Chapter 1: get on your feet and walk.
The last thing he remembered was lying down, staying still-- and for what felt like an eternity of many days, he doesn’t do anything.
Couldn’t do anything, really. Except cry, whimper helplessly, and wish to die.
He couldn’t even kill himself, because he couldn’t move.
From the neck down, his limbs had lost function. His fingers never twitched.
And underlying everything, the agony never ended. They called it phantom pains, even though it feels like acid is corroding through every vein and rupturing every bone-- there was nothing they could do to stop it because it was psychological.
And when he cried too hard he couldn’t even clear his sinuses on his own.
He was useless. Deadweight. A burden.
On life support.
He remembered the line of flowers by his bedside, the cards his mother would read to him each day, that he stopped listening to.
They always said the same thing, anyways. Something about missing his presence on the field. Condolences for his injury. (Injury. They’re calling this an injury?) Prayers for that miracle he needs to get well.
(Because he needs a miracle or he’ll never play again.)
Fate has a way of playing pranks on the earnest ones.
They see a star, rising up in the spotlight, basking in the cheers of his success, reveling in the fruits of his hardest efforts--
And it will bring that very spotlight down, physically shattering his cranium and rupturing his spine in what people would call a freak incident .
And that very star will remain strapped to a bed for the rest of his life, spun around every half day to avoid bedsores, rotting alive because everything below his neck was paralysed.
Fate has a way of being a total piece of shit.
Simply staring at the screen of a television that grew boring over time, he breathed, breathed, and simply, only breathed .
Maybe he still dreamed of the court. Maybe inside him, somewhere, he imagined leaping for the ball, stilling at the whistle, and cheering loudly in exhilaration when the ball shudders through the hoops. Or crying in upset when they ultimately lose a match.
Maybe something inside him wants to feel the warmth of those hugs, the love of those interlaced fingers.
Perhaps, that was why he woke up.
For a painful second, he feels his limbs again. He squeezes his fingers into a fist and curls his toes and he gets out of the bed-- and he’s standing .
Maybe his hands are a little smaller than he remembers, but he hasn’t seen them in a while, so he doesn’t think much of it.
He palms his own face, hugs himself, and he realizes this feeling on his skin is warmth . He feels the pulsing of his heart through his arteries and--
--and he drops to his knees and cries .
Runs stronger, faster than the wind, and feel the breath of winter break through his lungs almost painfully, but his heart tells him he hasn’t had enough.
Tucked into an indigo jersey he found, he ignores how his hair is much longer-- bluer -- than he remembers, and races himself across the streets that aren’t familiar.
He doesn’t recognize the towns, but somehow, he can read the language of the words-- it’s Japanese, he knows a little of it from his international games.
He’s not sure where he is, but he only wants one thing.
He yearns so deeply for only one thing right now and he’s willing to shove aside common sense just so he can go for it, go for it before this illusion breaks apart and he wakes up from a dream he will call a nightmare.
Before this-- this whatever it was, stops working.
He’s barefoot. But the pain from scrapes and blisters are nothing compared to the crescendo of agony he’s so accustomed to. This is nothing.
He scoops up a discarded basketball in an outdoor court, resting the weight in his hands just a little longer than necessary-- then he throws it down and catches it when it bounces back up. He dribbles towards the goal post on the opposing end, anchors a foot to the ground-- and he soars.
He can’t reach the hoop like he usually does, but he swings back and hurls.
It swirls around the rim, and sinks in.
He lands on the ground, and his breathing is laboured. His heart palpitates so rapidly he’s never heard it beat so quickly in years. His eyes burn with tears and the icy air almost hurts to breathe in. His hands are red, numb and shivering from the effort; his knees tremble like a newborn lamb. Yet the smile on his face is so wide.
He realizes he loves it. He misses it so much.
He misses mobility, activity, and something as simple as moving and running and-- and feeling empowering his every nerve.
Power surging through each and every shove and push, he drags his arm back, skids his feet around, turns and leaps-- and repeat.
