us to see what we’re good at, or do we get to pick?”

“They might evaluate us first, Hinata,” The quiet monotone replied. “Find out what our strengths are.”

Hinata waved a hand, not even winded by talking and jogging at the same time. “That'll be easy! After--” He cut himself off, eyes darkening and going silent. Surprisingly, the ghost didn’t speak either, a tenseness blanketing itself over the conversation.

He glanced between Hinata and the empty space he kept getting flashes of blue from, confused at the sudden change. What had Hinata said that would cause that kind of reaction?

Kageyama took a calculated breath, trying to break himself out of the suffocating atmosphere. “Ano,” He started, drawing both people’s attention. “Do-- do you really not remember meeting me at all?”

Hinata blinked at him in shock, and then, stopping, burst into laughter. Kageyama slowed to an uncertain halt, unsure of what to do with someone who was doubled over in hysterical giggles.

“S-sorry,” He said, hand trying and failing to cover his cheek breaking grin. “I’m not laughing at you, promise-- well, maybe a little bit, but--” He dissolved into laughter again, keeling over on his side when he began wheezing for breath.

“That’s a bit rude, Hinata,” The ghost said, appearing by Kageyama’s side, staring with displeasure down at the oranget. “It was an honest question.”

Kuroko (He really needed to start using the ghost’s name) turned to him, something Kageyama thought might be a smile quirking his lips. “To answer, Kageyama-san, you would be the volleyball player we met last year at the Kirisaki Daichi tournament, correct?”

“I thought you didn’t remember,” Kageyama said, trying not to come off as accusatory. Kuroko blinked.

“I didn’t, at first. But there were only so many volleyball players I’ve encountered, and you were the only one from last year.” Kuroko said, turning to look at Hinata picking himself up off the floor. “I can’t speak for Hinata, though.”

“Ehhh,” Hinata said thoughtfully, staring at him. They waited, but then he shrugged and turned away. “Nope, nothing.”

Kageyama snapped, vein throbbing. “Don’t keep us in suspense just to end it like that!”

Him chasing Hinata around the gym was not how he'd wanted to introduce himself to the group of upperclassmen that came through the doors next.

It almost made Kageyama want to sigh. When he’d wished for a real team, this wasn’t exactly what he’d had in mind.


Kuroko was tired.

It wasn’t a physical tiredness, not like when he’d been running for too long and needed to sit down. It was more like... a weight on his shoulders, a numbness in his brain. Like he wanted to take a nap and just... escape for a while.

He pushed it away, focusing on the people walking through the door.

He bowed automatically, Kageyama turning and doing the same, shoving Hinata's head down with him. It wasn’t long before it dissolved into a mini scuffle playing out in the background.

Kuroko sighed. There wasn’t really a point in trying to break them up. Hinata had accepted Kageyama, and that meant fights and challenges were going to be the norm. He’d have to get used to it.

Unfortunately for Hinata, the upperclassman didn’t seem to understand the futility of the situation, because he instantly yelled at them to stop fighting. But, judging by the way they both froze mid move, Kuroko suspected he wouldn’t have to intervene too often to get them to behave.

“So you two are the new recruits? I have to admit,” He said, walking forward to look at the duo, who quickly extricated themselves to stand at attention. “You’re a bit shorter than I’d imagined you to be.”

“Eh?” Hinata snapped, eye twitching with irritation. “You wanna say that again?”

“Maa, maa,” The silver haired one said, walking forward and raising his hands to show they meant no harm. The door slid open once more to admit two more. “Let’s not get off on the wrong foot. This is Daichi, he’s our captain. I’m Sugawara, and that’s Tanaka.”

Hinata bowed again, eyes still calculating. “Hinata Shoyo, this guy’s Kageyama.” He jerked a thumb beside him, and the first year jumped as if unused to being introduced by someone else.

“Ah, right, you said here you came from Teiko. You and a--” He checked the papers again, “Kuroko Tetsuya? Did you two play volleyball there?”

Hinata shook his head, eyes darkening. Despite all of Sugawara’s efforts, it seemed, the captain was determined to make this first meeting as hard as possible. It formed a pit in Kuroko’s stomach. He’d hoped that they’d get a good team at Karasuno. Would that hope really be dashed on the first day?

“No,” Hinata said, looking like the word was physically painful. “Me and Kuroko played basketball for Teiko. We’re switching over this year.”

Hinata’s tone brooked no argument, made it very clear that it was not a subject open for discussion. It seemed like the newcomers lacked a certain thing called tact, though, because the tall blond one butted his way into the conversation like a pro, cocky grin and all.

“Ho, really? The shorty is from Teiko’s basketball team? Bet you flunked out of the fourth string so you had to find another sport.” The cutting drawl made Hinata’s hands curl, and Kuroko’s nerves hummed as the blond’s friend snickered.

“Nice one, Tsukki.”

“And you are?” Daichi said, tone holding just a hint of warning. Kuroko glanced over at the captain, who was now facing so he could see everyone in the room. He couldn’t tell who the Captain would side with, but he moved so he was on Hinata’s right, between him and the newcomers.

“Ah, this is Tsukishima, and I’m Yamaguchi-- we’re looking for the volleyball team.”

“This is the volleyball team!” Tanaka boomed, puffing out his chest and jabbing a thumb into it proudly. Tsukishima only let out a disinterested, questioning hum.

“Oh, really? With how short this guy is I thought we’d stumbled into the wrong gym.” Tsukishima said, unconvincing grin on his face, and Kuroko felt his irritation rise.

“Oi,” Kageyama snapped, striding forward a couple steps, but the blond only cut him off again, grabbing the stray volleyball off the floor and propping it on his head.

“Ah, but then again, we do have the King of the Court here, so I guess we’re two for two on losers.”

The words made Kageyama’s eyes widen, and Kuroko could only watch as he seemed to cave in on himself, looking so much like how he had in middle school that Kuroko wanted to hit something.

Who was this kid, a Miracle? Where did he get off bringing that darkness into people’s eyes?

He stepped forward, eyes narrowing in anger, and for the first time, forced himself to be seen.

“Excuse me,” The words were ice cold. “I’d appreciate if you didn’t talk about my friends like that.”

He nearly felt the surprise behind him, and knew Kageyama would be wondering how he counted as a friend after only two encounters, but Kuroko knew Hinata wouldn’t be letting him go, and had already accepted him into the group.

He kept his eyes forward, though, staring straight at the blond, ignoring the upperclassmen freaking out next to him and the blond’s friend squealing.

Tsukishima -he would remember the blond’s name, if only to know who he might need to track down later.- shifted backwards a tad, scrutinizing him.

“Who are you?” Tsukishima said, voice low, and so different from the patronizing tone he’d used earlier.

“Kuroko Tetsuya,” He replied, in the same tone he’d used for foreign dignitaries and guests his parents had brought to so many parties. “Nice to meet you.”


Tsukishima prided himself on his cool demeanor. It was always satisfying to see the depression on Aniki’s face when he failed to react to teasing or tickling or whatever else he tried to “crack his younger brother’s cold exterior!” with.

But even Tsukishima leaned back when faced with people appearing out of thin air and using a mask to rival his, using that icy cold tone to make him feel utterly small. It was unnatural.

“Kuroko-- so, you’re the other one from Teiko?” The Captain asked, taking a half step towards them. Those pale blue eyes shifted thank goodness away from him to answer the question.

“I am. And we were not from the third string,” He said, glancing back at Tsukishima sharply, making him stiffen, “Nor did we drop out because we couldn’t play. Quite the opposite, in fact.”

Tsukishima narrowed his eyes, fingers twitching at the riddle in front of him. This Kuroko, whoever he was, was skilled in word games. He made the point of contradicting Tsukishima in the number of strings, the insinuation behind his remark, and proving his superiority without giving away just how good they’d been.

He noticed, though, that Kuroko didn’t deny they’d dropped out. “So you quit because you played too well? That seems a bit backwards,” He drawled, cataloguing every shift of expression.

He almost regretted it. Something dark and haunted and desperate seemed to swallow him whole. Just looking at it made Tsukishima claustrophobic-- He looked to the ghost’s orange haired friend only to see similar emotions there, but with more fearpanicdesperationhurtfearpainpainPAIN.

“Yeah, well, the Miracles are just about as backwards as you get,” The oranget mumbled, toeing the floor.

Tsukishima’s eyes widened, and Yamaguchi voiced both of their surprise. “Wait wait wait, the miracles? You mean the Generation of Miracles? Aren't they like, the prodigies of Teiko?”

Kuroko turned away, and while Tsukishima was glad he didn’t have to see the boiling pot of emotions he hid away under that mask, he also felt a flare of anger.

He’d heard rumors of the Generation of Miracles, almost more than the King of the Court, and most of it not good. Most people he talked to who’d played them spoke of how the Miracles trashed everyone on the court-- in every aspect.

Looking at Kuroko and Hinata, it was easy to see that the Miracles hadn’t just crushed everyone on the other side of the court. They’d crushed their own clubmates as well.

Tsukishima felt a single twitch of his finger. Yamaguchi glanced over to him, and he knew his best friend had caught the motion and understood its meaning.

The upperclassmen were trying to restore order to the gym, trying to make sense of everything that was going on, but Tsukishima didn’t care about any of that. He’d pushed too far, and dug up something he’d rather have stayed buried.

That darkness, he’d never seen anything like it. It was worse than Yamaguchi’s stuttering nervousness left over from being bullied. He’d hated even that-- it grated on his nerves, the knowledge that some people got a kick out of hurting others.

But this, this was something else entirely.

“Tsukki?” Yamaguchi’s worried voice was what prodded him forward, scrutinizing the two in front of him who were watching him warily, oh so warily, but they weren’t beaten, not broken, not yet--

“You played basketball in Teiko and you think you can just switch over and everything will be fine?” He said, overriding whatever nonsense the Captain was spouting.

“Huh?” Hinata said, blinking at him in pure confusion. Well, that was better than before.

“Just because you went to an elite school doesn’t mean you know how to play volleyball,” Tsukishima continued, walking forward until he was looking down at the two. “And switching in with no knowledge of the sport is only going to slow us down.”

“Oi, Tsukishima,” Daichi said, trying to stop him. Tsukishima continued to ignore him, watching a fire spark in Hinata’s eyes, watched the shift of their shoulders from slumped to something more defiant.

“You should just give up now,” Tsukishima finished, smirk twisting his lips.

“No way,” Hinata said instantly, fists clenching. He cocked an eyebrow and the oranget snapped his head up, eyes flaming. “We don’t get to play volleyball-- something we worked and worked and worked at just because you said so?”

Tsukishima tried not to let his pride at a successful manipulation show as he rose back to his full height, Hinata stepping forward and puffing out his chest. “You don’t get it, do you? Yeah, sure, we’re short. That never stopped me before. Why am I gonna let it stop me now?"

“Hoo, so confident,” Tsukishima snarked. “Think you can take me on, shrimpy-chan ?”

A chill ran down his spine as a new glint entered the oranget’s eye. “I’m going to make you regret calling me that,” He said quietly. A flash of blue over Hinata’s shoulder told him that he’d have a bit more competition than he’d bargained for.

Tsukishima couldn’t stop his smirk.

Maybe this club wasn’t going to be as boring as he thought.

Chapter Text

 

Sorry for the long wait! Be sure to read the notes at the bottom for good news! 


 

Daichi wasn’t pleased with them.

 

Kuroko could understand why-- they had kind of absconded with practice to have their throwdown with Tsukishima, but he couldn’t honestly say that he regretted it.

 

His eyes narrowed at the blond across the court. No, he didn’t regret his actions at all. Even if now they had to play a three vs three that very weekend. It didn’t matter. Kuroko and Hinata had been playing together for over a month now, and it shouldn’t be too hard to fit Kageyama in with them.

 

Or, at least, that had been the thought.

 

“Honestly, how pathetic are you?!” Kageyama’s voice boomed across the court once more. “That ball came straight from the front!”

 

“Don’t yell at me!” Hinata retorted, jumping back to his feet to stand nose to nose with the first year. “I managed to get under it, didn’t I?”

 

Kageyama’s hands twitched like wanted to strangle Hinata, and Kuroko tried not to sigh.

 

“That doesn’t matter if you can’t get the ball up to the setter, you idiot!”

 

“How long are they going to go at this?” Daichi muttered next to him, pinching the bridge of his nose. Kuroko silently agreed. Even Hinata and Aomine didn’t get into this many arguments.

 

He ignored the subtle tightening of pain in his chest to glance over at the Captain. “I’m not sure. Hinata’s not the type to go down quietly.”

 

“Gack!” Daichi flinched, head whipping over to him, and Kuroko turned his head back to the now battling duo. “When did you get here?”

 

Kuroko had to give him props for not screaming at him-- but one look at the Captain’s face showed Daichi was white, like he’d seen a ghost. His lips thinned.

 

“I’ve been here the whole time,” He said, words passing through his lips like a mantra. - How often had he said these words in his life? Surely other people didn’t have a sentence drilled into them since childhood. Didn’t quote it every other conversation in hopes that someday he could meet someone he didn’t have to say it to.-

 

“A-ah,” Daichi said, returning to the conversation with only a slight hesitation. “This isn’t quite what I pictured when I came to practice today.”

 

I doubt this is what anyone pictured, Kuroko thought bitterly, taking in the way the second years were clumped around the edges of the gym, studiously avoiding the first years who had taken over the court. Out loud, he merely said, “I apologize for the inconvenience.”

 

Daichi waved a hand instantly, small grin taking over his face. “Ah, it’s fine. We normally have a match the first week anyways, just to see what the first years are made of.” He winced as another ball came flying over the net to smack Hinata right in the face. Kageyama’s voice began yelling again, and the argument continued. “Although this year’s is just a bit more tense than I was expecting.”

 

Kuroko nodded, inwardly thinking hard. “Captain-san?” Daichi turned to him, eyes questioning and perhaps a bit surprised. He tried to make his face as innocent as possible - harder than it looked, smoothing out the tightening of the corner of his eyes as the blond glanced over to them yet again.- “Would you mind helping me with my receives?”

 

Hinata’s voice bellowed a complaint across the court, which Kuroko ignored, instead trying to decipher the expression on Daichi’s face.

 

The Captain’s shell-shocked expression smoothed out and he chuckled. “Of course. I daresay you three could use as much help as you can get.”

 

Unfortunately, Kuroko thought, stepping out onto the court, that’s probably true.

 

He couldn’t help shooting Tsukishima one last look, catching the blond’s eyes. But I’m not going to lose.

 

Hinata bounded up to him and dove behind him, using Kuroko as a shield against Kageyama’s wrath.

 

We’re not going to lose.

 


 

 

They were heading home for the day - finally, Kuroko’s legs were on fire, and he couldn’t wait to get home and just stop moving. He felt for Hinata, who had to bike all the way home- when Tsukishima and Yamaguchi blocked their way out of the doors.

 

Hinata instantly bristled, Kuroko’s eyes sharpening with renewed focus.

 

“Maa, I thought after that challenge today you guys would be better than that,” Tsukishima drawled, half smirk twisting his lips, “but you really do suck.”

 

“Hey!” Kageyama growled, stepping forward as if to fight him. Kuroko planted himself firmly in front of the first year. Not a chance.

 

“That wasn’t very nice, Tsukishima-san,” Kuroko said idly. Yamaguchi flinched at the sound of his voice, eyes wide as they saw him there, but if Tsukishima was surprised by his presence, he didn’t show it. Instead he continued, eyes crinkling in an innocent smile.

 

“I mean, look at you,” Tsukishima said, pointing at each of them in turn. “We have a wannabe Ace, a literal ghost, and then of course the King of the Court. Ah,” He said in fake surprise as Kageyama bristled. “I forgot that you don’t like being called that, right, King-sama?”

 

“King?” Hinata said, turning to stare at Kageyama in fascination and a little suspicion. “What did you do to earn a nickname like that?”

 

Kageyama stayed silent, glaring daggers at Tsukishima, who continued in that hair raising congenial tone, Yamaguchi snickering in the background. “I’m surprised you don’t know. After all, I would think even basketball players would’ve heard the tales of how our King--”

 

“Shut up,” Kageyama whispered, and shivers broke out on Kuroko’s spine, and he moved back a step so he could see everyone. He glared up at Tsukishima from under his bangs, voice raising just enough for everyone to hear. “Shut up. If you don’t have anything meaningful to say, get lost. We need to get home.”

 

“Ho?” Tsukishima said, recovering from his surprise and leaning down to their level. “Are you sure you don’t want to tell your new friends that in middle school you ruled your court with an iron hand? How your teammates left you behind?”

 

Kageyama’s tension drained out of him, and Kuroko was left to watch as Tsukishima once again brought out the middle school boy standing alone in the hallway. Hinata looked ready to deck Tsukishima, but Kuroko grabbed his wrist.

 

“Middle school doesn’t matter,” Kuroko stated bluntly. Tsukishima looked at him, blinking. “So he had a bad team that didn’t listen. That doesn’t mean that you can bully him.”

 

Tsukishima reeled back as if Kuroko had punched him. Yamaguchi wasn’t snickering anymore. Kuroko wasn’t finished, though. They’d brought it up, they could stand there and listen . He wasn’t going to stand for another Haizaki.

 

“Getting left behind by your team-- that’s the worst thing that can happen to you,” Kuroko said, noting Hinata’s twitch but steamrolling onwards. “And I’m not going to let it happen here too.”

 

And with that, he grabbed Kageyama’s wrist as well and dragged both of them past the shellshocked duo and out the doors.

 

Get your emotions under control, he told himself, stride long, trying to get as far away from the doors as possible. He’s just trying to get under your skin.

 

Well he’s succeeding, a snide voice retorted. Have you forgotten what happened the last time you let your mask slip?

 

The hair on his arms stood up on end, and he forced himself to just stop thinking stop it this isn’t like that time, it’s not

 

“Hey, Tsu-kun...” Hinata’s hesitant voice brought him back, feet gluing themselves to the ground. A steadying breath before he turned his head to look at the people he’d still been dragging along by their wrists.

 

He let go instantly, biting his lip as he watched Kageyama rub his wrist protectively. He’d used to be so much more reserved-- where had all of his restraint gone? Kageyama might fit well into their group, but that was no excuse for his forward behavior.

 

“I’m sorry,” He apologized, and Hinata blinked. Kageyama’s eyebrows furrowed in confusion.

 

“For what?” Kageyama blurted.

 

“We’re just worried because you seemed really out of it,” Hinata said earnestly.

 

Kuroko turned his eyes away, fiddling with the strap of his bag. -Not like he was avoiding the honest care and concern the two were projecting onto him. Of course not-

 

He’d been so out of it Kageyama, who he’d known for only a couple hours, had been able to see his emotions. He shoved everything down, stuffing it away to deal with later. Always later.

 

“Why...” Kageyama’s hesitant voice brought his gaze up. After dragging him around, the first year deserved his attention. “Why would you stand up for me? I mean-- we just met,” His arms were flailing, trying to illustrate what he was trying to say.

 

Kuroko’s words failed him-- how to explain? How was he supposed to say that he’d done it on a whim? Would it hurt him to know that Kuroko hadn’t really been thinking all that clearly when he’d said all that?

 

Hinata spoke up, turning his shoulders towards the first year. “Actually, we met a year ago, according to you. So it makes sense that we’d stand up for you, yeah? A year is long enough to be friends, right?”

 

He sounded so unsure, like he didn’t know if that was the right thing to say-- but Kageyama was looking at them with that flabbergasted expression, and Kuroko was nodding, and Hinata’s shoulders relaxed. He smiled, propping his hands on the back of his head. “Besides! Watching Kuroko take down Tsukishima is something I could watch all day.”

 

“Hinata,” Kuroko sighed, which only made him grin harder. Kageyama was still looking confused. The expression was uncomfortably familiar. -why does he care, what do I say, how do I act?- Kuroko’d made the same expression after accepting... Aomine... as a friend.

 

It was that that pushed him out of his self-imposed silence. “It doesn’t matter what happened in middle school, Kageyama-san. What matters is that we’re on the same team now, and a team is supposed to look out for each other.”

 

Kageyama blinked, a shiny quality to his eyes that told him Kuroko had hit the mark, and turned away to give him a bit of privacy. Hinata’s beaming grin had turned a little smaller, a little sadder, and he felt his heart pang. He hadn’t meant to bring up bad memories-- he’d just wanted to help Kageyama understand-- but there was nothing he could do about it now.

 

“Sorry, we’re supposed to be getting home. Hinata, don’t forget to do your math homework.”

 

Hinata instantly started complaining, walking with him towards the bike racks, and Kageyama slowly came up behind them, hesitantly taking a place on Hinata’s other side.

 

It’s a start, Kuroko thought, wondering if the sun was just a bit warmer today than usual. Or maybe it was Hinata’s natural warmth that made him feel all fuzzy inside. Whatever it was, he liked it.

 


 

 

It was harder to keep a hold on that warmth than Kuroko thought. He ended up spending more and more time around Hinata that week-- edging closer every time they passed by their soon to be opponents.

 

No words were exchanged, but chilly glances and silent understanding only ramped up Kuroko’s anticipation of the match. Chance encounters led to increased drive during afternoon practice, and though he paid for it with sore muscles and exhaustion he couldn’t bring himself to back off.

 

Hinata didn’t have to cajole him into extra practice now-- he went along willingly, spending more time at the school than he did at his apartment. He didn’t really mind that either. Going back to the apartment wasn’t like going Home to the Hinatas’. There weren’t pleasant voices and dinner waiting there for him. It was just somewhere to sleep, somewhere to wile away the time until school and practice the next day.

 

The exception was when Hinata had come over halfway through the week, but that was the exception, and not the norm.

 

Too soon, though, Saturday arrived.

 

Kuroko was just toeing his shoes off at the gym doors when a duo of yells announced Hinata and Kageyama’s arrival. Deftly moving through the doors and to the side, he called a hello to those already warming up as Kageyama and Hinata collapsed in the entryway, debating over who’d gotten there first.

 

“I totally won! You saw, right, Kuroko?” Hinata insisted, looking up from the floor. He shook his head in exasperation. Of course he brought me into this.

 

“I didn’t see,” He replied. Kageyama and Hinata both face vaulted.

 

“Kurokoooooo,” Hinata whined.

 

“Good morning, Captain,” Kuroko greeted, nodding at Daichi. The captain smiled, shaking his head in amusement, but went along with Kuroko’s teasing.

 

“How are you feeling?” He asked. “You ready for today?”

 

Kuroko felt the panic start to rise, but shoved it down, glancing over at where the first year duo was warming up, reminding himself why he was doing this.

 

“We’re ready,” Kuroko said, turning his head to Hinata and Kageyama, who jolted out of their impromptu argument to look at him. “Right?”

 

“Yeah!” Hinata said, jumping and pumping a fist in the air. He pointed a finger at Tsukishima. “So you’re going down, you hear?!”

 

“Don’t be so loud, idiot!” Kageyama said, whacking a fist down on Hinata’s head, and the fight resumed. Kuroko wanted to sigh, but this was so commonplace by now that even Daichi didn’t blink an eye.

 

The tension he’d been channelling into practice started to build again, driving him to move, to play .

 

“You seem awfully confident,” Tsukishima commented. It was the first they’d spoken since their confrontation in the hallways. The team went silent, gaze jumping between the two of them to see how Kuroko would react.

 

Kuroko, on the other hand, felt the cold composure once dubbed as his “game face” wash over him. “You were the one to throw the gauntlet, Tsukishima-kun,” Kuroko said, purposefully making his voice congenial. The atmosphere grew ever more oppressive.

 

Their eyes locked in combat, neither backing down. It didn’t matter that Tsukishima had a good 20 centimeters on him. Murasakibara was taller, and Tsukishima didn’t come with the threat of death by crushing.

 

Tsukishima clicked his tongue and turned away. “You’re new at this sport, so you may not know-- but in Volleyball, height is essential. If you can’t make up the difference, you’re not going to win.”

 

Kuroko’s eyes flashed, and felt Hinata and Kageyama come to rest by his shoulders in a way that had become habit. “We told you once before, Tsukishima-kun.” Kuroko said, making the blond stop midstep. Hinata grinned, big and threatening, finishing his sentence.

 

“Height has never stopped us before. Why are we gonna let it stop us now?”

Chapter Text

Boom.

 

25 points to a set.

 

Boom.

 

Three sets to a game.

 

Boom.

 

It’s only a game.

 

Boom.

 

“Are you ready, Kageyama?” Hinata’s voice cut through Kageyama’s thoughts, and the ball whacked into his hands once more.

 

It’s only a game. How long had he been telling himself that, to push down anger at teammates, in wondering why they slacked off or didn’t take it seriously. It was a near constant reminder that no one-- intense eyes, a flash of orange, an insane spike that sailed it over his teammates head-- was as passionate about volleyball as he was.

 

He opened his eyes, adjusting to the sudden light to see the oranget looking at him curiously. Tsukishima and Yamaguchi were on the other side of the court, Captain behind them already ready to start.

 

Kuroko was . . . there. Standing next to the net, hands already up to block a potential spike. He had to really focus to see him-- he had to take that into account when managing the court.

 

He took another breath, and then nodded definitively to Hinata and Kiyoko-san, who was standing on the ref platform.

 

“Alright then, let’s get this thing started!”

 

Kageyama spun the ball in his hands, guaging the distance and waiting for the signal before starting his approaching run. I’m going to rack the points up all at once.

 

His arm arced and hit it-- there. A flick of the wrist to send it spinning into the corner of the court. A serve worthy of Oikawa.

 

Except that it wasn’t, apparently, because Daichi was there, sending the ball spinning up, up, to Tsukishima, who set it. “Yamaguchi,” He called, and the ball came spinning down onto their court. Kageyama didn’t even have time to move.

 

“Dang it,” He hissed. Tsukishima was smirking down at him, and Daichi spoke from behind him.

 

“I bet you were thinking you were going to rack up all the points at once,” He said congenially, and Kageyama flinched. “Well, I’m no genius, but I have a pretty solid receive after all my years. It’ll take more than that to get past me.”

 

Tsukishima served then. “Hinata!” Kageyama commanded, and the oranget responded, sending it up, but--

 

It’s off! He wanted to curse, and the ball rested in his hands for the briefest moment before sending it to the right on instinct the Ace’s spot but there was no one there--

 

The ball slammed down behind Tsukishima. He blinked, looking bewildered at Kiyoko, who gestured at them. They’d gotten a point.

 

“What... How...” He stuttered.

 

“Nice toss,” A voice said behind him. He turned and jumped before recognizing the trademark blue hair.

 

“Kuroko? You-- how did you--”

 

“Anyone who spends time with Hinata knows how to spike,” Kuroko said, a twinkle in his eye. He couldn’t speak, only looking between the still smiling -did it even count as a smile? It was the closest thing Kageyama had seen, at any rate- and the bouncing Hinata.

 

“I wanna toss too! Kageyama, send me one! I want to spike!” Hinata shouted, bouncing up to him. His eye twitched.

 

“Shut up, you idiot! We’ve only gotten one point! Wait your turn!” Kageyama said, grabbing the offending head of hair bouncing in his line of vision to make it actually stay still for a second.

 

The whistle blew to let Kuroko serve, and he lurched away from Hinata, instantly refocusing on the game at hand.

 

Tsukishima was looking slightly more peeved, eyes flickering across the court. Daichi was there, guarding the back with impressive presence, Yamaguchi by the net, Hinata across from him, and Kuroko was whacking the ball way too hard it wasn’t going to land in--

 

The whistle blew again, this time in Daichi’s favor. Kageyama glanced back at Kuroko, stunned. “Sorry,” The bluenet apologized, looking stiff as a board. “It went long.”

 

No duh it went long. Kuroko had put enough power into that serve to send it into the back wall and halfway back again, judging by the way it rolled into Yamaguchi’s feet.

 

“You put too much power into it,” Hinata explained, and Kageyama wanted to scream. How could he sound so patient, look at Kuroko with those teaching eyes when the oranget couldn’t even receive properly half the time? “This isn’t basketball-- the court is shorter and the ball is lighter. You don’t need to Ignite Pass it on a serve-- leave that to a spike, kay?”

 

Hinata was beaming up at Kuroko, who was nodding. Kageyama was speechless. In all of the time they had spent practicing, not once had Kageyama thought about the fact that they’d played a different sport before this. All that mattered was getting the necessary points to win.

 

But they were never going to win if Kuroko always overshot his serves.

 

“Nice serve, Yamaguchi!” Daichi called.

 

Kageyama’s frustration mounted as the game wore on. There were some times when the ball seemed to go up just right, or get smacked down with just the right timing, but every time he tried to send the ball to Hinata...

 

“Gimme a toss!” Hinata screamed, and Kageyama put it up, Hinata watching and then running and-- the ball came down on their side again. Tsukishima smirked, Hinata growled.

 

This wasn’t working. He couldn’t get the ball past the block if Hinata refused to move. “You’ve got to be faster,” He started, glaring at the oranget, before stopping short, mouth clicking closed.

 

His irritation was getting to him. Point after point of getting rejected, - none of his sets going through, spikers giving up on him, getting put on the bench, not good enough, not good enough-

 

“Ho? Is the King finally going to show us his egocentric tossing? The one that breaks his teammates as well as his enemies?” The voice grated on his already frayed nerves, like adding salt to an open wound, and he turned away with a huff.

 

“Shut up.”

 

He’d done it again. Turning against his teammates, pushing them further than they could go, when he’d promised himself he wouldn’t do it again, wouldn’t get abandoned again--

 

But what was he supposed to do? He couldn’t get enough spikes through the block to be able to win, and this match meant so much to Kuroko and Hinata. His fists clenched.

 

“Kageyama-kun,” The voice next to him made him jump, turning again with wide eyes. Kuroko was standing there, an indecipherable look in his eye. “You know you can trust us, right? We’re not going to leave you to fight alone.”

 

His breath hitched. Kuroko was staring unblinking at him, like he knew exactly what he was talking about, an unhappy twist of his lips that was hard to catch but so, so telling, because-- he took another sharp breath.

 

He looked that way because he knew the pain of being left behind. He’d said as much in the hallway, hadn’t he? Getting left behind by your team-- that’s the worst thing that can happen to you. Those weren’t the words of someone guessing.

 

But he was offering-- no, they were offering, because HInata was there, at Kuroko’s shoulder, looking just as determined. They wanted to help. The were relying on him-- depending on him, on his sets, to find the flow of the game. They were both new at this, so of course they were looking to him for guidance--

 

“Alright,” He said, getting ready to serve. How am I supposed to do this? Hinata can’t get past Tsukishima’s blocks, and I still can’t see Kuroko well enough to accurately set to him... “We’re going to try a quick-- you race to the side of the net, as fast as you can, and jump where there are no blockers. I’ll do the rest.” They both nodded curtly, accepting his words as fact in a way his teammates never had.

 

The whistle blew and he breathed in, spinning the ball in his hands again and again. Quicks would never help with his old teammates, but these guys are different, they actually listen, so maybe it’ll work?

 

The whistle blew and he jumped, sending the ball arcing through the air once more. Daichi picked it up but it was off, Yamaguchi saved it from the floor and Tsukishima bumped it over. “Free!” He called, racing into setter position. Kuroko’s got the first, he’s not quick enough to get to the net for a quick but maybe-- “Hinata!”

 

He launched the ball, not waiting for Hinata to get into position, and it was so close, he saw the orange race past and thought for a moment that he would actually get it, but then the ball fell again, and Hinata struggled to get free of the net.

 

How did he even...

 

“Hinata, I could be wrong but I don’t think that’s how you play volleyball,” Kuroko deadpanned, appearing at the net and helping Hinata get loose.

 

Sugawara snickered, but Kageyama just started forward, staring at the oranget. “Are you brain dead?” He asked, completely serious. Hinata’s head shot up, looking enraged.

 

“Of course not!”

 

“Then how do you explain that?” He asked, bewildered. All of that speed and strength, and he had absolutely no control over it. It was flummoxing.

 

“You shot it so fast, and I wasn’t ready! I had to really pack on the speed, and I sorta overshot...” Hinata said, deflating a bit at the last.

 

“What kind of set was that?” Kuroko asked, stepping slightly in front of Hinata to grab Kageyama’s attention. “It was a lot faster than what I’ve seen before.”

 

“That was the King’s Quick,” Tsukishima interjected, cupping a hand in front of his mouth like sharing a big secret. “He used it so much with his old team that they abandoned him. Honestly, if anyone tossed like that to me I would’ve done it so much sooner than Nationals.”

 

Kageyama turned away, shoulders hunching up around his ears. He was trying. Could Tsukishima not see that? He was trying to get around those stupid blocks, and the only way to do that was to go faster, and he knew that Hinata could handle it, he was able to spike that ball in middle school with no warning, and he had nearly gotten it the first time he’d seen a quick.

 

“So all you need to do is get the ball to the side of the court quickly?” Kuroko asked, a curious glint in his eye.

 

“W-well, that’s slightly oversimplified,” Sugawara protested weakly, but Kuroko was already moving back onto the court, a focused look overtaking his face.

 

“Bring it,” He said.

 

Kageyama stiffened.

 

“Is it just me or did the atmosphere just suddenly change...?” Ennoshita said, hiding slightly behind the scoreboard. Kageyama nodded numbly. Gone was the slightly nervous, hard to coordinate with team.

 

The focus they presented was insane, and Kageyama didn’t even blame Tsukishima when he backed up a step or two. He wanted to, and he was on their team.

 

“Kageyama, can I toss?” The question made him whip around, but Kuroko wasn’t even looking at him. He was staring in front of him, eyes glassy, like he was seeing something nobody else could.

 

Why? He wanted to ask, I’m the setter- am I not doing a good enough job? Am I useless?

 

But Kuroko had never expressed those opinions out loud- the very opposite of it, actually. Besides... he wasn’t... entirely sure he wanted to get in their way.

 

“You have a plan?” He asked instead, slowly.

 

“I have an idea,” Kuroko specified. That. Sounded like a “no”. Like he didn’t have a complete plan, just something that might work...or might not.

 

“Well,” He said, looking over to Tsukishima and then the scoreboard. “An idea sounds good right about now.”

 


 

 

Something was different.

 

He couldn’t quite figure out what it was-- it wasn’t the rush he got when he picked up a difficult ball, or when he set a perfect ball to Hinata. It was more like a surge of energy, buzzing right beneath his skin and just demanding to be released.

 

The feeling of exertion and slight dizziness and just a bit of nerves, combined with that knowledge of team, surrounded by friends.

 

It was like coming home.

 

“Hinata,” He called, as Yamaguchi fiddled with the ball next to the serving line. Hinata glanced over to him, none of his extraneous energy present- merely a fire of determination in his eyes. “Slam Dunk.”

 

Hinata’s eyes went wide, and then a giant grin broke out over his face. “Oh yes, this’ll be awesome.”

 

“Yamaguchi, nice serve!” Daichi called, and they all squatted down, preparing.

 

It would have to be fast.

 

Yamaguchi tossed it in the air.

 

The court was shorter than he thought. He’d learned. It wouldn’t need much power.

 

The ball his Yamaguchi’s hand with a smack, and it sailed--

 

“Kageyama!” Kuroko called, and the setter moved, positioning himself under it and bumping it.

 

“Kuroko!”

 

Hinata was already in motion.

 

Tsukishima was following, but it wouldn’t matter.

 

He jumped up, rearing his arm back in a motion so familiar but different at the same time, and slammed the ball around up forward not across, not basketball--

 

Hinata was smacking it down with enviable ease, twisting his body backwards and then forwards, putting all of his body’s momentum into the swing.

 

To Tsukishima’s credit, he tried. He even got close. But him, Daichi, Yamaguchi-- none of them had a chance. Not even Aomine had been able to block that move-- at least, before he had bloomed.

 

“Yes!” Hinata cheered, bounding up to Kuroko, eyes bright. “That was awesome!”

 

“How did you do that?”

 

“What kind of setter position was that?”

 

“I don’t think that even was a set, he didn’t use his second hand at all!”

 

“Are you sure, I didn’t see...”

 

There were murmurs and shouts and people wanting explanations, but-- Hinata held out a fist, and Kuroko’s breath hitched. -The smack of Aomine’s hand against his own. The feeling of being left waiting, fist bump never returned-

 

“C’mon,” Hinata said, quieter this time, and Kuroko looked up in time to see a bit of melancholy in his eyes. “Please.”

 

His fist raised, hesitated, and then smacked forward with a satisfying tingle, and he smiled. Hinata beamed.

 

“Alright! Hey Kageyama, did you see that? Wasn’t it cool? Kuroko was like whapam, and I was like woosh! And the ball went like Kapow! ” All of Hinata’s exuberance was back in spades, and he bounced around Kageyama like an overexcited rabbit.

 

“W-was that even legal?” Kageyama stuttered, looking at Kiyoko. She seemed to still be in shock.

 

“It might count as a lift,” Sugawara said consideringly, “but there’s no real rule about it, so it could just be called a one handed set...”

 

People’s fearful murmurs about geniuses was what made Kuroko’s mind up. That, and the fact that his arm was still throbbing. The Slam Dunk had been perfected on the basketball court-- it wasn’t something meant for volleyball, and it showed.

 

He’d had to contort his body just to get it up into the air instead of going across court, and having to twist his body midjump had lessened the amount of force behind it. It had turned out okay this time, but Kuroko got the feeling it was more because of Hinata’s flexibility and knowledge of how to deal with it than any of Kuroko’s ability.

 

“Kageyama,” Kuroko called, and shifted under the sudden onslaught of eyes. “Did you see how I did that?”

 

Kageyama nodded, eyebrows furrowed in confusion.

 

“Do you think you could replicate it? Or find a way to make it work for volleyball?” He asked, and the murmurs became full blown questions.

“Why do you ask that? It worked just fine-- didn’t it?” Tsukishima asked, sounding very much peeved.

 

“The Slam Dunk wasn’t meant for volleyball,” Kuroko explained, touching his arm that was still throbbing slightly. “It barely worked, and it would take a lot of skill to make it match up to Hinata everytime. I don’t have that kind of precision.”

 

He was more focused on power-- on getting to the position that would allow him the most mobility and then getting the ball across the court quickly. None of that was made with precision in mind.

 

But, from what he’d seen... “Kageyama has a genius level of ability. He’s able to precisely toss exactly where there are no blockers, and where we have the best chance of gaining a point.”

 

He looked at Kageyama now, whose eyes were wide. He looked vaguely stunned, and Kuroko wondered if he’d ever been complimented in volleyball before.

 

“How would I...” Kageyama trailed off again, folding his arms into a thinking position, somehow managing to look contemplative and ticked off at the same time.

 

“Maybe,” Sugawara interjected, stepping forward excitedly. “Kuroko-san, how do you do it? What did you think about when you went to toss?”

 

Kuroko blinked. That was never a question he’d been asked before. “Try to see the whole court,” he finally decided, searching through his memories. “And then get the ball to where they’re hand is? Or going to be, I guess.”

 

Everyone sweatdropped. “And he says he isn’t a genius,” Tsukishima muttered next to them.

 

“I’m not,” Kuroko protested vehemently.

 

“Actually you kinda are,” Hinata said, propping his hands behind his head and looking for all the world like an innocent angel.

 

“Can we please play?” Tsukishima snapped, and the game resumed.

 

Kageyama jump served, Daichi picked it up, and then Yamaguchi was spiking it over. Hinata didn’t nearly have the height to block it, and the spike went straight for the corner.

 

Not again, Kuroko thought, and dove. It wasn’t a clean receive-- didn’t go gracefully to the setter like Kageyama’s receives tended to, but it didn’t matter.

 

“Hinata!” Kageyama called, before his fingers had even touched the ball. Hinata jerked, then started running, dashing forward and then to the side, avoiding Tsukishima.

 

The next second, the ball was out of Kageyama’s hands so quickly Kuroko doubted they’d even brushed his fingertips and Hinata was spiking it down.

 

The resounding boom sounded to Kuroko like the ring of a gong.

 

In the end, it wasn’t even really a competition. Kageyama had gotten the idea in his head to pinpoint toss the ball to Hinata and nothing was really going to change that. Tsukishima grumbled about stupid geniuses and their cheating methods, but they had won fair and square.

 

Even Tsukishima had to acknowledge that.

 

“Well I’m glad you at least have the skills to backup all your talk,” Tsukishima said, leaning down to squeeze Hinata’s head. “I’d hate to go to Nationals with a bunch of posers.”

 

And then he left with barely a hand wave, leaving Hinata to nurse his head and Kuroko in shock that Tsukishima actually said something... vaguely nice.

 

Thankfully, that was when one of the second years came up to Kuroko afterwards remarking on “that epic receive you did! I couldn’t believe it was your first real match!” It was slightly embarrassing, being the center of attention. He didn’t understand why Hinata liked it-- or why the oranget was giving him that creepy proud smile the whole time.

 

In the end, though, he didn’t use misdirection to get away. It seemed too much like an abuse of the power, especially when he was being praised . That didn’t stop him from sighing in relief as soon as he got out of the gym.

 

Then again, Hinata’s arm slung around his shoulders and Kageyama’s firm presence next to him probably didn’t hurt either.

 

It wasn’t so bad, being noticed.

Chapter Text

 


 

“Aomine you teme! We’ve been looking everywhere for you! How are we supposed to start practice without everyone there?”

 

The strident voice near his ear brought him out of his pleasant dream, and he turned onto his other side away from the noise. “Did you really have to interrupt my nap just for that?” He mumbled into his arm.

 

He was dimly aware of the footsteps taking the voice ever closer. “You shouldn’t be napping right now! How did you get up here, anyways?”

 

He wanted to sigh. Then, not seeing why he shouldn’t, let out a huge yawn. A foot wedged its way into his side, and he scowled, opening one eye halfway to glare more effectively.

 

“It’s not like it’s hard to open the door.” Aomine deadpanned.

 

He couldn’t even see who he was talking to. The sun was right behind the guy’s head, but it didn’t really matter. The person twitched.

 

“The door to the roof is always locked.”

 

He shrugged again, closing his eye once more. He had been trying to sleep, for heaven’s sake. “Not like it’s especially difficult to kick your way in. Should make the lock more sturdy if they don’t want anyone getting up here.”

 

“Forget that--” Another person shouldered their way forward. Unfortunately, this one didn’t have the courtesy to even block the sun like the other one had, and the brightness pierced even his closed eyelids, driving away the last vestiges of sleep. “We need to start practice! Stop napping the day away and get your butt to the gym!”

 

Aomine growled, propping himself up and glaring at the newcomer.

 

“Listen, gaki, I don’t know if you are brain dead or what, but there’s not really a point in going to practice when I could beat you all with one hand. So why don’t you just shove off and go back to failing at your sport?”