In time he’s lying on the ground, eyes on the sky so impossibly filled with stars. His hair so long, it’s sprawled across his figure and wrapping around his lithe build.
There are friction burns between his fingers. Burning scratches under his feet.
But through it all the stars are so beautiful, the moonlight is so gentle on his skin, the sores he feels around his body feels so good and different and-- and so, so right .
If this was a spell, he would never want to wake up. Set free from the bonds of a quadriphlegic nightmare, this little nighttime excursion is like a dream come true.
He can play basketball again and it sounds so scarily impossible.
Father Lord, we pray for healing. For a miracle, that you would restore him.
He’d heard so many of those sermons. One of them told him he would stand up again. Another told him he may not-- but surely, there was another purpose for him. The skeptics blamed him for not believing enough-- that’s why he wasn’t healed yet. Another had dared to accuse him of a vital crime of sorts-- whatever she had been trying to make him repent for, the nurses chased her out before she could cause more of a ruckus.
And the last told him this.
That he would stand again, but it will not be down in the mortal world of sin and corruption.
Restoration would come after death, that one promised, but that one wasn’t sure if it would be in heaven or something else. Maybe in the waiting place, wherever it was. However it was. He didn’t claim to understand it fully-- after all, he’s never died before!
That had been the first day in years he’d cracked a chortle through the pain in his chest.
That man had been the nicest man among all those unwanted visitors. But he never came back-- maybe mother didn’t like him because he was a preacher. He was a fun guy.
After so long of just laying there, appreciating the cold cement under his skin and the throbbing ache of adrenaline in his brain, he realizes this isn’t a dream. This isn’t an illusion, nor is it temporary or a figment of his daydream--
This is life .
He sits up, and looks at his hands that aren’t just thin and malnourished-- they’re young . Couldn’t be older than six or seven years old, this was a child’s body.
His memories told him he was almost turning thirty in a few months. So what is this?
Something in him answers almost immediately.
This is a Miracle.
Chapter 2: pick your failures and write it down.
He learns his name, he learns about this world. Or, he tries to, at least.
Next that occurs is a blur.
Someone, his father apparently, shows up, frantic and concerned and so very panicked-- he wraps him in a hug, apologies spilling from his throat so consistently the tears muffle his voice.
He feels loved,and the embrace is warm and gentle and so tight and comfortable-- he leans in, closes his eyes, and takes a deep breath. His new father smells like fresh grapes and a sizzle of burnt coal. The bigger arms vibrate with heat, and he can’t help but lean in, feeling warm again.
He realizes his fingers are freezing, but his father lifts him like a baby and they walk home. He whispers promises into the boy’s ears, but the boy doesn’t understand them, not knowing the language well enough. But he is held so homely and so tenderly-- so he keeps quiet and simply enjoys the ride.
He settles into his new home relatively easily.
His name is Hiroto, of the Aisaka household.
Aisaka, an indigo hill. Hiroto, to spread wide and fly.
His mother had recently passed, so his father, who has lost his stable job, now works tirelessly to provide for their livelihood.
Up until that day, he had sunk into a depressive state-- Hiroto had retreated into his room and became a shut-in with the care of his neighbour, a friendly teenage girl. Those were their living conditions for a whole year, or perhaps longer, because Hiroto’s hair is now long to his shoulders from some motherly remembrance coping mechanism.
What surprises him most is the colour of his hair. His father had common black hair, but Hiroshi had a shock of indigo locks, cascading in smooth waves before curling up at the edges. His eyes were in the same dark purple-blue hue, and he knows this isn’t normal.
As he began to rebuild his relationship with his father and learn more of the language, Hiroto learns more about the world-- this world he had reincarnated into.
And he begins to take notes.
“So this world is mostly the same,” he mutters to himself, filling in his journal with the information he has begun to learn. He tries to write in Japanese, but it wasn’t working well. He still sucks at it too much, so he scribbles in English.