 

Idiot #2, as he decided to call him, flapped his mouth a couple times wordlessly, and Idiot #1 stepped forward again. “I get that you’re a prodigy, Aomine-san, but it’s school policy that anyone who participates in a club has to attend practice if they want to play in any games.” The sensible tone only served to make him more irritated.

 

Did the guy think he was stupid? That he was just going to jump up and go to practice just so he could play in more games against weaklings?

 

“Works for me,” Aomine said, rising. “Less work that way. Let me know when you need someone who can actually play basketball.”

 

With that he brushed past the Idiot duo. He needed to find a new napping place if they were going to start looking for him here. Momoi was exiting the door the same time he was going through, and turned to him, brightening. “I thought we’d be able to find you up here! Headed to practice?”

 

He didn’t even reply, headed down the stairs. Of course Satsuki told them where to find me.

 

“You guys! What did you say to him? You were supposed to encourage him to practice!” Momoi’s voice floated down, as well as the ensuing protests.

 

He didn’t care. There wasn’t really a point in going to practice anyways. No one could beat him anymore.

 

After all, the only one who could beat him was him.

 

Even the Shrimp didn’t measure up anymore.

 


 

 

Swish.

 

Beside him, Takao-san twitched. Midorima merely pushed his glasses up further on his nose. Expecting him to miss a shot from the mere three point line was pure foolishness.

 

He was capable of shooting from the half court and still never miss-- never mind the fact that he was working on being able to shoot from the opposite end of the court.

 

“Are you sure you need to do that many threes... ?” Takao asked, staring horrified at the bin of basketballs he had next to him. Midorima scoffed.

 

“One does not get better without practice. I am not like those other buffoons who skips out on practice out of arrogance. Oha Asa will not help me if I do not keep up on such basic skills as these.” Midorima said, gesturing to the large Neko holding a bell, his lucky item for the day.

 

Takao turned to stare at him while others around him twitched. “Basic skills?” One of them muttered.

 

“He’s a monster,” Another murmured back. Midorima closed his eyes against the stupidity.

 

They didn’t know true monsters. True monsters like Aomine, who disregarded every strategy to simply push his way through any defense. Murasakibara, who despite his laziness was an unstoppable force once angered. Akashi, who could command a court with a mere glance, who stopped enemies in their tracks with a glare.

 

Even Hinata and Kuroko had their strengths, could probably easily mop the floor with his teammates as they were now.

 

Well, that was only to be expected of a team filled with non Miracles. His eyes narrowed at the ball in his hands, coming up to the perfect position and letting it fly.

 

Swish.

 

He needed to get better if he was going to be facing off against the other Miracles. They wouldn’t stay stagnant in their progress, and he couldn’t imagine losing to someone like Kise.

 

It just wasn’t acceptable. He would practice for hours to make sure that eventuality never came to pass.

 


 

 

Murasakibara popped another chip in his mouth, watching curiously as the colors changed on Taicho-chin’s face. He’d gone from red to purple and he wondered what other colors he could do.

 

“Why. Weren’t. You. At. Practice?” Taicho-chin ground out, looking like he was trying to be imposing. He wasn’t very good at it. Akashi-chin did it better. Then again, Akashi-chin was the best at everything.

 

“Umm,” Murasakibara mumbled, popping another chip in as he thought back to what he had been doing while practice had started. “Oh right. Maiobu was having a sale, and I was nearly out.”

 

Taicho-chin started turning a shade of blue similar to Aomine-chin’s hair color. “You mean you neglected practice to buy snacks?!”

 

“Mmm,” Murasakibara confirmed, savoring the last chip and shaking the empty bag longingly. “Nee, Tatsu-chin, do you have any more snacks?”

 

Tatsuya looked bemused, wry smile quirking his lips. “Is food all you think about, Mura-kun?”

 

“No,” Murasakibara pouted. This wasn’t relevant, but maybe if he answered all his questions he would give him a snack? “I think about other stuff too. Basketball, Aka-chin, Kuro-chin, all the Miracles,” He trailed off, looking through his pockets to see if he had stuck any candy in there earlier.

 

There wasn’t. Only empty wrappers that joined the chip bag in the trash.

 

“Sorry, I don’t have any snacks, Murasakibara-kun. But I’ll take you shopping if you can make it through practice, alright?”

 

His lip jutted out, thinking hard. Taicho-chin was spluttering in the background. Was he trying to emulate Hina-chin? It was annoying.

 

“You promise?” He confirmed, to which Tatsu-chin nodded solemnly. Another moment of thought, and he nodded begrudgingly. It would be tough getting through practice with no food to tie him over, but Tatsu-chin always found the best deals, and didn’t always have time to shop with him. The trade off was worth it.

 

“Now that that’s settled,” Taicho-chin grumbled, “Let’s get to practice!”

 

At least Aka-chin let me eat snacks in the gym, He grumbled, tucking in the uniform and walking onto the court. I wish he were captain instead of Taicho-chin. Oh well. Aka-chin said come to Yosen, so I guess I have to stay.

 


 

 

“And that’s practice for today. Do not forget your assignments. You are all dismissed.”

 

A few of the older members still looked to the coach before heading out. It irked him a bit that they still had yet to learn who was really in charge here, but they would learn. Sooner rather than later.

 

“A-Akashi-sama? I was just wondering if-” That same stuttering fool as yesterday had approached him again. He had persistence at least, but no brains to back it up.  

 

“I believe I said you were dismissed. Do not make me repeat myself.” Akashi’s glare stopped the boy in his tracks, before he scurried away.

 

Pathetic. This is all I have to work with? Shoyo has more spine, and he’s overly malleable on a good day.

 

That just proved that he had not yet spent enough time here. Shoyo, Daiki, Atsushi, Shintaro, Ryota, and Tetsuya had all grown out of their ridiculous tendencies, and become true tools in his quest for superiority. The longer he spent here, the more he would be able to mold this team in the same way.

 

A few more simpletons tried to waylay him on his way to the gates, but he paid them even less mind than the last. None of them were worth the time it would take to send them off.

 

He reached the secluded peace of the limo, and nodded to the chauffeur.

 

“You know where to go.”

 

The man bowed low as he closed the door. “Of course Akashi-Sama.”

 

The car started with a hum, but Akashi didn’t even look up as the driver pulled away from the school. The driver was silent (unlike the buffoons back in the gym, who never knew when to shut up) and let him work on his laptop in peace.

 

A careless swipe of his finger allowed him access, and he set to work. He had very limited time before he reached his destination after all.

 

He scrolled quickly, but efficiently through the first several pages. Daiki’s status had not changed in the past several weeks, and though he had yet to attend practice, he was still on the team- which was all he cared about for now.

 

Atsushi was in a similar situation, though his connection with Himuro Tatsuya raised a small red flag. He would need to keep an eye on it. It wouldn’t due for him to get too close. Atsushi always had the loosest tongue out of all of them.

 

A click brought him to Shintarou. His situation was slightly more precarious than the others. Takao Kazunari had the potential to break through his shell, and ruin him. Shintarou was at his most effective when he had no distractions on the court, and it needed to stay that way.

 

Ryota was as much of a concern as ever, being in the limelight as he was. Though his resilience and tendency to see things his way certainly came in handy quite often. And it seemed that he hadn’t gotten into too much more trouble than usual this week, so there would be no need for any excessive damage control. One less thing to worry about.

 

Here he slowed, eyes sharpening. Really, it still surprised him occasionally that out of all of them, these two would turn out to be the cause for greatest concern.

 

Shoyo and Tetsuya. His greatest projects. And greatest successes. It had been extremely vexing when he had been unable to display Shoyo as planned at Nationals. Akashi had been preparing for it for so long, and to have it snatched so cruelly from him… but he’d already gotten his revenge for that slight.

 

No, what was troubling him now was that he could not find them. It had been easy enough to track their movements for that final part of the semester, but when summer had come...

 

Plastic creaked under his hands before he forced himself to relax his grip. Calming his anger was slightly more difficult.

 

Tetsuya had always been the most difficult to keep an eye on, for obvious reasons. It had always been easiest to locate him through Daiki. When that connection had been severed (And how fortuitous that separation had been. It had made the division to different schools so much smoother) he had expected it to be more complicated. So he hadn’t been as concerned when he could not locate him for the first few weeks.

 

Being unable to do the same for Shoyo had been a touch more alarming. That he had continued to be unable to pinpoint even what city either were residing in throughout the entire summer had stretched his patience thin. He had only been able to calm his temper with thoughts of the rules that would be put in place after he found them to keep something like this from ever happening again.

 

But now it was several weeks into the school year, and he still had yet to find hide or hair of either of his precious prodigies in all that time.

 

He was beyond alarmed. No one evaded him for this long without intending to.

 

They were avoiding him.

 

Akashi had refused to think poorly of Shoyo and Tetsuya at first (after all they were the most well behaved out of them all in middle school), but he was beginning to think he was going to be forced to consider some more radical answers to why they had mysteriously vanished into thin air.

 

An old rumor said that they had both moved at the end of the school year. Had moved together no less. He hoped that they knew better than to disobey him so obviously, but if not...

 

His laptop closed with a resounding click as he reached his destination.

 

Well, they would probably not like the consequences.

 


 

 

Kise jumped on his heels, unable to contain his excitement.

 

“What are you so happy about?” Kasamatsu grumbled behind him. Kise whirled, giant grin on his face. Kasamatsu-senpai looked startled, but that didn’t matter cuz--

 

“I got a text from a fan!”

 

The next thing he knew he was eating floor, Kasamatsu’s foot pressed into the back of his head. “Don’t sound so happy about that, idiot! You’re supposed to be practicing, not texting your stupid fangirls!”

 

Kise pouted as he rose, wincing as he rubbed the now tender spot on his head. “So mean, senpai ...”

 

His phone pinged again, and he got halfway to reaching for it before realizing senpai had a deathly aura around him and pulled hand back slowly. It was almost physically painful.

 

“Don’t you have anything better to do than text your fans all day?” Kasamatsu-senpai growled, looking very much like he wanted to put Kise’s beautiful face back into the floor.

 

He scooted back, just so he was a little further out of reach. Senpai was even testier when he avoided the assaults, but he did need to keep his good looks if he wanted to keep his job as a model.

 

True, he did have better things to do... normally. But this had been important! He didn’t often use his fame for personal reasons, but he had been worried about Kurokocchi, with how he had disappeared-- anyways, it was for a good cause. And it had finally paid off!

 

Still, he perked up, grabbing his phone and beginning to type away. “You’re right! I haven’t checked in on the Miracles in a while! They’ve probably already forgotten all about me, or--” He gasped as a nightmare made itself known. “Or they’ve gotten in a horrible accident and I’m the only one who doesn’t know because I haven’t kept in contact!”

 

“How does your mind even-- never mind, I don’t even want to know. Just put your phone away during practice, Idiot, you can’t be slacking off. We want to win, don’t we?” Kasamatsu senpai shot at him, walking away to yell at the team.

 

Kise looked up from his half composed text to grin dangerously at Senpai’s back, hand tightening. “Don’t worry, senpai, we won’t lose. After all, only a Miracle can beat another Miracle.”

 

He blinked a couple times, then, and then looked back at his phone in horror. “Gack! I deleted my text to Kurokocchi!”

 


 

 

Kuroko knew the sound coming from outside the gym doors instantly. What he didn’t understand was why he was hearing it. He looked at Hinata, who shared the glance, equally bewildered. After all, they were hours away from Tokyo.

 

Kise wouldn’t travel all the way to Miyagi just to come to their school. That was crazy. Right?

 

It had been so long that Kuroko had forgotten. The Miragens were not just crazy. They were downright insane.

 

No one else would go against Captain when he had that look on his face. It was tantamount to defying Akashi (though without pain of death by scissors.) But the blond didn’t even seem to notice, rubbing the back of his head sheepishly.

 

“Ah, sorry. Gimme five minutes?”


 

Chapter Text

He tried to convince himself this wasn't happening. That Kise wasn't sitting there signing autographs, that Hinata wasn't going pale just thinking about the fact that the Miracles had found them -was it just Kise? Had he told the others? He probably had, he never had been able to keep his mouth shut-

But no, he realized as he dug his fingernails into his palms, Tsukishima really was scowling at their old teammate, Tanaka really was having to be held back by Daichi to not rush forward. -For the girls or to beat him up?- Kuroko couldn't really tell.

Hinata let out a strained laugh, frame tense. "Ah, sorry, Daichi-san, he's ... he's always like this."

Kuroko moved over to his side, trying to tease him, to release the tension. "You didn't have to train him, Hinata."

Hinata turned to him, lip twitching up just a bit. His eyes were still flickering back and forth, but at least he was focusing on him, on his words. "That must've been difficult. I feel for you, at least Midorima-senpai got a good student with me."

"I think he might disagree there, Hinata-kun," Kuroko teased, and he got a real smile this time, small and pained but there. "I seem to recall him pulling out his hair more than once."

"Are you saying you didn't pull your hair out with Kise over there?" Hinata deadpanned, gesturing at the blond still smiling at the fangirls.

"Oi!" Kise said, looking over at them, offended. Hinata's back straightened at that, tone still light but with a biting undertone that probably missed Kise by a mile.

"Are you saying you didn't ignore him at every turn?"

"Would you guys mind explaining what's going on?" Daichi interrupted, looking between them like watching a tennis match. Kise completely ignored the request, finally ushering out the last of the fangirls and stepping forward towards them, arms outstretched.

"Kurokocchi, why didn't you go to a big basketball school? We all promised that we would play against each other in high school, don't you remember?" Kise whined, eyes shining with heartbroken tears.

"We weren't there, Kise," Hinata snapped, stepping closer to Kuroko. "We didn't promise anything."

Kuroko shifted. That... wasn't entirely true for him. He had promised a lot things that year- they just so happened to be the exact opposite to what Kise was referring.

"What promise? What are you guys talking about?" That was Kageyama, disrespectful tone and all.

Kise looked around, looking astonished that none of these people knew who his 'Kurokocchi and Hinatacchi' were. "The Generation of Miracles all promised to get stronger and fight each other in High School. That's why I'm wondering why Kurokocchi and Hinatacchi didn't join big schools- or why they're playing volleyball!"

"Wait wait wait," Yamaguchi cried, eyes wide. Tsukishima actually looked shellshocked. "Generation of Miracles? No way! Not these two!"

There were nods of assent all around. After all, there are only five Miragens, aren't there? The thought was bitter on his tongue.

"Nope," Kise said, looking a bit smug. A lot smug, he corrected himself when Kise propped a hand on his hip, smirking at the team. "Kurokocchi was actually our Phantom Sixth man- our passing specialist."

"So that's where you learned it," Kageyama said, surprised, looking over to him.

Kuroko nodded- he knew that Kageyama had taken his idea and run with it. It had made Kageyama and Hinata a force to be reckoned with- and he was glad for it. Passing specialist he may be, but Kageyama was a genius setter, and that was something Kuroko could never be. If Kageyama was a better shadow to Hinata than he was, well, he wasn't going to complain.

Even if it hurt that Hinata had found someone at Karasuno who needed him more than Kuroko.

"And Hinata?" Sugawara asked, brow furrowed. "You say Kuroko-kun was your 'Phantom Sixth man' which I guess I can see... But what about Hinata?"

Kise smiled. "Ah, Hinata switched in and out a lot! Not a lot in games, cuz Akashi wanted to save him or something? But he was always with us! Not a lot of people know he was a part of our group, but hey, we needed orange to complete the rainbow!"

Everyone sweatdropped at that, and Kuroko knew he wasn't the only one of the opinion that Kise was an idiot.

The levity didn't last long- Kise was giving them a look that rivaled Hinata's. He started forward, every step making Hinata and Kuroko more and more tense.

"You guys aren't good enough to hold onto these two," He said finally, flinging an arm around Kuroko's shoulders and looking around at Karasuno disdainfully- like he'd judged them and found them wanting. "You mind if I take 'em back with me?"

"Oi, oi, get your filthy hands off our first year!" Tanaka growled, instantly pulling Kuroko away from Kise's clutches and flinging him back towards the team. He stumbled upon impact, but that was more surprise than lack of coordination.

"Yeah, you can't just waltz in here and decide that you're taking them with you, idiot!" Kageyama yelled, hovering in front of Hinata protectively. "They're part of Karasuno now, so go back to your own team!"

Kise's eyes glinted, and Kuroko shuffled a bit, dread pooling.

Kise he'd- he'd always been a bit prone to dramatics, but there were times when he proved serious. -going up against Aomine, or a fierce opponent- Either way, Kuroko didn't like the look in his eye.

This- this wasn't playful teasing, like when he had pulled all the Miragens together and joked that they'd be going to the same high school.

A shiver raced down his spine, fingers twitching.

Kise actually wanted them to leave.

"But we were a team first!" Kise said, a whine in his voice. "You guys don't know how to use Kurokocchi to the fullest, anyways! He belongs in basketball! And Hinatacchi is amazing at dunking!"

"Why am I always the spare?" Hinata muttered, real hurt visible in his hunched shoulders and fidgety feet. Kuroko's heart clenched.

Kise was ruining everything. He had finally gotten to a place where Hinata was happy, where he was happy with his team, and finally had a family -though he borrowed it from Hinata half the time-. He had started to believe that he could belong here.

Kise's presence only brought all the shadows back, and Kuroko hated it.

"I'm sorry, ah, Kise-kun, was it? But you're disrupting practice, so if you would-" Daichi started, but Kise obviously had no sense of self preservation, because he went right on with his speech.

"You guys can't bring out their potential to the fullest! Only other Miracles can do that. Never mind that, but you guys aren't even basketball players. All the Miracles promised to join the basketball teams at their school so that we can play against each other during high school! So, Kurokocchi, Hinatacchi, come on! We can play all together again, just like we used to-"

"No."

The word stopped Kise cold, reeling and blinking in shock at the amount of venom that had been laced into it. It took Kuroko a moment of looking around to see that it had come from him.

A single glance at Hinata's expression hardened him, though. That lost expression ... it had been on too many mirrors in the past. He wasn't going back to that. Wasn't subjecting Hinata to that. Not ever.

So, turning back to Kise, he sketched a shallow bow, hoping it covered the sudden tenseness in his frame, the twitch of his fingers wanting to make fists.

"Sorry for making you come all this way, Kise-kun, but we're not going anywhere. We were never part of the promise that the team made. We were never recognized as Miracles off the court," he glanced at Hinata again here, "or on it, apparently."

"T-that's not true, Kurokocchi, we-!" Kise said, pushing past Tanaka towards him, and Kuroko couldn't stop an involuntary flinch.

The result was instantaneous.

Those closest to him were suddenly in front of him, there was a hand now resting on his shoulder. A glance around the backs that obscured his vision showed a vibrating Tanaka anchored in place by Daichi, Sugawara planting a hand on Kise's shoulder to keep him from taking another step forward.

"I wouldn't do that, if I were you," Tsukishima drawled, a dangerous note in his voice. He hovered almost protectively over Hinata, frame imposing.

"I think it's about time you leave, Kise-kun." Sugawara said amicably, hand tightening on Kise's shoulder. The blond whacked his hand away, retreating a couple steps and taking them in.

"You've found a new sport, then, huh?" Kise said, and Kuroko felt a shiver go up his spine. Kise leaned down, grasping a volleyball and extending it towards him. "Then, let's see how you fare ... against me."


"I really don't think this is a good idea," Yamaguchi stuttered, watching the dumb blonde test the volleyball against the floor.

"Why are we even doing this?" Hinata muttered, settling into the wide receiving stance. Tsukishima wondered how Kise planned on beating the freak duo when he was the only one on his team.

"Kise-kun is trying to prove something, I think." Kuroko replied lowly.

"Oi, stop whispering behind my back, you two!" Kise cried, pointing dramatically and dropping the ball on his foot in the process.

"Actually, I think they'll be just fine," Tsukishima dismissed, sweatdropping. "Even Shrimpy-chan should be able to hold his own against someone like him."

"But he's part of the Generation of Miracles, right? Aren't they, like, the geniuses of the generation?" Chikara asked, wringing his hands.

Kise tossed the ball into the air and hit a home run, the ball pinging off the top banister.

"If this is a genius, then I don't think those two have anything to worry about," Daichi said, tight smile covering an incredulous laugh.

Kise's next serve -a jump serve, when he doesn't even play volleyball? Just how arrogant is he?- was more on target. Hinata was able to get it up, though, and the next sequence of events blew all their expectations out of the water.

Hinata waited only a heartbeat before glancing at Kuroko, dashing to one side of the net and swinging- Tsukishima didn't even see the set.

It was different watching it from the sidelines.

Kuroko and Hinata didn't pair up very often on the court- when Daichi had asked them why, Kuroko had mentioned that Kageyama was a better setter than he was, but Tsukishima had wondered if there wasn't something more to it.

Tsukishima had been the first one they had tested that spike against. He knew firsthand how powerful it was- it didn't make sense for them to give up that kind of weapon in favor of the king's toss, no matter how accurate.

Now, he thought he understood. The power spike- the 'Slam Dunk', as Kuroko had called it- it was something from their basketball days. And now, with Kise here, he understood exactly why they didn't use it.

He also learned that the Generation of Miracles were frightening.

The ball smacked through Kise's arms and into the wall.

"Did he-" Kageyama started, face slack.

Tsukishima's brow furrowed, staring hard at the blond who was shaking his arms out with a pained grin.

"He just got his hands on Hinata's spike, after never having seen it before." Tsukishima confirmed.

"Man, Hinatacchi, I feel bad for the ball!" Kise whined. "Why did you never dunk with that much power?"

"I did, idiot," Hinata said, joy from the successful spike seeping out of his expression, leaving only anger and irritation. "Volleyball's are lighter, if you hadn't noticed."

Kise eyed his hand, nodding in glee. "Ah, I see! So that's why my serve went long!"

"This guy's an idiot," Yamaguchi lamented. "Right, Tsukki?"

Tsukishima nodded, but never stopped studying the Generation of Miracles' interaction. "He is, but... the fact that he was able to pick up volleyball after never having played it before and nearly receive Hinata's spike..." He trailed off.

"What was that, Tsukishima?" Daichi asked.

He sighed. "Nothing." Instead, he turned towards the dumb blond. "So, you satisfied? We have a practice to get to, and you're in the way," He said bluntly.

"Nooooooooo," Kise whined, turning pleading eyes around the room. "But I haven't gotten Kurokocchi or Hinatacchi to come back to basketball yet!"

"Oh for the love of-" Kageyama said, throwing his hands up in exasperation.

"Kise-kun, you really do need to leave," Kuroko said, tone as near pleading as Tsukishima had heard from him. He would've thought it pathetic, if he hadn't been a millimeter away from strangling the blond himself.

The blond got up from where he'd fallen over sobbing, beaming in the quickest turnaround Tsukishima'd seen. "I've got it! How 'bout this! You guys beat me at basket," He said with a challenging grin, "and I'll promise to leave you alone from now on."

"No," Hinata said, looking slightly green. Hinata looked to Kuroko for support, but to Tsukishima's surprise, the bluenet was wavering.

"It'd just be once, Hinata." Kuroko said slowly. Hinata shook his head like a dog shedding water, eyes haunted.

"I can't, Kuroko," Hinata whispered, looking down at his hands, which were trembling.

"Even if it means Kise leaves us alone?" Kuroko murmured. "You know he'll never give up otherwise. He'd keep coming back until we said yes."

Hinata shook his head, retreated a couple steps, but the motion was less a rejection than before. Tsukishima's eyes narrowed, bouncing across the court. The air was tense with anticipation- Daichi was leaned forward like he was going to interrupt, but Suga had a hand on his arm, holding him back.

"... One point," Hinata said, quietly, then louder, eyes jerking up with a sudden blaze. "One point, and then you leave for good- got it?!"

Kise blinked, seemingly surprised at the vehemence of this statement, but it quickly morphed into an arrogant grin. "Sorry, Hinatacchi, but the only one leaving after this will be you two."


Kise had even had the foresight to bring a basketball. Kuroko tested the weight of it in his hands, feeling the grooves and bumps, dribbling it a couple times against the court and taking in the sound.

"Kuroko?" Hinata asked at his shoulder, and Kuroko inhaled. This... wasn't what he'd had in mind when he pictured playing with the Miracles again. He handed the ball off to his friend, taking in his expression carefully. Hinata's hands shook as he went to take it from him.

"I'm sorry," Kuroko said suddenly. Hinata jerked, dropping the ball and staring at him with wide eyes.

"What for?" Hinata asked, sounding genuinely confused. Kuroko watched the basketball roll a couple inches in between them.

"For.. . making you play again. And for not saying no to Kise. And-" Hinata cut him off, putting an arm around his shoulders.

"None of that's your fault, idiot," Hinata sighed.

Kuroko wavered, gaze drawing once more to the basketball in front of them. Hinata sighed. "Well, I'd better get this over with."

He picked up the ball like a piece of dirty underwear, held it at arm's length and studied it for a moment. Then, with the ease of someone who had used to do nothing but eat, sleep, and drink basketball, began a complex bouncing pattern around the half court and in between his legs. Slowly, at first, but gaining speed until the ball was barely a blur.

It only took one misstep, though, and Hinata was out of practice. The ball hit his foot and rolled away idly, towards Kise.

The blond leaned down and grabbed it, having watched silently from the sidelines until now. "You guys ready?"

Kuroko took a deep breath, traded looks with Hinata, and nodded.

Kise bounced the ball slowly by his side, eyes scrutinizing them. "First to One," He announced, to which Kuroko nodded again.

Kise waited just another moment before darting forward, ball moving in the same tricky pattern Hinata had just demonstrated.

Hinata stood in front of him, eyes unfocused and wild, in blocking form but completely unmoving. Kise breezed past him and drove towards the unprotected basket- but Kuroko wasn't the passing specialist for nothing, though, and a tip of the hand was all it took to knock the ball back towards Hinata.

Kuroko ran back to the half court line even as Hinata opened his hands, staring at the ball incomprehensibly.

"Hinata!" Kuroko yelled, jolting the orangette out of his reverie. Kise was coming at him, glint in his eyes that told him the blond was out to win. Turning on his foot, Hinata sent the ball to Kuroko just as Kise got to him.

The ball smacked into his hands, but Kise was suddenly there, looming in front of him. Kuroko twisted, this way and that, trying to get past him, but misdirection didn't work when you had a ball in your hand, and...

He wanted to curse, casting a glance at Hinata, who was waiting under the hoop, and suddenly Kuroko knew exactly what he needed to do.

Stepping back, he got into position, and with one foot, pushed off. Kise's eyes widened and jumped after him, but Kuroko's hands were already in motion, pushing the ball in the way only he had learned how, mind whizzing as he calculated how much does the ball weigh, how far is the shot, the hoop is higher than the net, and

"Hinata!" He said, tone sharp with command, but he needn't have bothered. All the time playing volleyball together had had them in sync in a way no other Generation of Miracle was, and Hinata was already in the air, flying, and the ball was in his hands, correcting it from where it had flown off the rim and jammed it in the basket with a resounding clang.

"Yes!" Someone from the sidelines yelled, and that seemed to break the silence, because then the whole team was cheering and patting each other's backs.

Kuroko, however, merely raised a hand, opening and closing it.

It ... hadn't felt like how he'd expected. He'd thought going back to basketball would feel like relief, like turning back time to how it had been before this whole mess had started. Instead, he just felt ... empty. There was no joy in this victory, no flush of adrenaline as the point was scored.

Looking up, he saw Hinata on the floor under the hoop, sitting with his elbows on top of his knees. A hand fiddled with the basketball, flicking it back and forth, and back and forth, until it hit his foot and rolled away. Hinata didn't go after it.

"I guess- I guess you won, then," Kise said. A glance told him the blond was, indeed, drooping like a limp noodle. "I- I'll leave you alone about joining basketball." He bit his lip, looking for all the world like he was about to cry.

"I think that'd be best," Kuroko said, hearing his own voice as if at a distance.

Kise nodded, crossing the gym to grab his bag and basketball, glancing back at Hinata, who still hadn't moved from his spot or made to acknowledge anyone in any way.

"I- I really did want you guys to come back. You make an amazing team. I'd never seen anything like what you just did at Teiko. I- I guess your new team really is teaching you guys something, huh?"

He paused in the doorway of the gym, glancing behind him.

"Just ... don't forget, okay? Once a Miracle, always a Miracle."

Kuroko didn't move a muscle as yellow disappeared, the door closing behind him with a resounding boom.

Kise ... probably didn't mean for that to sound like a curse.


"So," Tsukishima drawled from where he stood in front of Kuroko. "That was Kise Ryouta."

"One of the infamous Generation of Miracles," Sugawara agreed, still staring at the closed gym door.

"Dang it, who does he think he is, coming in here and demanding to take our first years away from us?" Tanaka seethed, his dark aura emanating from every pore.

Kuroko ignored them as they argued back and forth, instead going over to Hinata, putting a hand on his shoulder. Hinata didn't move.

He had to crane his neck to see into his friend's eyes, and what he saw made his stomach turn. The shadows were back.

That stupid blonde. Did he even know that he undone half a year's work in mere minutes? Why did the Miracles break everything they touched?

"T-tsu-kun?" Hinata probed, voice small in a way it shouldn't be. Should never be. Kuroko inhaled deeply, peeling his fingers away from his stinging palms. Hopefully nobody would notice the half moons dug in there. Hopefully Akashi hadn't noticed his loss of composure-

All his work undoing his anger was instantly unraveled. How long had it been since he had worried about keeping his emotions tucked inside? He hadn't noticed- hadn't needed misdirection more than was needed during practice matches to keep him under notice. His team had loved it when he had smiled at their jokes and antics, Hinata had dragged emotions out of him one by one. He enjoyed being with his team and the Hinata family. Liked showing it.

One visit from Kise and all of a sudden, he was slapping his deadpan expression over his face, was back to shoving all his emotions in a bottle. (when had that ever been healthy? Cooping everything up inside?)

"I'm sorry, Shoyo." He apologized, but Hinata shook his head again, a bit of life reentering his eyes.

"You keep apologizing for everything- none of it's your fault. None of it." Hinata said, tone vehement.

Kuroko shifted, unable to accept the sentiment but still too raw to start an argument over it. Hinata seemed to sense this and slumped, head drooping into the protection of his arms and legs.

"What did we do wrong?" Hinata whispered, words barely reaching Kuroko's ears.

He wished he could answer.

Kise had rattled them. Had barged into their sanctuary and brought all their demons in through the front door.

Kuroko didn't think he'd ever forgive him for that.

Thankfully, it looked like he wasn't alone in that.

"Kuroko, Hinata." Captain's voice drew the entire team's attention. "You're part of our team now. I don't care what sport you played in middle school. I don't care if you had cruddy teammates that feel like they can demand that sort of thing from you. I don't care if you want to go back to basketball today or tomorrow or never. But you're part of Karasuno's Volleyball team now, and we protect our own. And you're not gonna have to put up with those BakaMiracles anymore, got me?"

Kuroko glanced around the room on instinct. It sounded too good to be true, this group of people he'd known for barely a month feeling this strongly about him and Hinata. But the hard stares, the straight spines, the grit teeth- he found himself believing them.

And he nodded, watching Hinata shake himself before pulling his friend to his feet.

They had a practice to finish.

Chapter Text

Kuroko collapsed against the wall, trying to get his breathing to something that resembled normal.

It had only been a couple days since the blond Miracle's bombshell entrance back into their lives, and Kuroko still hadn't managed to find the enthusiasm for volleyball that he'd been enjoying before the intrusion.

It was easy to see, looking at everyone practicing, hearing the increased intensity, the way the practices tended to drag on further into the afternoon- everyone else was feeling the same way. Easy to tell everyone else was feeling the same angry energy running through their veins.

He didn't want to stop practicing, and the resonating agreement over that sentiment meant practices didn't end until near dark- never mind the fact that Kuroko had finagled a key to the gym, nodding silently to anyone who came to join him, whether it be in the evening or early morning didn't matter. Words just hadn't seemed necessary in the face of what had happened.

Kuroko dragged a hand across his forehead and propped his hands behind his neck, pushing it down between his knees. The action made the floor spin under his feet and he shut his eyes against the nauseating motion.

You're pushing yourself to hard.

Morning runs, the regular practices and then the extra drills he was stacking on top of it... he was pushing his body far past what it was meant to take. He could almost hear Akashi's angry reprimand at not following the regiment he had implemented.

He took in a sharp breath, fingers almost definitely leaving imprints where he was digging them into his skin.

The voices had been almost constant since Kise's appearance- the only relief being when he pushed himself so hard he dropped from exhaustion. Which was more often than it should be, right now.

His hands moved from his neck to his temples, trying in vain to rub away the pressure that was building up behind his eyes.

Curse my good memory.

It was something that let him study effectively, sure. It was how he had gotten through Teiko's rigorous academics still putting in as much time as he had to basketball. But now- now it was a curse.

It was a curse having to hammer his parent's voices into his memory as a child so even when they were on the other side of the world he could still whisper Good Night Tetsu-kun in their voices. A curse that he'd grown used to that ritual, that he had the voices so perfect that when they actually did take the time to call him he didn't talk- he already held conversations with them regularly.

Just. None out loud.

This wasn't that. This wasn't a warm blanket over his shoulders as he went to sleep to the voices of his childhood washing over him. This was a white hot branding iron down his throat, making it impossible to breath or even speak as poisonous words resonated in his head ceaselessly.

A ball came flying from the court, nearly hitting him. Someone yelled an apology, but he couldn't even recognize who said it with the buzzing in his ears. The clamor of voices around him, the rumble of motion on the floor as people jumped- it felt like it was surrounding him, smothering him.

I need air, he thought, ducking out the doors. A cool breeze blew against his sweaty face, and he took a breath, relishing in the way it seemed to fill him, clearing the haze. Yells and pounds of feet still echoed behind him, and he hesitated in the doorway.

He shouldn't skip practice.

Do you really want to practice the condition you're in anyway?

He'd be following in the Miracles' footsteps- abandoning his team and only worrying about himself.

You're sick. All you'll manage to do is if you go back in there is puke all over the floor, and then they're going to have to clean it up.

He didn't even know if he would puke. But the crisp air beckoned to him, wind seeming to whisper that it was still summer, and that the cold snap wouldn't last, and it felt so much better than the claustrophobic confines of the gym.

He should take advantage of the cool weather while it was still here. Besides, nobody besides Hinata would recognize his absence, and Hinata was still so out of it.

I'm worried about him. This is too much like how he was back in Teiko- but no, there was nothing he could do about it right now- not when all he wanted to do was empty his milkshake all over his nice new gym shoes.

So he let the door close behind him.

He didn't go very far- he was too dizzy for that. But he settled himself against the railing, head leaned back against the cool metal.

It wasn't very long he was sitting there, he thought- time moved differently when you weren't paying attention to it. It could've been a couple minutes or half an hour later that the door creaked open and closed again.

His heart started to race at the profusion of noise from the gym, thinking he'd been caught, or worse, that he hadn't been caught and now they were going to find out he'd been skipping practice.

His muscles didn't move, though. They'd cooled down too quickly, he realized, and he was stiff now- too stiff to duck away as footsteps came towards him.

"Tsu-kun?" The voice was quiet- too quiet almost, to be Hinata. No one else called him that, though, so he brought his head up. This was the first time they'd talked alone since Kise had come- he was darn well going to listen.

Thankfully, despite their silence, the oranget still knew him better than anyone else. Wordlessly, Hinata threw the jacket he'd been holding over Kuroko's shoulders, squatting down to sit next to him.

His hand moved to hold the jacket in place, slowly blinking down at the Karasuno logo- it was the jacket the senpai's had given them after the 3 on 3. It seemed like so long ago.

"You disappeared."

Hinata's voice sounded almost accusing- which Kuroko knew meant that he was hurting.

"I didn't feel good," Kuroko said quietly. It was the truth. The way Hinata paused meant he was considering his next words carefully.

"You could've come told me. Or Daichi-san. We would've listened."

Kuroko's eyes fell closed. It was too much work to keep them open, and his head sagged, chin knocking into his throat. "I-" didn't want to be a bother. Didn't want you to see me as weak. Didn't want to get reprimanded.

All of those were true. Mostly though, he had just wanted to be alone. At least that's what he thought it was- it was getting harder to think.

A hand worked its way onto his forehead. "You're burning up," Hinata almost sounded panicked. He fiddled with the jacket, trying to wrap it around Kuroko's limbs with little success. "How long have you been out here? Going from warm to cold too quickly will make you sick, Baka."

Kuroko huffed a laugh, head pounding with the motion. Hinata's motions stilled. "I don't think you should be calling me an idiot, Shoyo." He wheezed.

"Mou, that's mean. Anyways, you're not getting any better sitting out here in the cold," Hinata said, grabbing one of his arms and hauling him to his feet. His head spun, and he actually thought he might barf for a moment.

"Hinata? Kuroko? What happened?" Sugawara's voice.

"Ah, he got sick," Hinata said, voice apologetic. Warm air, stinky with sweat, wafted towards him. Were they in the doorway? "Do you mind if I take him home?"

"Of course not," Sugawara said, like it was a given. Like he wouldn't even consider putting Kuroko back in practice when he wasn't feeling 100%. "Hey, Daichi, Kuroko-kun's sick, so we're gonna cut practice short. Hinata, you know where he lives?"

"Yeah," Hinata answered before Kuroko could muster up the energy to tell him no, they were not bringing the whole team over to his apartment. Because that was no doubt what was going to happen if they left Hinata in charge. "Hey, Tanaka-senpai, can you grab our stuff from the clubroom?"

He groaned- the sound barely made it past his lips. Hinata's voice grew softer.

"I'm sorry about making a fuss. I know you don't like the attention, but you can trust me, ya know, and these guys-- I don't think they're, they aren't like... They're going to look out for us, and that means looking out for you when you're sick. If you really hate it, learn not to work yourself to exhaustion, okay Tsu-kun?"

Kuroko huffed a breath of air- the closest he could get to a laugh right now. Trust Shoyo to show his concern in such a roundabout way. For someone so straightforward he could be very circuitous sometimes.

But if Shoyo thought he could trust Karasuno, then he would.

Shoyo knew people better than he did, after all.


They were raiding his cupboards.

Of course they were raiding his cupboards. What else had he expected?

"Where's all the food?! All I see is rice and pocky! Does he eat anything else?"

"I think he eats out a lot- I've never seen him eat anything besides what Hinata brings him for lunch."

"Well at least that makes sense- hold up, is the rice supposed to be moving like that?"

"Man that's nasty."

"Do you want to help get rid of this or are you gonna just sit there commentating?"

"I ain't touchin' that!"

"Oh for- it's moving! Ew! Ew! Get away!"

"Tanaka, grab the garbage can the thing's alive!" Stomping steps rattled the floorboards as yells still emanated from (by the sound of it) his very crowded kitchen.

"I told you not to bring them all over." Kuroko was too tired to put any inflection in his voice.

"No you didn't," Hinata contradicted, voice tinged with concern as he laid a fresh wet rag on Kuroko's burning forehead.

"Didn't I?" He honestly couldn't remember what he'd said and what he hadn't. His energy had flagged to an all time low, and sometimes he couldn't even string together a coherent thought in his head, let alone put it into words.

"Well, you might've," Hinata admitted. "I haven't been... paying attention as much as I should, lately. I'm sorry."

Kuroko blinked. Hard. Blamed his head for mishearing things for a moment. He thought he'd heard Hinata apologize for something that was in no way his fault or even entirely unexpected.

But he couldn't put that into words- couldn't remember the argument long enough to verbalize it. Instead, he closed his eyes again, thoughts percolating through his head as water dripped down from the rag into his hair.

He didn't stay awake long enough to figure out what his team had come up with for dinner.

Which, judging by the screams coming from the mini kitchen, was probably a good thing.


Kuroko pulled uncomfortably on the facemask. He didn't like the way it rubbed against his face and made each breath stiflingly warm, but it was the only way he was getting away with going to school today, so he bore with it. It didn't turn out to matter because Hinata pitched a hissy fit anyways.

Well, he had tried.

He decided to keep his silence on the fact that he had gotten sick because of overworking, not because of any bug going around- though spending an evening in the chill without cooling down properly had probably contributed to his feeling awful.

So he dealt with the facemask, quietly noting how nobody looked twice at it in his class, as opposed to the yells that had met him as soon as he'd walked into practice that morning, facemask firmly in place.

They'd completely shut down any attempts to join in the morning drills, demanding that if he were to come to practice at all he'd be sitting on the sidelines.

That didn't stop him from tossing a ball in the air, attempting to familiarize himself with the weight of the ball, how much effort it took to send it a certain height...

It was just strenuous enough to make his still aching body drag through the morning classes and straight through to the afternoon. He was just thankful that Hinata didn't try and convince him to go back home. Then again, that didn't stop a certain black haired setter from hovering...

"Kageyama-kun, could you please come write the answer to the question I have on the board?" The teacher called, and Kuroko's shadow jerked.

He didn't need to look to know Kageyama was wavering, not wanting to move from Kuroko's side. It was sweet, in a weird way. Kuroko wasn't used to having someone hover over him as he recovered from his different bouts of sickness.

Grudgingly, Kageyama moved to the front of the room, fumbling with the chalk and dropping it twice before he managed to put an answer- the wrong one- on the board. The teacher looked at it and sighed, turning to another classmate to come correct it.

Kageyama collapsed in the seat next to him, sighing heavily.

"You should pay more attention," Kuroko murmured. Kageyama jerked at his sudden commentary. Kuroko'd been mostly silent this morning, even more so than usual.

"And you should be resting," Kageyama rebutted, never looking his way, pencil poised but not moving over his empty page. He sighed. The setter could be just as stubborn as Hinata. It explained why the two butted heads so frequently, at least.

He wouldn't ever say so- too many people would immediately insist he go home, when the last thing he wanted right now was to be alone- but it was taking a lot of energy just to keep his head upright.

Kageyama's eyes seemed to dart over to his frame -slightly slouching in the chair, trying to find a position that didn't make his bones ache- "You can sleep, you know. I'll cover for you if someone sees."

It was highly unlikely anyone would see. Kageyama knew that- it was obvious by the sardonic note to his voice he wasn't pleased at the fact.

Still...

"I'll take notes for you so you don't miss anything?" Kageyama offered.

Kuroko's brow furrowed, side eyeing the setter.

"You don't take very good notes."

The statement came out blunter than he meant, but Kageyama didn't flinch- if anything, his lips twitched in a smile, back straightening.

"I can take good notes if I try. Now go to sleep."

He blinked. Kageyama watched him, waited, huffed, rolled his eyes, and shoved Kuroko's throbbing head down on the table.

"Take a nap, boke. You won't have the energy to stay awake during practice if you keep trying to fake attention now."

Kuroko blinked, trying to adjust to the sudden change in depth perception, but gave up when he realized how gloriously cool the desk was. It would take too much energy to prop his head back up.