“No tameable magic beasts that spew fire or thunder,” he writes that down, “no magic circles and elite academies for the talented, no flying cars and endless caves or towering dungeons. No level up notification screens either.”
Maybe he was hoping for too much. Maybe he was watching too many TV shows, because somehow, he was expecting to end up in some crazy fantasy world. Turns out it’s literally normal.
But just to make sure, “we use the same year system and calendars and horoscopes and clock cycles. Just normal modern day Japan, except some of the more recent sportsmen I know apparently don’t exist. But Shaq and Tiger Woods exists, so maybe this history redact isn’t too far away...”
Well, that certainly helps his case. He didn’t need to learn or study things he’d never known existed.
“I don’t exist either,” he had borrowed his father’s phone and searched it up. The news of a famous basketball player that became a quadriplegic was wiped clean from the slates and entirely gone from sensationalized media, never having existed.
Somehow, that’s a relief.
Throwing down his pen with a sigh, he pulls a grin on his features and in a determined way, he closes his fingers into a fist and smiles.
He can’t help but feel so excited by it all. By this aspect of a new, free, life. Starting over again with premature limbs, untrained muscles, inflexible joints.
Standing up from his desk, he pulls the most of his hair away from him, holds it as a ponytail within his fist, and brings a blade through the thick indigo locks.
His father runs in screaming bloody murder, but he’s never felt this liberated in his life.
Aisaka Jousuke has never felt this much regret in his life.
Human in his own right, he has had his fair share of major fuck-ups in life. Letting his six-year-old son live unsupervised was one. Not approaching him until he’s physically suicidal is another. Allowing him to go to his room at seven o’clock was apparently one, too.
Now he seats his little Hiroto on a bathroom stool.
Armed with a pair of scissors, he tries his utmost best to fix this crime of a haircut his son has impulsively brought upon himself. Why the heck is there a blade in his room? Ah, right, because your genius ass left him alone for ten months.
Sometimes, Jousuke wonders if this kid is worth the headache. But when Hiroto giggles at every little mistake his clumsy hands make, the smile on his face so wide and adorable-- Jousuke knows that he’s worth anything, always.
Running his fingers through the unique indigo locks, Jousuke dumps a bucketfull of water over his head, careful not to get Hiroto’s clothes wet, and drapes a dry towel over the boy’s shoulders.
“There, I’m done,” he sighs defeatedly, “much lighter now?”
“Yeap!” Hiroto bounces right up, stepping over the stool to give his father a bright, obnoxiously proud grin. “Thanks, dad!”
His hair is short. So short, it’s barely around his ears now, curled at the edges but framing his pale face tenderly.
Maybe , Jousuke thinks, this is a mark of a great change .
For both him and Hiroto.
“Are you really sure you’re fine alone? I can--”
“I’m fine, dad, just go to work already.”
Jousuke does not trust his son to take care of himself. He’s guilty enough knowing he has to leave Hiroto alone at home, after everything that’s happened.
Hiroto sits on the couch, his little feet bandaged for all the scrapes he’d suffered. Swinging his legs over the edge, he kicks out playfully and grins assuringly.
His son tells him one more time that he’s fine .
Jousuke promises to come back as early as he can, just for good measure.
As he leaves the house, he can’t shake off the feeling that something is off . Hiroto’s recovered much too quickly for a boy that’s apparently been a depressed shut in for nearly a year.
He’s acting like a normal kid now, and although Jousuke is relieved, it doesn’t feel real.
Ten months ago, his son hated him enough to shut him out of his life. His son despised him enough to yell it in his face and refuse to eat any meals.
When Jousuke decided to try and make it up to the kid, he was prepared for struggle. For rejection. For himself to be hurt further, because of how he’s hurt his own kid.
But none of that happened.
Hiroto melded back in with him and began livelihood with Jousuke anew, as if the whole incident had never occurred.
Maybe if Hiroto was an adult, Jousuke would have ignored it as a happy sign of maturity. Of a mutually bleeding wound they would let coagulate over time.
But Hiroto was a child .