Kageyama had a point-

No, he needed to pay attention. Needed to get good grades, or he'd get kicked off the basketball team, and that could not happen, basketball was where his only friends were-

He'd get up. He would.

He'd just... rest his eyes for a minute.


Whum. Whum. Whum.

A volleyball flew from his hands, launching it in that familiar not-quite-touching movement that launched it across the court and into Aomine's hands-

A whistle- or a buzzer? The points ticked up another notch.

Whum. Whum. Whum.

Passing by person after person, getting into the best position to pass. A basketball coming towards him. Colors flashing by his vision.

Red. Purple. Yellow. Blue.

Another hand motion, another muffled sound that meant points scored.

There was something missing.

Whum. Whum. Whum.

Orange. Where was orange?

Hinata. . .

Blurred colors, lights, sounds, the feeling of his body moving without his direct permission, scoring point after point after point . . .

The green shirted people stopped moving to block, stopped playing the game. Dark and light Blues were left to cover the court by themselves, buzzer sounding again and again.

Whum. Whum. Whum.

There was something wrong.

The ball felt all wrong in his hands. It was the wrong weight, the wrong color-

He wanted to stop.

His feet kept moving, fingers kept sending the too heavy ball to Dark Blue. Kept walking forwards with Red, Yellow, Purple.

Orange . . . Where was Orange?

A strange compulsion filled him. He needed to find Orange.

Reality distorted, bringing into sight a short, orange haired boy sitting in a hallway, watching a T.V.

Orange gagged, face filled with horror at whatever he was seeing. What was he seeing, that was so bad? He wanted to fix it, wanted to stop whatever was making Orange make that expression.

The vision disappeared, replaced with one of the green shirts going to score a point- he missed. Purple jumped and jammed the ball in.

Had- had Purple just scored for the other team? That . . . why did he feel so angry at that? Not at Purple for scoring against them, but for scoring for the other team . . .? Like they were so far ahead they could score against themselves and still win.

The words resonated, shook the very plane of reality. There was something- something he was missing.

Who were they playing against?

A face flashed in his mind- brown, scruffy hair, a giant grin that distorted into an angry one, a crying one-

Ogiwara.

Whum. Whum. WHum.

No.  No.  No noise could come through his lips, no scream of agony or pleading-

He wasn't- shouldn't be-

This wasn't how it happened, was it?

Red numbers, flashing across his vision like the pound of a gavel. 111 to 11.

Orange, gagging in horror. He wanted to plead, wanted to get down on his knees and beg for forgiveness, for letting this happen, but his words were sucked away before even crossing his lips-

Darkness, encroaching on his vision, on his very being, choking him,  drowning him he was going to suffocate, going to die and he didn't care-


"Kuuuurokoooo!" The yell startled him from his sleep, and he jerked to his feet, blinking fiercely, suddenly able to breathe and where was he what time was it why was the world spinning, oh look the floor-

"Idiot, he was sleeping!"

His stomach hurt. His head was spinning. Was he standing? No, he was being sat down. But why had the floor disappeared?

No, he could feel it- it was under his feet again.

"Kuroko, you okay? Sorry I startled you, I didn't meant to wake you and make you fall over-!"

His head spun, trying to make sense of the sudden change, of the words coming out of Orange- Hinata's mouth. He looked over to the side, blinking the sleep out of his eyes to clear his vision.

Hinata was bowing repeatedly, mouth still running, and Kageyama was holding onto his arm, glaring at the oranget.

Hinata woke you up with his screaming-

Woke him up? A dream, then?

He scrambled to piece together what had happened, but it was hard- the match was still playing out in his head, not as it had been, but as he dreamed it had been...

Kageyama's arm tightened around his.

His arm, around his stomach, that's why it was in pain now. Kageyama had stopped him from face planting-

He'd have to thank him for that. Maybe a vanilla milkshake...?

Puking over the toilet, the smell of curdled milk and stomach acid- it didn't taste as good the second time.

The thought made his stomach roll, and he pressed a hand to his mouth, trying to stifle the sudden wave of nausea.

"Kuroko?! Are you okay? Do you need a bucket?"

He shook his head stiffly, swallowing hard, all of a sudden very glad he'd skipped breakfast and lunch. Even if he did have to run to the bathroom, he probably wouldn't hurl- there was nothing in his stomach to come up.

"Breathe," Kageyama's voice suggested, hand resting between his shoulder blades. "That's what I always do when I'm sick."

"Breathe?" Hinata said sarcastically. "As opposed to what, dying?"

"No idiot, breathing through the nausea. It helps if you don't hold your breath- gives you something else to focus on so you don't puke your guts out."

"Not helping," Kuroko choked, and they both shut up. He focused on the fresh air rushing through his lungs and the churning in his stomach slowly subsided.

"Are you sure you feel good enough to go to practice?" Hinata said, worry making his voice shake. "I mean, I'm sure Daichi-san would be okay with me taking you home-"

"I'm going to practice," Kuroko interrupted, head snapping up. Both Kageyama and Hinata looked surprised at his sudden vehemence, but- he needed to go to practice. Needed something to take his mind off the dream. He couldn't stay in a quiet apartment left with only his thoughts. It might break him.

"Alright," Kageyama said, hand moving off his shoulder. "Alright, we can go. But don't push yourself too hard- I don't want to have to drag your sick butt home again."

A smile threatened to break out on his face. He still felt off, like the world was warping under his feet, but he had people here who were looking out for him.


Maybe I should've just gone home, He thought miserably. The medicine he'd taken that morning had worn off- the headache was returning with a vengeance, and the heat and scent of practice both made him want to play and barf.

It's better than thinking about that dream endlessly, another part of him muttered.

I'm thinking about it endlessly anyways, he thought back bitterly, kicking the ball back and forth between his toes. He'd run out of energy to set it long ago. Now it was just a matter of making sure his depth perception didn't fool him into thinking it was further away than it was-

The slamming of a door made his foot jerk, and the ball went skidding off to the other side of the court. He sighed. He didn't want to ask someone to get it for him again.

Someone was yelling.

"I got a practice match for us! We're going to be playing against Aoba Johsai tomorrow!"

"W-what?!" Daichi exclaimed, surprised murmurs taking over the team. Kuroko could barely twist his head to meet eyes with Hinata. Thankfully, the oranget voiced the question they were both thinking.

"Who?" Hinata asked.

"Who? Aoba Johsai is one of the top four teams in the prefecture!" Tanaka said, arms waving. "How did you finagle that, Takeda-sensei? Did you spam them with phone calls again?"

"While I'm good at getting on my knees and begging," He said, looking sheepish, "I actually didn't have to do that this time. We get to play against them on the condition that Kageyama plays Setter the whole game."

Tsukishima popped a hand on a hip, scowling. "It sounds like they're more interested in the famed King of the Court than us normal people."

"Oi," Kageyama growled, automatically ticked off by the nickname, but Sugawara interrupted the would-be fight with a well placed glare.

"That's fine. I may be Karasuno's official setter, but I have to say I want to see how Kageyama and Hinata's new quick will work on a top four team."

Kuroko blinked slowly. Should he feel left out of this? There was a strange feeling of emptiness filling him.

"Yosh, let's practice! I'm all pumped up now- c'mon, Kageyama, gimme a toss!" Hinata yelled, already launching himself towards the net.

Most of the team shook their heads at the duo and returned to practice. Kuroko blinked unseeingly at the court for a long moment that was interrupted by the sudden presence of a ball in his lap.

Kuroko looked up to see Sugawara standing over him. "I think this was yours," Sugawara said lightly, settling down beside him so Kuroko didn't have to crane his neck. There was a moment of companionable silence before Kuroko opened his mouth to voice a sudden thought.

"Are you sure about this?"

Sugawara blinked in surprise at him, nodding firmly. "I mean, yeah," He sighed, propping an elbow on his knee. "As much as I want to play, practice matches like this don't come around very often. We used to be a powerhouse school, but after our fall from grace, we're only seen as the 'Fallen Crows'," He said those words bitterly, sighing again. "If playing against Seijou means having Kageyama play setter for the match, then it's worth it."

"Sugawara-senpai," Kuroko murmured. When Sugawara glanced at him again, he merely shook his head. "You're really cool, senpai."

He was too tired to say anything else as Sugawara waved his hands, protesting. "A-ah, don't just say things like that, Kuroko-kun, you're gonna make me embarrassed!"

They're nothing like Teiko, he noted sleepily, closing his eyes to the rumble of balls against the floor and Hinata's excited voice.

No one there would give up a starting position- even if it meant going up against a strong team.

He felt something warm drape over him, tickling his nose but lulling him further into the comfort of sleep.

Maybe Hinata had the right idea, coming to Karasuno. He thought hazily.

That was the last coherent thought he had for a long while.

 

Chapter Text

"Are you sure you're okay to be coming to the game?" The blatant concern in Kageyama's voice should've made him pleased- instead, Kuroko worked to not become one with the chair in front of him that housed the black haired setter. This was the fourth time since he'd gotten on the bus that someone had asked him that question. He normally didn't get irritated easily, but this was getting ridiculous.

"I'm fine, Kageyama-kun," Kuroko insisted, not even bothering to raise his head this time around.

There was a beat of silence, the murmur of voices echoing around Kuroko's ears and Hinata's low breathing quickly lulling him back into lethargy.

"Is he still out of it?" Someone asked lowly.

"I think he's just resting," Kageyama said slowly. "Saving up his energy?" His tone lifted at the end, like he was completely unsure with his own hypothesis, even though he was completely right on both counts.

"Saving up his energy for what? He's not playing." The protest instantly snapped Kuroko back to reality. He wanted to play. That was the reason he was sitting on this bus.

"I can play," He insisted, bringing his head up and staring a concerned looking Sugawara-senpai in the face.

Sugawara shared a loaded look with Kageyama, before turning back to Kuroko. "Do you really think you'd be able to play like you are?" The words were said kindly, gently, letting him know he could say no and not feel bad in the least, but that wasn't what Kuroko wanted.

Not when he still had nightmares about the last time he sat out of a game.

He got so caught up in the flashbacks and overall feeling of nausea and dread that it took Tanaka's voice to cut through the chatter. He brought his head back up -when had he started resting it again? Had he missed part of the argument? Had he lost it?-

He blinked in the sight of Tanaka whacking Hinata on the back. "Well, we'll just have to rely on you instead, huh, Hinata? You and Mr. Genius Setter over there."

Suddenly, Hinata's weight shifted over onto his, reaching a trembling arm towards the window. Kuroko pushed back a little against the stifling weight, puzzled. He stopped immediately when he saw the state of his friend- Hinata's cheeks were tinged a sickly shade of green.

He whipped around. "Kageyama, the window-" he pleaded, but it was too late. Hinata's cheeks bulged and he spewed- all over Kuroko's lap.

His stomach rolled, instantly recognizing the stench of throw up and stomach rolling in response, despite his brain's pleas of -not now, please-

He closed his mouth, trying desperately to block the scent percolating through his facemask.

The thing about Hinata was, even though he had played countless practice matches against the Miracles, it was unsurprising he got nervous the first time a real match came around.

So Kuroko wasn't surprised that Hinata had an upset stomach. What surprised him was that it was apparently bad enough to make the oranget puke. He'd never been that nervous back in Teiko.

Or maybe he was looking at it wrong? Maybe it was because it was their first official volleyball match out of Teiko that Hinata was so nervous?

An arm elbowed him, shoving past, and Kuroko didn't even care that his space was being invaded because the stench was literally staring him in the face, and the arm attached to the smell was opening the window.

And at that moment he didn't care that his sweatpants were still warm with vomit. He didn't care that standing so suddenly made his head spin because there was fresh air. He gasped it in, relishing the breeze that the still moving bus created.

"I'm really sorry, Kuroko," Hinata said. Kuroko turned, surprised by the sight of hunched shoulders, of the strangely despondent tone. He slowly sat back down, never taking his eyes off his friend. Bringing his face back into the bus only made it harder to breathe, but he had a facemask for a reason- he would stand it.

"I'm used to it," He said instead, putting in the effort to make his tone light. "When have you ever not been nervous before a game?"

He ran out of fresh air, then, and all the activity was making him vaguely dizzy, so he left it at that. After all, Hinata knew the rest, right? Knew how everyone at Teiko had always looked at them with nostalgic long-suffering every time one of them suffered a bout of nerves. How their teasing was meant well, how nobody really minded.

But Hinata only shrugged a single shoulder, moving to a seat a bit further away while Tanaka came forward, offering a bag for Kuroko's dirty sweats. He nodded his thanks, stripping off the fabric and stuffing it and the stench away.

His muscles began to shiver at the sudden absence of warmth, but he ignored it -He still had his gym shorts after all, it wasn't like he was naked-. He sighed and returned his head to its resting position on the back of Kageyama's chair. It would be fine. He'd just go through warm ups with the rest of the team- after all, what better excuse was there to do them than being cold? Nobody could really protest.

The thought made him smile. It would be nice to be able to do drills with them again, after all the time he'd spent sitting out yesterday.


In all honesty, Kuroko had gone into this expecting Hinata to run into someone at the bathroom.

Surprisingly, Tanaka found the opponent before Kuroko or Hinata did.

"Hey," Tanaka said, sneering at a couple kids wearing the white and blue jackets- jackets that looked so much like Teiko's jerseys he did a double take. "Don't underestimate us. Otherwise, we'll eat you alive." The words had a weight to them. A challenge that the players reeled back from, vaguely sheepish.

Don't underestimate us.

Kuroko blinked, surprise making his fingers twitch. Tanaka's words held the feeling of roteness that Kuroko's always had every time he appeared "suddenly". It was the tone of something that got repeated a lot.

Which begged the question: how often had they been called the Fallen Crows? How often had they been looked down on by schools like Aoba Johsai, were victims of mocking like the Miragens had made all of their opponents?

"Maa maa, don't do that scary face, Tanaka-san," Tsukishima mocked, sidling up beside him so he could glare better down his nose. "You'll scare the poor little elites."

Seeming delighted that he was playing along, Tanaka let out a savage grin. "Ah, you're right, we should save our trash talk for the match."

Kuroko shifted on his feet, eyes searching instinctively for Hinata even though he knew the oranget would be heading to the bathroom right about now. He would've taken to the trash talk with relish, no doubt.

Daichi came racing around the corner and berating them. Kuroko felt amusement curl in his stomach as he watched Tsukishima just up and walk away. He was just about to follow the team towards the locker rooms when a call from one of the other players stopped his feet cold.

"Oi, King, what kind of dictatorship do you run these days? I look forward to seeing it in the match." The words were cold and cutting, the smirk on the guy's face and the way his friend snickered telling Kuroko the guy knew exactly how hurtful those words were supposed to be.

Kuroko turned his feet, glaring at the Turnip head with all the energy he could muster. Turnip didn't even blink.

Kageyama didn't seem to understand the underlying message, because he simply nodded. "Yeah. See you in the match."

Kuroko continually glared, even when he followed Kageyama past them and into the school. He ran into the frame of the door, mistiming his entrance with how much space he needed.

Thankfully, Kageyama was so caught up in his thoughts he didn't catch Kuroko's moment of incoordination. Unfortunately, Kageyama's longer legs and Kuroko's recent illness meant he had to jog slightly to keep up.

"What did they mean when they called you King?" Kuroko asked after another moment of silence, trying to regulate his breathing.

The term had been bothering him ever since the confrontation with Tsukishima. The only people he knew who had titles in sports had done something special to earn them- and based on the way Turnip had said the word... well, Kuroko thought he had a right to be worried.

Kageyama jumped nearly a foot in the air, pressing a hand to his chest as he whipped around to look at Kuroko. "When did you show up? I swear you appear out of nowhere sometimes." He muttered. Then, like he had finally internalized the question, blinked and averted his gaze. "You... didn't hear about it?"

Kuroko shook his head minutely, lips turning down in worry. "The Little Giant's the only real volleyball person I know." He explained, trying not to feel sheepish, and Kageyama scoffed, shaking his head.

"Hinata." He said, like it was the answer to all of life's mysteries—or maybe the cause of them?

Kageyama stared at him for a second before sighing heavily. "I guess you wouldn't know, having been playing basketball when it happened..."

The setter's fists clenched, glaring out the hallway towards where the noise was coming from. What was it that had put those shadows in the setter's eyes? Surely—he felt a pang in his chest as Kageyama opened his mouth and confirmed his encroaching fear.

"Those guys, they used to be on my team. Last year, our last match... I tossed. They weren't there to spike it. They—they gave up on me."

Kuroko's heart dropped in his chest. He'd known—known the moment he'd walked past the gym back in middle school that something was going on with the setter. Knew from their experience with Tsukishima that his team had practically abandoned him. But hearing all the details—seeing the sheer amount of pain in Kageyama's eyes—that made his blood boil.

Why? Why did people insist on alienating talented people? Why did teammates—why did friends abandon each other?

It was a question Kuroko seemed doomed to ask eternally, because after all of this he still hadn't found an answer. Still, there were a couple key things he had learned that he was going to hammer into Kageyama's head if it was the last thing he did.

"That's stupid," he said bluntly, ignoring Kageyama's jerk. "You may have earned the nickname King for reckless tosses on the court, but that's no excuse to stop playing."

-No excuse to quit, no excuse to skip, you hypocrite you had everything Kageyama wanted and you threw it all away-

He grit his teeth. There was a reason he had left. It was the same reason Kageyama had the look in his eyes right now. "They may have abandoned you," Kuroko said, voice dropping, looking away from Kageyama's shocked face so the genius setter wouldn't see that Kuroko wasn't talking entirely to him anymore.

"They may have treated you like trash, may have completely ignored you, but we won't. We won't leave you behind," He promised, and then snorted. "I doubt Hinata would ever give up on a toss from you. It means too much to him."

He paused. Where was Hinata? He hadn't seen him, not since the oranget had ran off the bus and towards the school, presumably looking for the bathroom.

"You know," Kageyama's voice said again, and Kuroko snapped back to attention, staring bewilderedly at the now sheepish setter. "That goes for me too. The abandoning thing, I mean. I won't leave you guys behind either."

Kuroko couldn't move, couldn't push words out of his gaping mouth. Bright red suffused over Kageyama's cheeks as he turned around, looking like he was trying not to run away towards the locker rooms.

Warmth that had nothing to do with the fever filled him.

Looks like trusting Hinata's choice in friends had paid off after all.


He'd gotten there too late, it seemed. Bouts of dizziness forced him to lean against the wall at some points, even though he wanted to keep sprinting.

How am I going to play if I can't even run?

By the time he'd hobbled to the bathroom, Hinata had already completed his run and was in the middle of his inevitable encounter with an opposing team member.

"His toss is amazing." Hinata was saying. Kuroko's brow furrowed. There was only one person Hinata spoke with that slightly awestruck slightly jealous tone of voice about- well, one person here. There's always the Miracles. You haven't forgotten he used to brag about them all the time?

Kuroko clenched his fingers into his palms. There was no reason Hinata would talk about the Miracles here- and definitely not with that tone of voice. But that still didn't explain- why was Hinata talking about Kageyama with an opponent?

"Wow, you've never gotten a toss from him in a game, have you?" The voice sounded vaguely familiar, but also so frustratingly arrogant that Kuroko peeked around the corner just to make sure it wasn't Aomine. "Listen, whoever he doesn't need, he discards. It's that simple."

A sharp breath. Kuroko felt the blood rush from his head, barely registering Hinata's greening face, not doubting for a moment that he looked similar. Thank goodness no one can see you. They'd never let you on the court.

Suddenly Tanaka's voice rang out in the hallway, booming confidence seeming to put the ground back under his feet, reestablishing equilibrium to the world. "That may be the Kageyama you knew back in Middle School, but he's changed since then. Just wait til the match, we'll show you- right Hinata?"

Kuroko leaned his head back against the wall, grinning slightly. Tanaka was always right. Kageyama had definitely changed since the moment Kuroko had seen him in Middle School. Sure, he might've ruled the court much like Akashi had back then -If it's so wrong why are you condoning it? You hypocrite.- but the setter had changed.

He repeated that last part multiple times to make sure it stuck.

Kageyama had changed- Hinata had changed him. That much was obvious just from the tone of voice Hinata used for him. So the annoying jerk was completely wrong.

"H-hinata?!" Tanaka cried, to gagging sounds and then a slamming door.

The Jerk was wrong, right?

"Yeah, we'll see him. I'm looking forward to seeing how his dictatorship works with people like these," the Jerk mocked, turning the corner blindly and running straight into Kuroko.

He didn't move. The Jerk's words were still reverberating in his ears. Dictatorship.

Is that what he thought? The guy- black haired, spiked up, looks like a turnip- had no idea what a Dictatorship was. Had no idea what it was like to be on a team with no agency. Had no idea what it was like for a team to fall apart out from under you.

"You were on his team." Kuroko said, voice frigid and uncaring. He didn't know if it was the sickness having a lingering effect on his mind or the sheer amount of anger that had been building since Tsukishima's barbed words before that fateful 3 on 3. He didn't know, but he didn't care either.

He didn't care that the turnip head was looking at him like he'd appeared out of thin air -he hadn't, and he was tired of people pretending he had- Instead, he did his approximation of a glare- the slight furrowing of his brow and downturn of his lips that had Turnip stuttering, putting his hands on his hips defensively.

"Sure I was. Idiot had the most reckless tosses you've ever seen," Turnip said, then dropped his arms, cocking his head at Kuroko, eyes firming. "What good is a setter who can't even set a ball the spiker can hit? Chances are Shrimpy-chan is gonna get dropped before the day is out." Then he shrugged, like abandonment wasn't a big deal, like it didn't matter.