Jousuke crouches down, and a part of him wonders if that’s even his Hiroto anymore.
Chapter 3: work past your leisure and find it out.
Aisaka Hiroto spends the rest of his elementary years home-schooled.
“Going for a jog, Hiroto?” his father asks from his spot on the dining table, nursing his mug of coffee.
Hiroto, dressed in a light tank top and sweatpants, nods with a hum. Crouching down to tie his shoelaces, the boy bids a quick bye to his father before setting a steady pace out the door.
Over the months of daily exercise, the boy began to sport a peachy tan over his skin. He was beginning to look more fit than his father himself was, and sometimes the man wondered where his son inherited that sporty discipline.
Hiroto rounds the route toward a shopping mall, and takes a detour on his route to pass through the streetball court. It’s a little before classes begin, so Hiroto isn’t surprised to find it in use.
He’s surprised to see hair that shade of blue.
A boy that couldn’t be much older than himself (though yeah he’s pretty short) was dribbling a basketball across the court. Another boy, brown-haired, grins widely as he shifts his limbs broad across the field, stopping his opponent in his tracks.
Hiroto’s caught staring before he really realizes he was doing it himself.
“Can we help you?”
The boy’s speaking to him. The boy’s speaking to him! Hiroto flinches away from the fence with a little squeak, and the words are caught in his throat.
“Sorry for startling you!” the brown-haired one panics, then slings an arm around the blue-haired boy’s shoulders, “c’mon, Kuroko, don’t do that.”
“I wasn’t doing anything.”
“Yes you were.”
Hiroto shys away hesitantly, standing still as he tries to remember how conversations went.
“I,” this was his first attempt at speaking to another human that wasn’t his father (or mother) for years , both this life and past lives. Even referring to himself with a personal pronoun felt weird.
“I, I just saw you two... playing. Basketball, I uh, was just passing by-- and, and yeah, I was a little... uh, uhm, a little interested,” he admits weakly, unable to even meet people in the eye, the discomfort too great in that gesture, “...sorry to interrupt.”
That was pathetic. What was that ridiculous excuse of a conversation? Has your famed eloquence really fallen this far, Hiroto? You weren’t like this with your dad! Get a grip, you weakling!
Okay I’m sorry you’re not a weakling why are you crying excuse me you can’t possibly be hurt by your own train of thought--
“Look what you did, Kuroko, you freaked him out.”
“It’s my fault?”
The lighter-haired boy, called Kuroko apparently, pouts, unaccepting, but maybe a little guilty nonetheless. He palms the basketball in his hand, then turns to the indigo-haired boy.
“Hey, do you play too?”
Hiroto nods quickly, “can I-” he falters, stopping his thought. Maybe he wanted to join their game, but would that be intruding? Even back then, joining a stranger’s basketball game was a strange thing to do. Would they think he was weird?
“Wanna play together?” the brown-haired boy cuts in his thought with a grin, “the more the merrier, right? C’mon, we’ve got about ten before we’ll have to run for class.”
Hiroto barely realizes he hadn’t agreed to the game before he’s bracing for a pass, and the other two run toward the goal post.
A grin crawls up his face, and with a vigor he misses, he launches.
“Hey, what’s your name?” the boy asks, arms spread out to stop his advance.
Hiroto stops cleanly, swerves back, and bounced the ball to his other hand.
“Me?” he’s surprised to get a conversation in this situation, but he entertains it anyways.
He’s not sure about Japanese just yet, but he remembers the Japanese Basketball players he’s met before, and they’d always prefer to go by their last name.
So, “Aisaka,” he says, “nice to meet you.”
Half step right, one step left-- spin back, and leap. He brings his hands up and shoots from the three-point line, leaving the two in awe.
It bounces at the rim, bumps into the backboard, and sinks into the hoop.
“My name’s Ogiwara,” the brown-haired boy looks at the goal in muted amazement before turning back to Aisaka, “you’re pretty good at this, huh?”
“You can shoot three-pointers?” Kuroko approaches, and although his eyes are wide and blank, there’s a sparkle of admiration gleaming through them.