"You're wrong." Kuroko murmured. He closed his eyes. It wasn't submissive, no matter how it came across. It was him trying not to breathe fire.

When he opened them again their stares at him didn't faze him in the slightest. He didn't care how badly he was covering up his emotions, didn't care how this might draw attention to him on the court. It needed to be said.

"Kageyama has changed since middle school. He isn't the same person you knew. He's gotten better, he's made friends, and he won't abandon them like you did," He nearly spat, tone frigid but eyes blazing. Turnip took a step back, but Kuroko wasn't done.

"We've done more to become a team in a week than you did for him in three years," Kuroko said, disgusted. He turned a shoulder away, but found himself unable to leave it there. "You might've known him back then, but you don't know him now- and if you go onto that court expecting to be facing the same setter, you're going to lose. Excuse me."

And with that he brushed past them, glaring straight ahead and nearly stomping towards the bathroom. He paused, turning his voice but not his head towards the still figure.

"I'm going to wait for Hinata, Tanaka-san. You can go on ahead." He said, tone still a little cool.

He didn't know what he was expecting, but a huffed laugh drew his attention. Tanaka was giving him a lopsided grin, backing up to lean against the wall. "You can be a bit scary, you know that, Kuroko-kun?" He commented.

He blinked once. Twice.

What?

Tanaka just laughed again, scruffing a hand against Kuroko's scalp before skipping off to the gym.

For a moment he could only stare at the retreating figure. Who in their right mind would call Kuroko scary? Not anyone who'd met Akashi, certainly. Or a hungry Murasakibara.

Then again, he thought, stepping backwards to lean against the wall next to the bathroom. Hinata would be out soon. None of them have met anyone besides Kise.

It would stay that way, if Kuroko had anything to say about it.

After all, none of them needed the past dredged up- it was enough that Kageyama had to deal with his old teammates. He didn't want to add any bombshells like the Generation of Miracles to the pile.


"Ah, Kuroko, Hinata, you're back!" Daichi called, glancing between them as if checking for injury. Kuroko was still wound pretty tight, but Hinata seemed less tense, shoulders relaxed in a way they hadn't been before.

"Is it our turn to practice yet? Can I hit a couple spikes? Hey, Kageyama, come over here, gimme a toss!" With that the orange blob was off to pester the setter. Daichi watched him go before turning back to Kuroko.

"Thank you," He said quietly. The amount of gratitude in his eyes made Kuroko shift a little on his feet.

"I didn't do much," he protested just as quietly. He really hadn't. He hadn't been in any shape to provide much emotional support, but when Hinata had come out of the bathroom looking nervous, all Kuroko had had to do was smile a bit and nudge the oranget's elbow. Hinata had perked right up, demanding they return to the court to warm up.

Daichi didn't seem to agree with this, though, because he shook his head, face kind but serious. "Tanaka told us what happened," He explained, putting his hands up when Kuroko stiffened. "I'm not berating you. I'm telling you why I'm glad you came to Karasuno."

He blinked.

What?

Daichi grinned again, lowering his hands to a more relaxed position. "You guys might be troublesome but you took the initial lesson seriously. I'm glad we can count on you to look out for each other."

Kuroko blinked again, barely managing a nod. The captain grinned, patting his shoulder before moving away to warm up.

His hand reached up to touch the shoulder Daichi had patted. "Sugawara-senpai?"

The setter looked to him, curious. Kuroko couldn't find it in himself to bring his gaze from the floor. "What did he mean by 'initial lesson?'"

"Oh, what he just said? I think he meant with the 3 on 3," Sugawara explained, propping a ball on his hip. "You guys had more tension between new teammates than most- I know I was concerned about it at first, but based on what I've seen . . . well, I don't think you'll have any more problems."

Sugawara waited patiently for a response, but Kuroko couldn't form words. Thankfully Hinata took that moment to come barrelling back to him, demanding to know if he felt well enough to warm up, with Kageyama yelling in the background to leave him alone to rest.

When he looked back again, Sugawara was smiling at the scene.

Kuroko didn't know if he could live up to the expectations the third years were setting . . . but he could try. He could try to fit in with this team.

After all, he thought, just slightly bitter, It's not like I can do much worse than Teiko, can I?


Shoyo was tense.

He didn't know if anyone noticed- it wasn't like it was obvious. The extra clenching of fists, being a little louder, a little bolder.

Well, anyone but Kuroko, he conceded, glancing at his friend out of the corner of his eye. He seemed to be doing okay- Shoyo had worried endlessly ever since Kuroko had nearly barfed out the bus window, but it didn't seem to be affecting him now.

Granted, Kuroko is the master of the poker face, a little voice whispered. He could just be hiding it from you. It wouldn't be the first time.

I know him better now, He thought back vehemently, spiking the next ball a little too hard and sending it careening into the other team. He didn't feel very sorry- not even when Daichi forced his head down in apology.

So yes, Shoyo was tense, but not for the reason people probably thought. Sure this was his first real game, since Akashi had never set him loose on the basketball court. Sure, they were facing one of the best teams in the prefecture. Sure, maybe Daichi had had to have a pointed talk about trump cards and not wasting energy with them before coming.

(Granted that seemed to be directed more at Kuroko, who was probably itching to get out on the court right about now, because Kuroko didn't listen to anyone when it came down to playing or not. Most of the time he could get away with disobeying orders simply because no one could see him break them. Not that he ever used that skill for anything except basket- volleyball.)

So no, Shoyo wasn't nervous because of the game.

He was nervous because he was itching, with the sixth sense he'd somehow gained after moving to Tokyo- the one honed over years of hallway and bathroom encounters- the one that he'd deadened for a while because he was always surrounded by great players, because for all their arrogance the Miracles were prodigies, was going off.

He took a breath, stepping aside so Tsukishima didn't "accidentally" hit him in the head while practicing his serves. Which meant he was in perfect position to overhear a couple of girls talking as they walked past the open gym doors.

"Did you hear who's coming?"

"Of course! I can't wait- do you think I'd be able to get a picture with him?"

"Only if you get me one too! I want to be able to rub his good looks in Saki's face. See what she thinks about his modeling career then."

The hair rose on the back of his neck.

"Hinata?" Kageyama asked, holding a ball and staring at him expectantly. Shoyo nodded vaguely, relying on the muscle memory they'd built to guide him through the drills as he focused his ears on the conversation.

"- greatest player on the team!"

"I can believe it- did you hear that he might be a prodigy? I can't wait to see-"

Crap! Shoyo cursed, diving forward to receive and ending up skidding on the floor, missing the ball completely.

"Don't mind, don't mind!" Daichi called, and Shoyo nearly growled as he picked himself up off the ground and went to retrieve the ball that had gone askew. He couldn't hear the girls talking anymore.

Crap....

Girls who were excited about someone who was coming who just happened to be a model and a prodigy? Did the universe hate them that much? He thought Kise had agreed to stay away from them from now on.

Since when do any of them keep their promises? He thought bitterly, picking up the ball and clenching it in between his hands. Even Akashi didn't make good on his promise to let me play...

A familiar presence niggled at his senses, and Shoyo brought his head up to meet Kuroko's baby blue eyes, fogged in concern. He summoned up a smile, tossing the ball to him before going to the end of the receiving line.

He was running away and knew it. Kuroko would know something was up. It made him uneasy- one the one hand, Kuroko had enough to worry about. On the other hand, Shoyo didn't want Kuroko caught by surprise when stuff hit the fan.

Shoyo didn't want Kise anywhere near here, but he especially didn't want him around while Kuroko was still recovering. The blonde would probably find some excuse to hang around and make another argument that he obviously wasn't doing well at Karasuno if he was getting sick, and that couldn't be allowed. If Kuroko was forewarned, he could duck out when the blonde menace showed his face.

But, on the slim chance it wasn't Kise, Shoyo would keep his mouth shut. The last visit was still close to the surface- he didn't want to bring it up again if he didn't have to.


It was almost absurdly easy to channel all his frustration into the game. Easy to slip into his role as decoy. Easy to draw all the attention to himself, all the while only keeping half a brain on the game. Easy to see the growing concern on Kageyama's face as Shoyo repeatedly smacked the ball with too much force.

It was also harder. Harder to ignore the way the frustration put blinders on him, how it served as a double edged sword. Harder to ignore Kuroko's fidgeting on the bench, knowing his friend wanted to play but still remain adamant in the fact that he couldn't. Harder still to remember how it felt to be on the bench watching other people play a sport you loved. Hard to remember to force his body to move that slightest touch slower, to accommodate Kageyama's toss speed.

Hard to deal with the bitterness that was tainting his enjoyment of playing in a game, of being part of a team.

"Hinata!" Kageyama called, and he blinked. The ball was going over there.

How long would it take to get there?

Two strides, bracing, springing, seeing the white of the net-

His muscles didn't feel the strain anymore as he bent backwards, snapping forward to propel the ball with all the momentum of the motion, straight down onto the court.

Is it supposed to be this easy?

Dull cheers in the background.

The colors seemed monochrome in his vision, breathing not even labored.

Is it supposed to be normal?

Hands whacking down on his back, celebratory grins as the score ticked up one more notch. They were at the set point.

Is this what it feels like, to be a Miracle?

He breathed, glancing around the court. A flash of blue- Dark blue, walking away from them, not needed anymore, too skilled to be challenged- concerned eyes.

He blinked harshly. In an instant, time sped up again, color returned to the world, and his ears were bombarded with sound.

Kuroko.

His team.

The game.

He was playing.

Kuroko was sitting on the bench, sitting straight up, one hand on the bench like he as planning on launching himself onto the court the moment someone looked away.

Tsukishima, Daichi, Tanaka, Ennoshita- they were all high fiving each other.

Kageyama was... still looking at him, puzzlement creasing his brow.

Like a dog shaking off water, Shoyo forcefully brushed off his previous attitude.

He wasn't going to go back on all his progress just because of some girly gossip. He had no right to mope. Not with Kuroko still by his side, not with all the teammates that they'd met, not with Kageyama, literally the greatest setter in the prefecture.

With one last glance at Kuroko, he turned to Kageyama, grinning broadly. "Let's go get the next one!"

Kageyama blinked, then smirked. "Definitely."

In tandem, they looked over to see Dachi grinning at them, then proceeded to wave them over and huddled in, locking arms around their necks. "Karasuno, Fight!"

Shoyo looked at their hands, all gathered together in the circle, and this time, his grin was real. Yeah, he had no right to mope. When had he ever had a team like this before?

Then, all at once, all the happiness drained out of him. All it took was the piercing squeal of fangirls. Shoyo's back forced itself upwards, fists clenching as his head turned towards the source of the noise.

Here we go.

The team closed ranks, brushing against his shoulders, much like they had the last time. Like they were braced for battle...

"What?"

Ennoshita wasn't the only one feeling confused. Shoyo had to blink several times to make sure he wasn't hallucinating the brown hair.

This guy, whoever he was, was not Kise.

"You're late," #4 accused, stalking up to not-Kise, vein throbbing at his temple.

"Ah, sorry, Iwa-chan, I got held up giving those cute girls some autographed pictures-"

"Idiot!" A shoe launched itself at not-Kise's head, and Shoyo worked hard not to balk.

Yeah, are we sure Kise didn't dye his hair and join volleyball? Because this guy definitely looks the part, with his grin and utter disregard for punctuality- I wouldn't put it past him to infiltrate volleyball just to get at us- Shoyo thought, rapid fire jumping from one conclusion to the next, each one getting more ridiculous.

"I'm going to kill him."

The blunt statement broke the tension cloying their throats, and there was a smack followed by a sigh. Daichi facepalming, probably.

"Tanaka, no."

"Tanaka yes," Tsukishima rebutted, disgust filling every syllable. "I'm irritated just looking at this guy."

Kageyama shifted at his shoulder, and Shoyo looked up to him. The setter's brow was furrowed again, but the way his eyes followed not-Kise's movements... The way his fingers twitched, feet shifting... Shoyo hadn't known him for very long, but he would bet Natsu's pair of lucky socks that there was history there.

"We're going to win," Shoyo said, and Kageyama jerked, looking down at him in surprise. "That's what you wanted to say, right?"

Kageyama blinked twice, but then nodded, fire relighting in his eyes, resolve straightening his shoulders.

It didn't matter who they were facing. They'd beat them. Together.

Chapter Text


 

I want to play.

A shrill whistle, announcing another point received.

I want to play.

Sugawara, the other second years filling the air with their cheers, hoarse encouragement.

Why can't I play?

His knee bounced up and down, fingers drumming ceaselessly against the metal. For what was probably the first time, Kuroko felt like Hinata- energy pulsing through his veins, pushing him into motion.

Except that he couldn't play.

The thought ached.

It wasn't the only thing.

His joints protested any movement- warm ups had been equal parts welcome and torture. It was painfully obvious that he wasn't anywhere near full health- that would only come with time and recuperation.

He didn't want to wait for his muscles to stop shaking at the slightest bits of exercise. He wanted to stop having to take medicine every four hours to make sure his brain could function.

Kuroko wanted to play.

You're not going to get to. Not with how good Hinata is doing, a small voice said snidely in his ears, a seed of jealousy curling in his stomach as the oranget went to spike sporting a huge grin, cheering with the team when it went through.

When the team called a timeout, Kuroko did nothing but sit on the bench, watching silently as everyone interacted, passing around water bottles and towels. Any questions on his health were met with a blank stare and a nod.

And for the most part he was left alone- until Daichi sat down with a furrowed brow and explanation on his lips.

"I'm sorry we can't put you in," Daichi said, sounding surprisingly apologetic, "But we need you as a trump card. We're going to be facing Seijou in the future. If we show you off now, there's no doubt in my mind that they'll find a counter for you." The captain's crease got larger as he stared at their opponents on the other side.

"For now, we're trying to keep their focus on the freak duo. Then," he said, looking back at Kuroko with a smirk, "you'll come on the court, and we'll beat them and go to Nationals."

Kuroko nodded obediently.

What Captain says goes. Kuroko was just surprised that Daichi had deigned to explain his reasoning. -He didn't dare to hope that the comment had been spurred by some care for his mental state. He had been wrong about that too many times in the past to nurture that hope now.-

Daichi looked at him for a moment as if waiting for a response before shrugging and gathering the team for a huddle. Then they were off again, and Kuroko was left to ruminate over Captain's words.

On the one hand, Daichi had more than enough reason to stop him from getting on the court. Kuroko's Misdirection had a limited amount of time that it worked on the court -nobody but Hinata knows why you're called the Phantom, stop trying to fool yourself- The more people were exposed to it the greater the chances that they would find a way around it.

Another whistle, in Seijou's favor this time.

On the other hand, that might not be the only reason Daichi was stopping him from playing. He was sick, and it was honestly a miracle that he hadn't infected everyone else on the team yet. Limiting his amount of contact with a ball that would be passing hands a lot was probably wise. But all that logic didn't lesson his want to play any- didn't lessen the feeling that he just wasn't needed here.

Not needed never needed why did you come?

He pressed a fist against his chest, rubbing at the tension that had built up there.

"Kuroko? You alright?"

Sugawara's voice was a surprise. His lungs expanded suddenly, and he blinked several times to bring himself back to the present. "Sugawara-senpai?" he asked.

The silver-haired man was staring at him in that way that made his heart clench again. Was it the chest pains returning or the way Sugawara was looking at him like he was almost concerned? "You looked like you were in pain for a minute there." The setter said leadingly.

"Ah. No, I'm fine Senpai. You don't need to worry about me." He insisted, straightening. He shoved his hands in his lap, trying to warm the cold digits. Dang it. The last thing he wanted right now was to give Captain more of a reason to keep him on the bench.

"Just because I don't need to worry about you doesn't mean I don't, you know" Sugawara said gently. He turned slightly, eyeing the match. "It hurts not being able to play, doesn't it?"

Kuroko blinked. That wasn't where he expected this conversation to go.

You weren't expecting to have a conversation at all.

He ignored the snide murmurings. "You're more observant than people think, Sugawara-senpai." Which was a nice change from being completely overlooked 99% of the time, but he seemed cursed to be noticed in the exact moments he didn't want to be.

Sugawara looked indignant. "What is that supposed to mean?"

The sudden show of concern and open indignation was enough to make a laugh want to bubble out of his throat. That laugh died instantly when his eyes caught Turnip's hair attempting to block Hinata. He was vindictively pleased when his hands didn't even come close to the oranget's spike.

The tension, the undivided focus of those on the court, they moved something in him, and Kuroko found himself opening up a bit, like a flower unfurling tentatively in dawn's gentle light. "I... was thinking of my old team," Kuroko said slowly, Sugawara-senpai turning to listen politely. "I was benched a lot back then too."

Of course, that was the simplest explanation, with no need to go into detail. But Sugawara would understand. He always had before. And, true to form, Sugawara reached up to grasp Kuroko's shoulder with a steady hand.

"You know we all care about you, right?" Sugawara said, head tilted so that he could meet Kuroko's eyes, that strange undercurrent of steel returning. -The steel he'd only seen once, back when Kise had shown his face- "We're not going to abandon you, and we're not going to stop worrying about you. Invisible or not, we're gonna look after you."

"Sugawara-senpai," Kuroko said, warmth flooding him. His brain was going fuzzy again- he wanted to lay down. A stray thought passed from his head to his lips without asking permission first. "You're the mom friend, aren't you?"

The sudden sputtering was strangely satisfying, and he turned back to watch the match, allowing a brief lapse of the iron control he'd learned so he could lean briefly against Sugawara's shoulder and murmur a Thank You.

The hand fluffing his hair in return felt much better than it logically should. But he was content to throw logic out the window for a day.


His warmth and contentment was ruined in a split second of noise.

The squealing was so sudden he jerked to his feet, shoulders tense and mind spinning with who's screaming what's wrong who's fighting where's Hinata.

And also dizziness, but that didn't matter when people were closing ranks around him in response to Ki-

It wasn't Kise.

He was fine.

At least, that was what he told himself as he unclenched his fingers, staring idly at the nail marks he'd left on his palms. He had to avoid eye contact with the brown-haired volleyball player that had just entered and was staring at him out of the corner of his eye.

Not good.

But then the brunet was getting hit in the head with a volleyball, and he was acting like an idiot, and the tension around the team dissolved, even as his own heightened.

A calculating stare hidden behind a cheerful facade. How many times had he noted that exact same oxymoronic combination in his old teammates? From people you would never expect to be cunning having the capability of tearing you apart after a glance.

This newcomer, whoever he was, was dangerous.

"I'm going to kill him," Tanaka commented, cracking his knuckles. Daichi facepalmed, sighing, and the tension dropped out of the team's frames, one at a time.

"Tanaka, no," Daichi pleaded.

"Tanaka, yes," Tsukishima rebutted, glancing at Kuroko so quickly he blinked to make sure he hadn't imagined it, but when he looked again Tsukishima was sneering at the brunet. "I'm irritated just looking at this guy."

Tsukishima has good instincts, Kuroko thought, eyes scanning the whole gym, noting the fangirls on the balcony, the Seijou coach exchanging words with the newcomer, Hinata's untied shoelace. If he's feeling the same impending doom that I am.

"Tsukki, calm down," Yamaguchi said weakly, nerves chipping away even more at his normal composure. Surprisingly, Tsukishima heard and paid attention to Yamaguchi's stuttered words, because his shoulders lost some of their tightness, hands coming to his side.

"Oh well. We'll just have to crush him even harder, won't we?"

The whistle blew- the start of the second half was starting.

"I want in," Kuroko blurted. Everyone around him turned with various expressions of shock and concern.

"We've told you before," Sugawara started kindly, and he shook his head harshly. How was he supposed to explain that this was different? He didn't just want to play anymore- there was something coming, he needed to be out there for it-

"This isn't that."

"Are you wanting to play against Oikawa?" Kinoshita asked, and Kuroko jerked, looking over at the second year's open features.

"We get it," Narita added. "All of us. But there's only so many positions on the court, right? So the ones that have the best chance of beating the pants off of them go in."

"That seems wrong," Kuroko said, voice quieting as he took in the court. Seijou was starting with the ball. "Shouldn't it be the ones who want to play the most?"

"You're not the only one to think like that," Sugawara said, and Kuroko studied the third year's gentle features that were belied by his fierce eyes. "But personally, I think that the ones who want to play the most are the ones who tend to work the hardest. All that desire fuels their practice- eventually they'll have to get their chance on the court, don't you think?"

"Not always," Kuroko muttered bitterly.

He remembered all too well his days in third string- wanting was not nearly enough motivation for those members. They could want and wish all they liked- if you didn't put any work in, it didn't matter.

Still, there was a kernel of truth to what Sugawara-senpai had said. Kuroko had wanted it, had wanted it so badly he dedicated every spare moment of time to it- and with a bit of luck -quite literally running into Aomine in the fourth gym in his after-practice session, Akashi taking him under his wing- he had gotten out on the court.

Not everyone was that lucky.

And one of them is playing now. Are you going to take that from him?

A silence had descended upon the group after his words.

He left it. There was nothing he wanted to add to his statement- he didn't want to clarify, didn't want to prompt any questions- nor did he want to retract it. Everyone would see that for the lie it was, no matter how little they knew him.

Instead, he busied himself analyzing the game -Turnip tended to jump off on his right foot, but his shots angled to the left in a strange quirk he didn't think was purposeful.- all the while keeping an eye on Oikawa.

The Kise look alike was warming up diligently, with a focus and rigor that reminded him of the first string back in Teiko. The single-mindedness and determination to be at the top of your game-

He dragged himself out of that line of thought immediately, scrutinizing the player to find out what else had triggered the memory.

A minute of study held the answer. The exercises Oikawa was doing- stretching different parts of his knees, ankles, and lesser tendons- they were familiar to Kuroko, as a basketball player, but it had never been something they had done in Karasuno.

He turned it over in his mind, turning the majority of his attention back to the game.

So, he either played basketball in the past, he thought, as Ennoshita went for a spike that was picked up immediately by #4, Seijou has different warm ups as we do, Seijou didn't manage a spike, barely making it over the net, which Hinata instantly rectified, their points ticking up another notch, or he has some reason for why he needs to strengthen those specific set of muscles.

And there was only one reason someone in volleyball would need to do leg strengthening exercises. Aomine had been forced into them by Akashi so that he could jump as many times as he did. Same with Murasakibara. Same with anyone in basketball so they didn't suffer jumper's knee.

Kuroko would put a lot of money on Oikawa suffering from it. He'd bet against anyone that said otherwise- might even make a bundle of money off it too, seeing as nobody at Karasuno knew not to bet against him yet. (Nobody except Hinata, and he could be roped into ridiculous bets more times than not anyways)

But that only meant that Oikawa worked hard enough to necessitate that kind of conditioning, which only made him more dangerous.

He mulled the problem over in his head, studying the brunet's fluid movements. Despite Oikawa's carefree attitude Kuroko knew he had to be a top tier player just from the fact that he was at Aoba Johsai.

What you need is a way to defeat him.

He couldn't take advantage of his knee. It wouldn't have gotten bad enough that they could do anything to exacerbate it- at least not in the short term. Not to mention that line of thought was too reminiscent of Akashi's 'do anything to win' rhetoric to sit well with him.

That left outsmarting him- and of course, the best way to outsmart your enemy is to know them better than they know themselves. He shivered. Study them, Tetsuya. How do they move, how do they react, what are their tells that they don't even know they have? Use them. Become what you were meant to be.

He... Really wished that he had been paying more attention to the game. He'd been so deep in his thoughts that he completely missed the fact that Hinata still hadn't tied his shoelaces. Completely missed when his friend tripped on said shoelaces as he went to receive.

What he didn't miss was the slide, the girlish shriek as Hinata completely missed the ball and rammed straight into Ennoshita's nose.

"Time!" The ref called, blowing the whistle, clambering down from his place next to the net and grabbing a first aid kit. Kuroko was the first one off the bench, pushing through the people crowding around the duo to see what the damage was.

"Hinata?" Kuroko said anxiously, trying to pull him off of where he was splayed against Ennoshita.

"Grrrbbbjjdjkj," Hinata protested, rolling out of his hands and around on the floor. Ennoshita echoed the oranget's groans, though his were muffled by his hands and blood and-

Kuroko tore his eyes away from the wing spiker, refocusing on Hinata as the ref pushed through, going immediately to Ennoshita's possibly broken nose.

"C'mon Hinata," He said, dragging the oranget to his feet and refusing to let him crumple again. "You have a harder head than that, you're fine."

At least he hoped. The guy had taken a basketball to the face- one of Kuroko's ignite passes no less. He could handle bonking heads.

"Graaaahh, ack, no don't touch it, Ow! Jeez, Tsu-kun!"

"Sorry," Kuroko said, not sorry at all as he pushed orange hair (way too long) out of the way so that he could see. The skin was raising around where Hinata'd gotten hit, but it wasn't turning colors or bruising yet, so he'd probably be fine.

"You all right, Hinata?" Sugawara asked, appearing at Kuroko's shoulder with an ice pack and a tremble in his voice.

"Urrg, fine," Hinata grumbled, taking the ice pack and nursing his head. "I've been hit harder- a nose is a first for me, though."

"Add it to the list," Kuroko muttered, relieved.

"You don't seem to be suffering from a concussion," Sugawara noted, eyes searching Hinata thoroughly. "You got lucky."

"Luck has nothing to do with it," Kuroko said, shooting an amused glance at a now pouting Hinata. "He has the hardest head I've ever seen."

"Well, we'll thank his thick skull for keeping our decoy's brain safe, then," Sugawara chortled.

"What's left of it, you mean," Tsukishima deadpanned.

Hinata spluttered.

"Hey! Rude! I've just been headbutted-"

"Doing the headbutting, more like-"

Kuroko sighed.

"I've got an ice pack! Give me more sympathy!"

What are they, five?

"If anyone deserves sympathy its Ennoshita-san, he's the one sitting out with a broken nose."

Kuroko blinked. "Sitting out?" He interrupted, hopes rising despite himself. He glanced at the ref, who was putting up the first aid kit, looking like he was giving instructions to the now benched Ennoshita. He looked at Daichi. "Who are you subbing him with? We're still playing, right?"

Daichi gave him a look, and he swallowed, spine straightening. The team quieted, watching.

I want this, he tried to project. I'm fine. I want to play. I need to play.

Daichi sighed, rubbing the crease in his nose. "Fine. Just until Ennoshita's nose stops bleeding. I wasn't kidding about you being our trump card, alright? And for goodness sake, be careful. We don't need any more injuries on top of you being sick."

"Yes sir," Kuroko said, not bothering to feel embarrassed over his use of the term, instead turning a bright smile to Hinata. I get to play~ The oranget, to his surprised, was nursing a contemplative frown.

"Are you sure you're okay to be playing?" He murmured, watching the rest of the team scatter to either talk to Ennoshita or retake their places on the court. Daichi was exchanging words with the ref- probably to facilitate Kuroko playing.

Playing.

"I'll be fine," Kuroko dismissed. He would be. It wouldn't be very long, most likely- they only had about half of the second set left, anyways. He'd make it. When Hinata still said nothing, Kuroko shot him a look -not a glare, but firm, he wouldn't be swayed on this- "I'm not going back on the bench. Not again."

Hinata flinched, looking hurt. "I didn't mean-- don't you trust me? Don't trust us to win?"

Kuroko blinked, hard. That wasn't- how did Hinata even come to that conclusion? "Of course I do- that's not-" he took a breath, trying to organize his scattered thoughts. "I'm tired of sitting out, Shoyo," He said quietly. "I'm tired of not being needed."

Hinata's fingers twitched, and straightened to his full height, looking at Kuroko straight on.

"Tsu-kun, you sat out 'cause you're sick, not because you weren't needed or aren't good enough or whatever. We were trying to look out for you, cause that's what good teammates do."

That's what good teammates do.

For a moment, silence reigned, and Kuroko could do nothing but gawk and try to absorb the heatpassiondetermination emanating from Hinata, like a moon drawing light from the sun.

Then the whistle was blowing to mark the restart of the game, and it was go time.

They shared a look of mutual understanding, and with a bump of fists returned the fire, burning just as brightly as it had in that three on three. No, he realized, as the team huddled together with a cheer. Better.

Because it wasn't just him and Hinata and Kageyama anymore, he realized, whacking hands with everyone as he took his place on the court, nodding to the setter. They were a team.

The ball came sailing across the net, and he felt a surge of energy as it whacked into his waiting arms.

It felt like coming home.


"We got pork buns!" Daichi called, holding up the bag.

"Uwahhh!" Hinata squealed, practically sparkling. Kuroko grinned at the expression, bowing in thanks and dragging Hinata down with him. (And if it made it harder for the oranget to stuff his face with pork buns in the process, well, all the better, right?)

"Arigatou," He said, accepting the bun that was offered, absentmindedly smacking Hinata's hand as it tried to weasel another one out of the bag.

The team worked their way down the street, loosely grouped.

"That serve of Oikawa's was really something else. How are we gonna beat them if we can't even pick it up?"

Daichi grinned. "That won't be a problem much longer."

"Hm?" Kuroko questioned. Oikawa's serve had been the hardest out of all of Seijou- he'd only gotten a shot at it once, but it had left his arms red and burning.

Daichi turned a grin at him. "After all, he's coming back to the club soon."

Tanaka instantly grinned.

"Who?" Hinata asked, sticking a head around Tanaka's frame, pork bun still sticking out of his mouth. Daichi smirked, two crows cawing and flying away in the dusk light.

"The guardian deity of Karasuno."


Oikawa walked in, aiming a smile and a wave at his fangirls as he walked into the gym. They squealed in delight, sending a trickle of pride through him. He didn't see them squealing for Iwa-chan when he walked through the halls.

His thought process halted when he turned to their opponents.

They were facing Karasuno. That would've been enough to give him pause- it was where Tobio had gone, after all.

But that wasn't why he stopped- wasn't why he stared now.

They were all tense, forming tight groups (around certain people, it looked like. How was he supposed to take that? Where they hiding their girlfriends in the middle so he didn't steal them?)

"You're late!" Iwa-chan barked, throwing a volleyball at his head.

"Mou, so rude, Iwa-chan," He pouted, sending one last look towards the center of the groups. "Why are they all glaring at me?" He wondered. It was unnerving. Had he done something to tick them off lately?

"I don't know, but I don't really blame them," Iwa-chan deadpanned, walking away.

"Wha- so mean! Iwa-chan!"

Chapter Text

"You're coming over. Mom said so," Hinata hissed from the corner of his mouth.

Kuroko, still humming with yes we won and muted relief that he hadn't been useless, quirked a half-grin. In a bubbling of mischievousness he hadn't felt since middle school, he hissed a reply back. "It's late, I still have homework, and I don't have a bike."

Hinata bounced slightly, eyes twinkling in a way that almost belied the smirk on his lips. "Mom has food ready for us, your teachers don't ask for it anyways, and we can double," he shot back.

Kuroko did scoff then. -breathy, an almost a hysterical laugh, because when was the last time he had had this much fun bantering with someone?- "The day I double with you on a bike is the day I stop caring about living." He returned quietly, before stilling.

The words had exited almost without thought, but even that wasn't as surprising as the fact that he had managed to say them at all. Managed to joke about something that had only ever accompanied his lowest lows. But in all honesty, dinner he didn't have to prepare himself made the notion of imminent death almost worth it.

If Hinata noticed his stillness, he didn't comment on it, instead turning those wide, clear eyes on him in a clear puppy-dog expression. "Are you going to make me tell Natsu that her Ghost-nii doesn't care about her anymore?"

"That's just cruel," He said instantly, ignoring the panic that rose at the thought. -I didn't mean it that way, I was just joking, can't you see that this isn't funny anymore?-

"Can you two please leave your argument for after we go over our practice match?" Daichi snapped, looking vaguely irritated. Kuroko took in a shaky breath even as Hinata turned to give Captain a pout. He didn't know whether or not Captain had interrupted purposefully, but he was grateful all the same.

Takeda-sensei's voice started up again, the low rumble echoing through his ears, and he felt his body sag just a bit. Like a switch had been flipped, he suddenly felt exhausted. -Understandable. Your last dose of medicine is wearing off and you played despite it. There are some things even adrenaline can't cure.-

"You okay?" A low murmur in his ear made his eyes jerk open -when had he closed them?- vision going slightly cross eyed at the sudden change. He blinked firmly a couple times. Hinata's orange hair came in and out of focus, and through his fuzzy vision Kuroko thought he almost looked concerned.

"Fine," He whispered back, straightening up and propping his elbows on his knees just to make sure he wouldn't fall asleep and draw attention to himself.

"Liar."

The word was barely audible, but when Kuroko looked back over in surprise, Hinata was staring dedicatedly at the front, showing no sign he had said anything.

Daichi's clear voice brought his attention back. "As Takeda-sensei said, we did okay for our first match, but there were obviously things that we could improve," He commented, glancing around. "Our receives, for example."

Tsukishima twitched, and Kuroko rubbed his arms, mindlessly prodding at the sore spots that were sure to form spectacular bruises given a couple hours. Oikawa didn't just have an arm on him- he had the precision to match. The way he had aimed specifically at those he had suspected of being weak receivers...

Kuroko, for his part, was grateful that he was invisible. There would've been no way for him to pick up those serves, inexperienced as he was, if the Kise lookalike hadn't thought that Kuroko's position was a gap he could exploit.

Still, he thought, sharing a look with Tsukishima. We'll need to get better if we hope to win against them next time.

"Well, that's something that can only get better with practice," Daichi said, shrugging. "We can work on it and improve, but receives aren't something you perfect overnight, and we're going to have to face them again if we want to get to Nationals," His gaze hardened. "And next time, they'll probably have Oikawa as setter the whole time."

Kuroko blinked, eyes flicking to the side in time to catch the careful -focused- blankness on Kageyama's face. What was the history there? He knew that Kageyama had suffered at the hands of his teammates, but Oikawa wasn't even in his year. He wouldn't have been around...

Except as a senpai.

What had he called Kageyama? In that tone of disgust and jealousy that set his nerves on edge? His little genius kohai?

Kuroko's nails dug into his knees, forcefully driving off the beckonings of sleep. Hinata bumped against his shoulder, and one glance at the oranget told him Hinata had caught it too.

"So, ideas for improvement, anyone?" Daichi said, clapping his hands together, and hands started coming up.

Well, Kuroko thought, he could say with certainty that there were at least two resident experts on difficult genius-senpai relationships on the Karasuno team. He breathed in deeply, straightening as people began giving different suggestions.

It didn't matter. Kageyama was theirs now, so not-Kise could keep his hands to himself.

There would be no more player-snatching from this team. Not if they could help it.


"Chinese dumplings? The soccer team bought the last of them. Besides, we're closing for today."

Kuroko merely sighed, disappointed, but Hinata was more vocal in his displeasure.

"What a lazy clerk!"

The blond's eye twitched. "Shut up! Go home and eat a proper meal!"

He sighed, trying to ignore Hinata's pointed look.

-Dang it. I'm too tired to cook for myself, riding home with Hinata is courting death...- He sighed again. Maybe he could do without? He wasn't especially hungry anyways- he hardly ate anything on a normal day, let alone when he had to fight against puking it up.

-Even if I wanted to cook for myself I still haven't gone shopping.- If he'd learned anything last night, it was that he needed to go shopping more regularly. With the amount of fuss that the team had kicked up about the obvious lack of food in his cupboards, he might find himself with chaperones just to make sure he ate more than fast food.

Which could be considered sweet, if it weren't for the fact that it was completely unnecessary. He ate enough home cooked meals with the amount of times he got dragged over to Hinata's without having to take the time out of practice to make them for himself.

A bike bell ringing behind him jerked him back to reality, and horrified he realized he had completely missed the conversation. Somehow he had ended up walking in Hinata's shadow as the team headed down the street in loose clumps, some of them munching on- were those granola bars?

Where did they get those?

He shot a baffled look at Kageyama, who just raised his eyebrows and held out a second bar. Kuroko took it, eyes furrowing slightly in bewilderment. Kageyama merely nodded approvingly, shoving the last bit of his own into his mouth.

"So how did you guys like your debut match?" Daichi asked, turning from where he was walking side by side with Sugawara.

Kuroko shrugged, unwilling to talk after he had just taken a bite. Hinata had no such reservations about talking with his mouth full.

"It wash greaf!" He spewed, and Kuroko sighed again. Kageyama took the cue to act as the voice of reason, whacking the oranget upside the head.

"Chew with your mouth closed, boke."

Hinata choked, coughing and spluttering as he tried to get air through his granola-blocked windpipe.

He took the ensuing fight as his cue to answer. "I enjoyed it," Kuroko said, fiddling with the wrapper to unfold another segment. Enjoyment didn't quite cover it. A smile twitched on his lips. "I want to play again."

When he looked back up, both Daichi and Sugawara were grinning goofily at him. Even Hinata and Kageyama stopped flinging punches to stare. Self conscious, his shoulders raised again and he took a bite, eyes searching around for something else to steer their attention towards.

As usual, Hinata came to his rescue.

"Me too! It was great to be able to play together again. We never got to in basket- which is stupid, cuz we kick trash together!" Hinata boasted, bouncing on the balls of his feet. Tsukishima interrupted then, not even bothering to look at them as he and Yamaguchi ambled past.

"Ho? I thought you two were part of the glorious Generation of Miracles," He said, and Kuroko's shoulders tensed, wrapper crinkling dangerously in his hands.

Hinata's bouncing stopped. "We were," He said slowly, tone clearly indicating he had no idea why this was coming up. "But we never got to play on the same team."

Confusion reigned on the team's faces. "We played against each other often," Kuroko explained, focusing on loosening his grip and trying to salvage what remained of his crushed dinner. "The Miracles, I mean. But Hinata and I were never on the same team. Never in real matches."

Kageyama's eyebrows were furrowed in concentration, but, as if sensing that the topic was closed, turned to Daichi. "Teiko might've had enough players to switch out specialists like that... but what about us? What are we going to do about the open positions?"

"Open positions?" Hinata asked, before growling and kicking the pedal of his bike that kept whacking his shins. It spun around and just hit him higher. Hinata cursed.

Sweatdropping at his antics, Daichi ignored the cursing to answer the question. "Karasuno is fundamentally short of players. Normally, a volleyball team will have both a Libero-defense specialists- and an Ace. We have neither, currently."

Defense specialist. Kuroko's back straightened, and he ignored the aches and pains that accompanied the motion. -I didn't realize volleyball had a position like that.-

"I could be the Ace!" Hinata volunteered, waving his hand in the air. Kageyama was already shaking his head.

"You can't be the Ace," He said bluntly, and Kuroko's thoughts were momentarily derailed as Hinata's fists clenched. He glanced between Hinata and Kageyama fearfully. What would he do if they came to blows? Thankfully, Kageyama remained calm as he explained.

"You're the team's Ultimate Decoy. You draw all the blockers to you and open the way for the spiker. You can't do that and be the Ace at the same time."

Hinata's face ran through a variety of emotions- like he couldn't decide whether to be pleased at the compliment or mad that his hopes had been dashed. Eventually he just punched Kageyama's arm and let the point drop.

Cautious about asking the question right after Hinata's had been smacked down, he shifted from foot to foot, going to pop the last bite in his mouth before pausing. "What- what do Liberos do?"

Daichi hummed, turning to press the button at the light for the team. Tanaka hammered a couple more times just for good measure. Daichi huffed in exasperation, turning to Kuroko. "Liberos are the specialists in defense- they're the main receivers on the team, and are actually forbidden from attacking. I guess they'd be like rebounders in basketball?"

More like Passing Specialists. He hummed thoughtfully, shoving the rest of the bar into his mouth. If they were forbidden from attacking, then it meant that Libero was a position you couldn't spike or set from. Not flashy in the way that Hinata always yearned to be, for sure. But unlike Shoyo, Kuroko was used to staying out of the limelight, single handedly laying the foundation for the connectivity of the team. This wasn't too different from that, was it? After all, the set and spike was determined by whether or not the receivers did their job.

The light turned green and they ambled across the street, his mind racing a hundred miles an hour.

"But if they're not allowed to attack then what do they do when they're on the front line?" Kuroko mumbled, trying to reason the logic out.

"Oh, they don't go on the front line," Sugawara explained, snagging the wrapper out of his hands and tossing it into a nearby trash can so he would stop ripping it to shreds. "They get switched out, see? One player on the rotation is designated to switch with the Libero when it comes their time to go on the front line. That way you keep the right number of players without breaking the rules."

"Speaking of," Kageyama mused, propping a hand on his chin, "You said something about a Guardian Deity, right?"

"Right," Sugawara said, smiling slightly. "We're not particularly strong, but we're not weak either. We've had great players in the past- we were just never able to apply their strengths effectively."

A somber mood fell over the group, and Hinata and Kuroko shared a glance.

Ironically, that could've been the Miracles, had Akashi not found them all and applied their strengths to basketball. They might've gone on, being decent players, and never anything more.

He tried not to feel bitter about that.

"But," Suga continued, "if all of us come together, utilize the strengths we have, including our new first years-"

"We could definitely win the Inter-High." Daichi finished.

Kuroko's breathing hitched. Inter-High. The prerequisite to Nationals. His stomach tightened, and all of a sudden even the tiny amount of food he'd eaten seemed ready to burst, and he didn't think it was because he was sick.

Nationals. That was when it had all went wrong, wasn't it? It was when Aomine had bloomed, when he had abandoned Kuroko, when Murasakibara had challenged Akashi... the list went on and on and on.

It won't be the same this time. Karasuno is different. He thought harshly, trying to pay attention to the words coming from Kageyama's mouth.

Are they though? That little voice whispered back. They still have trouble seeing you when Hinata isn't with you, and Captain-san didn't want you playing today in the first place.

That's because I was sick, not because he didn't want me to play. Plus, everyone has trouble seeing me. He tried to convince himself, but...

See? Exactly the same. Still unnoticed. Still overlooked except when they need you.

I like being needed, He thought, offended by his own inner voice.

"So he's a delinquent?"

Wait what?

"Who's a delinquent?" He asked, sending a baffled look to Hinata.

"No way! He just gets too fired up, is all," Tanaka protested.

He blinked, feeling even more confused. "Are we talking about Hinata?" He shot the oranget a look. "Have you been tagging in your spare time again?"

Hinata spluttered, nearly tripping over his bike. "Tagging is your pastime! And no! We were talking about the Guardian Deity guy!"

"Nishinoya!" Tanaka corrected, vein bulging on his forehead.

He blinked. "Must be some guy if Tanaka-senpai thinks he gets too fired up," He mumbled. Hinata snickered.

Daichi chortled, and Tanaka pouted. Kuroko felt a flush crawl up his neck. He'd thought he'd spoken soft enough that they wouldn't hear.