Yeah, three-pointers are a big deal for elementary school kids. Chuckling sheepishly, Aisaka picks up the basketball and pushes it into Kuroko’s hands.
“Teach me,” Kuroko says, voice brimming impossibly with anticipation.
Ogiwara excitedly echoes.
“Which school do you go to?” Ogiwara asks, tearing off his sweaty shirt to strap on his school uniform. Kuroko did the same, buttoning his shirt on quickly.
“Me?” Aisaka asks rhetorically, “oh, I don’t go to school, not yet at least.”
Both heads perk up, alarmed.
“Then, are you planning on going to Junior High?” Kuroko asks, brushing a towel over his face, “must be nice to not have to go to school…”
“Junior High, well, maybe,” Aisaka mumbles, “but for now, we’re tight on cash…”
There’s barely a second for the two to hear the mumbling before a distant chime was heard. Ogiwara flips, “Kuroko, isn’t that your bell?”
“Huh? Ah,” Kuroko blanks out.
“Don’t ‘ah’ me, get going! Run!” Ogiwara splutters, grasping for one of the bags on the bench and right about tossing it in the direction of the boy before shoving him on his way.
Aisaka bursts into laughter, and Kuroko is reluctantly scrambling off, his oddly deadpan expression stuck on his face the entire time.
Once he was out of sight, Ogiwara sighs longsufferingly.
“I’ll see you around, then?” the boy asks, and Aisaka smiles back when a hand is offered to him. A handshake, and that’s a familiar gesture.
“Next time,” Aisaka responds, and he takes the hand in for a firm shake.
“You were certainly gone for a while,” Jousuke points out grumpily, his arms folded before him and lips pursed into a scowl, “I was worried.”
In his past life, Hiroto lived alone for the most part. It wasn’t until the incident that he moved home to the country, back to his mother, to live out the rest of his life in bed or on a chair.
So coming home to another face, and hearing a father scold him for staying out a little longer without reporting back-- as irritating as it felt, Hiroto was happy for it.
“Sorry, dad,” he manages a sheepish chortle, “I found some guys playing basketball and decided to join them.”
Jousuke pops on his shoes and leaves for work. Hiroto watches the house, and another simple afternoon begins in the quiet and peaceful Aisaka household.
Hiroto understands that this, although boring, is nothing compared to the horrors of boredom in his past life.
This new life, this new setting and all those new meetings-- they were a new beginning all set up for him to try something so much greater than he’d ever managed.
Hell if he was going to spend this time rotting in the house!
“I’ll go to a public school,” he begins, “then if I perform well, I can get a sports scholarship and get scouted, so I won’t be a financial burden.”
Because, as he’s already tested the waters, his sports capabilities have not been lost through his second life. His muscles are deteriorated and his body is still young, but that is a tiny setback. His finesse can be trained again, and this time, he has movements and plays and experience that is worth so much more.
This time, he can become so much better at basketball than he ever could before.
And the thought excites him.
“So, those two, their names were... “ he mutters, dropping to the yoga mat laid out in the living room floor and trying to lower his posture into a split. He was about a centimetre away from finally succeeding, “uh, how do you write it? Is there kanji, wait, of course there is.”
Both of them were meager at best, not the greatest but they were passionate and that was all that mattered at this age.
“But that Kuroko kinda sucked,” he folds his arms and begins talking to himself, (a perk of being stuck at home alone) “he’s like that one kid, uh, Zachary? Their muscles and bones aren’t built for stuff like this, so no matter how much he trains, he can’t get much better.”
The kind that have to give up on ever being able to catch up with their peers. The ones that will work harder and harder, but ultimately lose because fate just wasn’t on their side.
“But Kuroko definitely loves basketball,” Hiroto wonders if there’s a way to convince that kid to only ever play on the street. If he went to competitions he’d get crushed to bits.
Suddenly Hiroto jerks frozen.
“Wait,” something’s off, something was strange about that sentence. Kuroko definitely loves basketball. Kuroko… there shouldn’t be anything odd about it, “I mean, no way… where have I… heard that name before?”
In those stricken moments of confusion, the only thing he was sure of was that this was a name he’s heard of in his past life . Was it from one of his games overseas? No, it wasn’t that. It was from TV. Was it a popular athlete? No, not that either. He’d stopped watching sports shows after the incident because it physically hurt him to look at them.
“Holy fuck, ” he swears, posture crumbling as he clambers to his feet, rushing to the computer. His first searches turn up null, but that confirmed it enough.
He’d tried to search for the Generation of Miracles , and apparently they didn’t exist either. That meant, at the very least, that manga doesn’t exist in this world .
Because he’s in it .
“I’m… in a bloody anime world?”
Chapter 4: know where you stand and go.
“You’ve got to be shittin’ me right now.”
He leaps, and brings his arm up strong, hooking the ball toward the rim. It goes in, and he drops to the ground, staggering off balance for two steps before he scoops the ball up, bringing it down to dribble toward the other goal.
He passes it through his feet, feints past an invisible opponent, and spins sharply before bumping up for a fadeaway.
“Not just any anime, a basketball anime ? Talk about plot convenience, please let me wake up,” he mutters under his breath, brushing aside an armful of sweat under his chin. “And heck, it’s that one anime I hated cause it made no fuckin’ sense.”
He didn’t even finish it. Why did he have to end up here, of all places? Well, at least he could play basketball here… wait.
“Ack!” The ball slips from his hold mid-throw, bounces off the hoop.
He rests his hands on his knees, and breathes heavily, trying to catch his breath.
“Crap, if I play basketball, I might mess up the story,” he realizes, “and since I didn’t finish it, I don’t know shit about it and I don’t know what to avoid.”
Alright, step one, don’t go near weirdly-coloured hair people.
“Holy crap, my hair is indigo!! ” he screams,as if he’s just realized.
This day couldn’t get any worse.
“You really need to stop playing until you collapse, Aisaka-kun.”
This isn’t the first time he’s met Kuroko out in this same court. In fact, Aisaka is here so often, Kuroko is mildly under the belief that Aisaka lives here.
Aisaka, lying flat on the ground and breathing heavily as he stares into a streetlight, groans. Kuroko frowns at his exhausted state.
“Ogiwara’s not with you today?” Aisaka asks, throwing his upper body upright. “That’s rare.”
He’s been seeing Kuroko more often, mainly because this is the only street court that isn’t always occupied by high-schoolers, and it’s near to his house. Kuroko and Ogiwara frequent this very same court, and Aisaka didn’t have the right to tell them to go away.
They were friends as much as they were neighbours. Not close at all, but they’re decently well-acquainted due to a shared interest.
“We’re not always together,” Kuroko insists, “we just meet occasionally, like you and me.”
“Is that so,” it’s not a question, but Aisaka yawns, realizes the basketball is by his feet, and scoops it up to toss at the blue-haired boy. “I’m fine. I do nothing else all day.”
“That’s still not healthy.”
“Well I have to spend my time on something , don’t I?”
“I’m rather sure ‘something’ can not include ‘play basketball until I cannot move’, Aisaka-kun.”
Aisaka stares incredulously at the boy, as if he’d just been told to stop breathing. Kuroko sighs longsufferingly, the ball rocking back and forth in his palm.
Okay, so Aisaka is in an anime. He’s currently looking at the main character of the show, but right now, he sucks in everything except scaring the living daylights of people. Ogiwara is probably in Level fifty-five of ‘you have unlocked shadow boy’s backstory’, which Aisaka has conveniently not read or watched at all, and Aisaka couldn’t give a shi-- okay, maybe he has to. Kuroko’s a nice guy.
“Okay then, I guess we’re not playing today,” the blue-haired boy decides, “let’s go get a drink or something.”
The indigo-haired boy leaps, horrified, “but why?”
“Because you’re exhausted already.”