"Call him Senpai when he gets back," Daichi advised them, grinning over his shoulder as he branched off down the road. "You'll make him just as much a gleeful idiot as Tanaka."

"Oi!"


His breathing was sharp and labored, and Kuroko rested his hands on his knees to gasp in air.

Maybe it wasn't such a great idea to ask Kageyama to help with my receives while still recovering, he thought, using his sleeve to wipe off a couple drops of sweat.

Fwip, went the ball in Kageyama's hands in the sound that was quickly becoming familiar. "You ready for the next one?"

Not at all, he thought sarcastically. But he was the one who'd approached Kageyama right after class ended, determined to put in the same amount of effort into learning how to receive properly as he had passing, so he'd have to deal.

So he nodded, coming back into the position Daichi had shown him and watched as Kageyama tossed the ball up into that arc, arm swinging-

There!

He dove, arm reaching- but he hadn't stretched last night, collapsing right into bed after fending off Hinata's attempts to manhandle him onto the bike- and his arm came up just short.

Thump.

"... Are you okay?" Kageyama asked, sounding a cross between amused and concerned.

"Just fine," he mumbled, voice muffled from where he lay splayed out on the floor, ball rolling innocently away from where the bluenet had tried to rescue it.

Maybe I'll just stay here, he thought hazily, noting how gloriously cool the floor felt against his sticky skin. He ached all over -I haven't hurt this bad since my first day on Akashi's training regimen.-

A yell interrupted his musings. "Kageyamaaaaaa! Have you seen Kurok-" Hinata's voice had been getting ever louder as he neared the gym doors, but cut out suddenly.

"Kuroko! Teme, what did you do? You killed him!" Hinata roared, feet hammering towards him. Kuroko groaned. He knew he'd forgotten something.

"Hinata, m'fine," He mumbled, trying to push himself to his feet. He swayed dangerously, floor spinning beneath him.

Thankfully Hinata came to the rescue, grabbing his arms and holding him up so he didn't faceplant again, yelling all the while.

"- supposed to wait for me, baka! We always head to the gym together! Look what happens when you don't! Kageyama kills you with his serve!"

"I didn't kill him," Kageyama said exasperatedly, voice closer now. As his vision cleared of spots he could see the setter had moved to his side of the court and was looking him over, concern belying his blasé tone. "He asked me to help with his receives, stupid."

Hinata just scoffed, pulling one of Kuroko's arms over his shoulder to keep him upright. "Yeah well, he shouldn't practice receives unless he can actually see straight."

"I can see straight," Kuroko protested, stumbling slightly over his own feet.

"Sure you can," Hinata drawled.

Hinata settled them down next to the wall, where they could rest without risk of being hit. Kageyama shifted a couple feet away, looking awkward. "Do you mind if I keep practicing?"

"Not at all," Kuroko said instantly, ignoring Hinata's grumble of protest. "You need something to aim at?"

Hinata crowed his disapproval, and Kuroko actually rolled his eyes, though winced as it made his head twinge. "Not me, Hinata. Like a water bottle or something. I used those all the time when I was practicing my passes. They help you learn how to aim."

"Oh," Hinata said sheepishly, rubbing the back of his head and giving him a sheepish smile. Kuroko just shook his head -carefully, so he didn't make his headache worse- and twitched his lips, and Hinata perked back up, knowing he was forgiven.

"That might not be a bad idea," Kageyama responded, propping a hand on his chin before murmuring, "I'm pretty sure that's what he used to do, actually..."

Hinata and Kuroko shared a loaded glance, seeming to have a whole conversation with the motion.

Oikawa-teme again?

That would make sense- he didn't respond very much when Takeda-sensei talked about him, but there was definitely something there.

Old grudge?

Kuroko frowned. Maybe.

Kageyama had wandered away, placing a water bottle on one end of the court and was spinning the volleyball thoughtfully in his hands.

Maybe... He thought, watching carefully. Maybe they-

Kageyama let the ball fly, and Kuroko knew it was going to hit. Years of calculating trajectories on the fly- he almost missed the blur of white streaking across his vision, planting itself right in front of the water bottle, and the ball went up.

He blinked incredulously, leaning forward to see past Hinata's head of hair. That. That was a perfect receive. Granted, Kuroko didn't know technique very well yet, so he couldn't be sure, but that had looked even smoother than Daichi's receives.

He didn't realize he'd gotten up until he was standing in front of the kid -not much shorter than he was, and his height wasn't that impressive-.

"Who are you?" Kuroko asked, and the guy stumbled, nearly dropping his jacket in surprise.

"Woah, where'd you come from?" The guy demanded, blinking up at him.

"I've been here the whole time," He sighed, trying to resist pinching the bridge of his nose. Is it going to be like this every time I meet someone new? "But really-" he said, feeling strangely insistent. That receive- it was like when he had first watched a national level basketball player. He'd instantly known what he wanted to do, and had sacrificed schoolwork and sleep until he was able to do it. "Who are you? Are you part of the volleyball club?"

And if not can how can we get you to join?

The guy straightened, beaming as he jerked a thumb at himself. "Sure am! I'm Nishinoya Yuu- Karasuno's Libero!"

Realization struck. "You're the delinquent?" He asked, slightly incredulous. Granted, if he looked a bit closer, he did have the dyed and spiked hair- but his aura was completely different. He just didn't have the arrogant air that rang to Kuroko as delinquent.

No. He's completely different from Him.

"Hah?" Nishinoya asked, eyebrows scrunching. He didn't get the chance to explain as Hinata bounced up to them, one hand coming to rest on his arm as the oranget peered curiously at the newcomer.

"Wow, you're even shorter than me! How tall are you?"

"159 centimeters," Nishinoya shrugged.

"Wow, the 150s!"

An eyebrow twitched. "Don't cry at it!"

Kuroko had no problem interrupting their antics. "Nishinoya-san," Nishinoya paused from where he had been yelling at Hinata, head turned in curiosity. "You said you're the Libero." And didn't that hurt? Getting his hopes up only for the spot to already be taken.

It's not like you have a right to it. He's a second year, and has probably been playing twice as long as you have.

"Yeah? What about it?" He asked, and Hinata rocked back and forth on his heels, eyes flicking back and forth between them.

"What drew you to it?" He wondered.

"It's not because I was short, if that's what you're asking," Nishinoya said, back straightening. "I'd be a Libero even if I was two meters tall."

Hinata snickered, and the twinkling of mirth in his eyes almost made him want to smile himself.

The picture of Murasakibara being a Libero was just- ludicrous.

The Libero might have taken the laugh the wrong way, because he continued, flicking the ball with his foot and into his hands before prodding different spots on it. "Libero's are the team's defense specialists. We pick up balls that are blocked, attacks that other receivers would miss. I open the way for the spikers- they don't have to worry, because they know they have me at their back."

The fierce pride that Nishinoya was exuding made Kuroko inhale sharply. -I've felt that kind of pride before, haven't I?-

Nishinoya tossed the ball in the air and began bumping it in controlled hops, but Kuroko couldn't take his eyes off the Libero. -That pride in being the glue to the team. The one who opens the way for other plays, even if you can't score yourself. He...-

A call came from the door as more club members filed in, and Nishinoya stopped bumping to grin and welcome them.

-Reminds me of who I used to be.-


"If Asahi isn't coming back, then I'm not either!" Nishinoya shouted, stomping out of the club doors.

"Nishinoya-!" Daichi called, but the Libero was already gone. The Captain sighed harshly, rubbing his brow.

"Why does he not want to play?" Kageyama asked, coming to rest on his right side. -and somehow that was normal by now, with Hinata on his left.-

"Nishinoya and Asahi... well, Asahi quit after our loss against Dateko, and Nishinoya... didn't take it all that well. I guess it's not surprising he would quit, knowing he couldn't do anything after that last match..." Sugawara explained, biting his lip as he stared out the doors.

Quit. He quit. Kuroko's fists clenched. Nishinoya, the person who had been able to dash into the gym, calculate the trajectory of the ball and perfectly receive it in an instant- against Kageyama's serve, no less! And he was going to throw it away- all the talent and skill that Kuroko was trying to build- like it didn't mean anything.

Quitter.

A hand brushed against the back of his, and his shoulders twitched. He shook his head at Hinata's wordless question. Are you alright?

No. No he wasn't. He had quit basketball, the thing he had worked so hard for, the thing he had poured everything into.

He had just. Left. He had walked away.

Weak.

"Of course he left," Kuroko said, voice catching wetly in his throat. "How could he not? His best friend quit. Why would he want to play after that?"

-Dead eyes, lead feet, silence where there should be noise. A light that had once shone so brightly on the court- put out.-

How could he play after that indeed? Kuroko thought bitterly. Two fingers intertwined with his, and he gripped them desperately.

-I did the right thing, right? By leaving? It was killing us. Both of us.-

How could he be mad at Nishinoya for doing the exact thing he himself had done? He couldn't imagine playing volleyball without Hinata. If Hinata ever quit Kuroko would be right there handing in his resignation with him. He'd follow him to the ends of the earth if the oranget asked him.

A bump on his other shoulder. Kageyama. His eyes burned, but no tears fell. It had been a long time since he had last cried.

"Yeah well I'm not giving up," Hinata said, grip tightening until it bordered on painful. Kuroko blinked. Hinata was standing ramrod straight, eyes blazing. "You don't throw away something you love just because you lost a game. You get up and keep going. Come on, Tsu-kun, we're gonna talk some sense into him."

Kuroko didn't protest as he was dragged along in Hinata's shadow.

After all, He thought. There are worse shadows to walk in.


Kageyama wavered for a moment between going with them and staying behind. But Kuroko's fingers were still clenched in his jacket sleeve where they'd entwined themselves, so there wasn't much of a choice.

Well, besides shoving the hand off, but that wasn't even an option. Maybe a year ago it might've been- heck, a month ago he would've been shocked simply at the notion of someone wanting him close.

He never would've imagined that coming to Karasuno would become this. Walking side by side with two people he could call Friends, like he was meant to be there.

Because the two Miracles were inseparable most of the time- even now they glanced at each other out of the corner of their eyes, scrutinizing each other for the slightest sign that something was wrong. He'd felt awkward, constantly thinking he was intruding- but Kuroko came seeking him out for receiving help, and Hinata always came bouncing up to him with a bone to pick.

And over time it had just become natural to fall into step with them in the hallway, walking home from school with them at his side, routinely asking for an extra granola bar when it was obvious the clerk hadn't seen Kuroko.

So maybe this is just what having friends was like? Joking around, covering each other in class, sharing notes and tips?

His eyebrows scrunched, subconsciously shortening his stride as Hinata slowed to look for where the Libero had gone.

Their reaction to Nishinoya's proclamation had been... worrying. Hinata had flinched as if the words had physically injured him. The simmering of anger and confusion had been palpable, and Kageyama had placed himself on Kuroko's other side just to make sure it didn't lash out at him on accident.

But then Kuroko had spoken in that raw, broken, wet voice that made his throat close up just listening to it. His shoulders all hunched in on themselves like he was going to come apart with just the slightest touch, and for a moment, Kageyama hadn't known what to do.

Hinata had no such uncertainty. He grabbed Kuroko's fingers with his own in a white knuckle grip, desperately searching the bluenet's face for... something. Something Kageyama couldn't see.

Still, he had to do something- but they weren't close enough to hold hands like Hinata was... Eventually he had just brushed his shoulder against his, hoping Kuroko would understand the gesture. The tangle of fingers in his sleeve was unexpected but not unwelcome.

-Judging by the distant look he had in his eyes, I'm not sure Kuroko even realized he did it.-

Now, Kuroko was looking slightly more grounded, less likely to fall apart at a touch. Which was good, Kageyama mused, because it was strange seeing anything resembling emotion from him. Especially the dark shadows that had seemed to envelop Kuroko, dragging him down. He had felt like he was drowning just at a glimpse of it.

It was wrong. No one should look like that. Which begged the question.

What happened to put it there? He thought harshly, looking to the side as Hinata turned, Kuroko following seamlessly even as Kageyama was left being tugged along by his sleeve. What happened that made these two like this?

And how was he supposed to fix it?


If I was a loser running away from a sport I loved, where would I go? Shoyo thought sourly. It had hurt enough just hearing Nishinoya bad talk the thing that had become a refuge for him and Tsu-kun, but then the Teme had nearly made Tsu-kun cry.

It wasn't Nishinoya that made him cry- you know that. A quiet part reprimanded.

I know that, he thought back, stride stuttering somewhat. It's just...

You're hurting. The voice, that was starting to sound like his mom, continued. That's fine. But you don't get to blame other people for what happened to you.

"Hinata?" Kuroko asked softly, and the internal conversation was instantly deserted, his shoulders turning towards his best friend. Kuroko still had that wary edge to his gaze that made him want to hit something, but he had stopped shaking.

"Are we lost?" Kageyama finished bluntly. Shoyo spluttered.

"Of course not!" He squawked, quickly gazing around him trying to find his bearings- somehow he had gotten turned around while he had been fuming.

"So we're not going in circles around the gym complex...?" Kuroko said, voice still low and thick, but he almost didn't care that it was just a bit forced because at least he can still tease.

"Psh, of course not," He scoffed as he waved the hand not linked with Kuroko's through the air, trying to hide a grin. "I know exactly where we're going."

"And how can you do that if you don't know where Nishinoya-san went?" Kageyama drawled, raising a judgmental eyebrow. He pouted.

"Stop being mean," He whined, turning to sulk. There was a tug on his fingers, and he looked back to see Kuroko's face twisted in worry.

"You don't actually think that, do you Shou-kun?" He asked hesitantly, glancing at Kageyama as if worried.

And he may not be smart in the way everyone else thought he should be, but Shoyo wasn't an idiot. He might act the part most of the time, -a way of avoiding notice, mistakes being overlooked as just not understanding, people expect it anyway- but the genuine worry masked as a guilt trip was audible to his ears, and he grinned softly.

"Course not," He said gently, tapping his fingers on the inside of Tsu-kun's wrist. A short laugh wormed its way out his throat. "But I would like more quiet and less teasing."

Kageyama huffed, shaking his head, but it was the return of the twinkle in Kuroko's eyes and the slight slumping of shoulders in relief that really brought it home for him.

And heaven help whoever puts those shadows in his eyes again, he swore. I don't care if it's Tsukishima or Captain or Kami himself.

Suddenly Kageyama's spine straightened. "So I know you said you wanted quiet," He said with a pointed look, which had Shoyo instantly protesting, but Kageyama ignored him, jerking his chin to the side, "but I think I just found our target."

Shoyo's head whipped around, and, sure enough, black hair and bleached spikes sat lounging under the big oak tree him and Kuroko had eaten at their first day here.

And, because Shoyo lacked all manners -hey, he had learned it, he just didn't bother to use it most of the time, the they were weird here anyway- he instantly shot forward, waving his hand, yelling.

"Hey you-!"

The Libero jerked, juice flying everywhere. Shoyo stopped, grimacing at the stains covering Nishinoya's shirt. Those'll be a pain for him to get out...

"Nani?" The Libero grumbled, trying in vain to get his white shirt clean, before giving up and staring at each of them in turn. "Trying to get me to come back to the club? It won't work."

"Ah, no," Kageyama stuttered, looking at him and Kuroko, completely lost. "Well, yes, but that's not- we're not-"

"We were wondering if you could help us with our receives," Kuroko spoke up, evidently deciding Kageyama had suffered enough. Shoyo didn't miss that the bluenet's shoulders tensed when Nishinoya jerked at his "sudden" appearance, and felt his dislike for the Libero rise a bit more.

"What are you, a ghost?" He muttered, straightening. "Anyways, why do you want to learn receives from me? Because I'm short?" he asked, propping an elbow on his knee and staring them down.

"That's not it." Shoyo interjected firmly, stepping forward. "We do need help receiving, but that's not why we want you to come back."

Nishinoya blinked, raising an eyebrow as he looked Hinata up and down, like he was trying to figure him out.

Good luck.

Kuroko inhaled. Shoyo looked back, fingers twitching when he saw Kuroko's scheming face on. It was dangerous to see when you were playing against him, but... Does he have a plan?

"I know you said you wouldn't come back unless... Asahi-san, was it? Came back, but... I had a favor I wanted to ask," Kuroko said, shifting from foot to foot, gaze turning to the ground. "I- I joined volleyball fairly recently, so I know it's presumptuous to ask, but... I want to be able to play," He said firmly, head coming back up as Nishinoya's expression shifted into surprise.

"I want to stay out on the court for as long as possible. I want- I want to be able to keep the ball in play, even against blocks or spikes. I want to open the way for the spikers," He glanced at Shoyo with this statement.

Nishinoya leaned back, both feet coming to rest on the ground. A shift of clothing saw Kuroko bowing deeply.

"I know you don't want to play anymore, but please, teach us, Nishinoya-senpai." He asked softly, and Shoyo's eyes widened. At a glance from Kuroko, a lightbulb went off. He turned and bowed as well.

"Senpai!"

Nishinoya made a choking sound- not unlike Midorima when Aomine was being especially pervy. "You guys..."

Shoyo braced for impact when shoes scuffed against the ground, heart skipping a beat when a hand landed firmly on his shoulder. He was just about to shove him off and get Kuroko safely behind him when- "I'll treat you guys to popsicles after practice." Nishinoya declared, and they both glanced up in shock.

The second year was posing, practically glowing as he jerked a thumb into his chest. "Cuz I'm your senpai!"

All three freshman looked at each other, shock etched into their faces. I can't believe that actually worked.

They started their walk back to the gym, Nishinoya slinging an arm over Kuroko's shoulders and crowing about how he was going to teach him the move to end all moves, going a much more direct route than the circuitous one Shoyo had taken them on. Shoyo lagged behind, falling into step with Kageyama.

I'll treat you guys to popsicles!

Popsicles. It... felt like passing the torch. From Miracles to Crows. The Past to the Future. Tradition kept going.

"Hinata?" Kuroko called, voice carrying despite the noise emanating from the gym. Shoyo's head jerked from where he'd unconsciously rested it on his hand in a thinking position. Kuroko had escaped the hold Nishinoya had had him in and was waiting in the entryway, Nishinoya cocking his head back, smirking at them.

Shoyo grinned despite himself, nudging Kageyama before jogging towards them.

Haven't had popsicles in a while. Wonder if there are any new flavors?


Kise trotted over to the side of the gym, tossing the ball over his shoulder, satisfied when he heard it swish into the ball bin.

He wiped the sweat from his cheek on his shirt, taking a deep breath. Kaijou's training wasn't as brutal as Akashi-chii's was, but that didn't mean it wasn't rigorous.

He rifled through his bag, wrapping a towel around his neck with one hand as he flipped his phone open with the other, surprised when it started to ring.

A glance over his shoulder told him Kasamatsu-senpai was busy coaching a first year through a drill, so he'd at least have a minute.

"Moshi moshi?" He answered, tucking the phone under his ear, biting his lip as he dug through the bag again. Dang it, I thought I brought my wristbands with me. Did I leave them in the wash?

A familiar voice nearly made him drop the phone in surprise. Momoi-chii didn't normally call during practice- she knew Kaijou's schedule had changed in preparation for the Inter-High, right?

All that flew from his mind when he heard the uncharacteristic somber tone of her voice.

"Kise. We need to talk."


Omake

"So, when you go to receive you go whoom, and shwoop and pow." Nishinoya explained, mimicking a receiving motion that was nearly dancelike.

There was silence.

"I don't get it," Yamaguchi lamented, shaking his head.

Kageyama blinked. "What's there not to get? I understood it."

Sugawara shook his head, looking like he was trying to hold back laughter. "That's because you and him belong to the same species of genius. Hinata, on the other hand-"

Whatever Suga was saying was cut off by Hinata nodding emphatically. "I totally get it! It's different from the pew receives I've been doing! So if I do it more pow it'll work?"

Nishinoya nodded proudly. "Yeah! Exactly."

Seeming desperate now, Suga turned to Kuroko. "Kuroko-san, please say you don't..."

Kuroko was already on the other side of the court. "Hey, Hinata, give me a spike. I need to try it."

"Wait," Daichi said, trying to get them to just hold on a moment, but Kageyama was already setting it, Hinata's hand whacking down on it.

The team groaned. Of course the idiots had done a quick instead of just a normal spike, and they all waited for the head-shot or whatever other chaos this could cause. Narita even started looking for the first aid kit, no doubt remembering the nose bleed from their match against Seijou.

He didn't quite get under it, misjudging just how quickly the ball would come at him, and narrowly escaped a spike to the face.

"I told you-" Daichi groaned, trotting to the side of the court, but Kuroko was already shaking out his wrists and nodding for another one. Daichi noticed too late, not having enough time to push the bluenet out of the way or even get into position himself.

But with a look of concentration none of them had seen from him before, Kuroko appeared straight under the ball's path, lowering his gravity and cushioning the ball before sending it spinning into with a poom.

"Yeah, perfect!" Nishinoya rejoiced, bounding over to fluff Kuroko's hair in congratulations. "I mean, not perfect, you've got a ways to go, but that was awesome for a second try! You're a natural!"

Doom radiated from the rest of the team. "We have some scary first years..." Tanaka said, voice shaking with the effort of holding back an almost hysterical chuckle.

"Agreed."

"Seriously, the King of the Court and two Generation of Miracles?" Tsukishima huffed, walking away to go back to his own practice. "They're making us normal people look bad. Come on, Yamaguchi. Help me with my blocking."

"A-ah, Tsukki wait for me!"