“I’m not! I can keep going!”
Kuroko hears none of it. He walks away, basketball in hand, and he picks up his bag. “Let’s go to Maji Burger’s for a milkshake,” and he turns to leave.
Aisaka is stupefied for a horrid three seconds before he hops to his feet, scoops up a bag, and trails after the boy who took his basketball away from him. “Wait for me!”
Aisaka couldn’t remember anything of the show, but seriously, who would’ve thought that was important?
But at this point, Aisaka wonders if he needs to care. Maybe he doesn’t. He lives here now, imaginary or not and no matter how stupid this situation sounds.
This place was a basketball mania’s epitome of hell. Overpowered characters come in hordes, and what can Aisaka, a normal, do?
No, Aisaka breaks into an amused grin as he realizes-- if anything, he’s not normal. He’s the reincarnation of a basketball star that took the world by flames and earned his home some fame.
He is a basketball player , and here he was, facing the desecration of the purity of this sport. Desecration may be too strong a word, but the meaning remains.
Once upon a time, he thought his life was over.
His body was shattered and his mind was broken. His hopes were nonexistent, as if the gods themselves had given up on him.
But now he has a chance. Another chance, a dream he can finally make come true, and even if it’s in a messed up, ridiculous world like this one-- it’s enough.
It’s enough that he can even walk .
It’s enough that he can stand up, stretch, and take a deep breath that doesn’t hurt.
“Hey, Kuroko,” Aisaka sips on his own milkshake-- strawberry-- and sits across from the blue-haired boy. “Where are you going for Junior High?”
The boy seems a little taken aback to get the question.
“I haven’t decided,” Kuroko says, “Ogiwara-kun, however, is considering Meiko.”
Aisaka raises an eyebrow at that. That sounded awfully familiar, yet not at all. But he doesn’t remember seeing the name of that school around town.
“Meiko?” he asks.
“It’s in Kyoto,” Kuroko explains, “his family is moving next year, for work.”
Aisaka sputters, “ what??”
“It’s in Kyoto, and--”
“No, I heard that part!” Aisaka snaps, “he’s moving away?”
Kuroko blinks, looking up from him milkshake, a little surprised, “...we didn’t tell you?”
“No you didn’t! Give me back my last three months of friendship!”
“I’m considering it.”
“I have physically suffered damage. Please compensate for my agony.”
“I’m already paying for your strawberry milkshake.”
“Yeah, that’s enough.”
They stay in silence for a moment, before Aisaka breaks into laughter. Kuroko manages a smile at that.
They haven’t known each other for long at all-- less than a year with only basketball to talk about, and yet-- they thoroughly enjoyed their friendship with each other.
“Let’s go to the same Junior High,” Aisaka decides, a shot in the wild. Because he was new to this world and, as far as Kuroko knew, he was new to the concept of school . It would make sense if he wanted a guide to lead him through his experience.
He doesn’t expect it when Kuroko agrees.
Chapter 5: love what you get and live.
“Aisaka!” Ogiwara throws his voice, “come on out and play!”
The indigo-haired boy whirls out of his bed, throwing off the covers as he just, very confusedly, blinks for a long moment.
Fresh out of a dream, his sleep-muddled mind is equal parts exhausted and confused. It takes him a second to remember his own name, then he turns to the clock just to make sure it’s actually morning this time.
Last time he woke up, it was in the middle of the night and his father really wanted to know why he was making breakfast at three am.
Yeah, that didn’t end well.
He jerks out of his spot, knocking over a lamp post.
Wait, that wasn’t part of his dream?? Actually, he couldn’t remember much of that dream except that for some reason, Kuroko had bandages around his head? Or was that a scarf...
He throws his window open and screams into the world, “shut up!”
“Yay, you’re awake!”
“It’s five bloody am you oversized fucking idiot!”
“He’s swearing, oops!”
Aisaka takes a moment to appreciate the view of Ogiwara Shigehiro scampering away, basketball tucked under his arm. He slings half of his body over the ledge of his window and groans, limbs sore and headache burning in his skull.
If this was his past life, he would’ve broken a few skulls if anyone dared yell him awake at this ungodly hour. It was probably the most common reaction, to be honest.
Instead, he crawls out of his bed, pulls off his pyjama top, and picks out a decent T-shirt before going to look for shorts in the drawer.
“Seriously, those punks have too much energy,” he grumbles, “who the hell willingly wakes up at five am to play basketball before school, every day?”
He’s not that young anymore… okay, maybe he’s twelve now, but he’s mentally like thirty so cut him some slack.
He puts a hand at the back of his neck as he yawns, trying to walk the sleepiness out of him. His fingers prod against the slightly raised, red birthmark across his nape.
In his last life, his head injury was somewhere around here, too. So that was creepy.
He muffs up his hair, knowing it’s decently presentable even without a comb. He was never one to have much of a bedhead, anyways… He steals his father’s hoodie and drags it over his head.
He gets dressed and leaves the room, snatching the house keys off the side while he wriggles in a shooting glove on his dominant hand. His door is open before his shoes are fully on.
He swings over the balcony of the third floor, grabbing onto the ledge of the second. Using the wall as a leverage, he hops to the radio pole beside the building, and slides down to the roof of a car before bouncing off a rain-drenched stool and landing cleanly on the ground.
A few squirrels scatter at the movement, but he pays it no mind.
He stretches until a satisfying joint pops, then he breaks into a dash.
“Do you really have to call me out like that every time you don’t see Kuroko around?” Aisaka asks, exasperation evident in his tone.
Ogiwara has the cheek to grin like he was proud of it. He pants heavily, hands on his knees as he catches his breath, “but playing alone is boring,” he says, like it’s obvious, “and you’re free anyways, right?”
Aisaka pulls his hoodie over his head and grimaces at the sweaty fabric.
“Well yes, I am free...” He tosses it aside and reaches for Ogiwara’s water bottle, giving a shoulder shrug at the boy as a silent request for permission, “but I’ve also got chores.”
Ogiwara waves his hands dismissively, to say go ahead . “Well, you don’t reject me,” he points out, as if that’s a valid argument, “and you’re good at basketball.”
“My skills in basketball are irrelevant,” Aisaka retorts instinctively, but he’s smiling anyways, giving the boy a rough play-shove in retaliation. He raises the water bottle and takes a large, quenching gulp, gasping in satisfaction after.
Ogiwara snorts out a laugh, and he shoved back. The bottle jumps in Aisaka’s hands and the water spills all over. They crumble into unsalvageable guffaws as Ogiwara shakily tries to salvage his school uniform.
“Once summer break comes around, let’s go mountain biking! All three of us,” Ogiwara suggests, standing his water bottle up beside the bench.
“Mountain biking? Y’sure?”
He remembers going on those-- maybe once? In his past life. Those bikes were hella heavy, though.
“Of course! I dragged Kuroko out with me last year, too!” he says, “that guy, he’s got crazy low stamina, y’know? The uphills with him were hilarious, I think at some point I had to carry him and two bikes at the same time.”
Don’t call your friend’s suffering hilarious, Aisaka doesn’t point out. Instead, he rolls his eyes and says, “don’t compare him to you, Ogiwara, you’ve probably got enough stamina to run a 10k.”
“Huh? How’d you know?”
“Holy crap, you can ?”
“Isn’t that what pacing is all about?”
“You’re twelve years old, stop being a bloody cheat !”
“I don’t know what that is but I don’t like how it sounds!”
Ogiwara squawks when Aisaka lunges on, shoving him to the ground by the shoulders. His knees buckle and they collapse in a pile. Aisaka runs his hands through the boy’s hair with every intent to mess it up.
Ogiwara screeches like a gremlin got to him, clambering up but being unable to throw off the slightly smaller male from his neck.
“Why do you have no flaws? You need one!”
“Get off me! My hair! I have class in two minutes, Aisaka, don’t!!”
“I’m gonna make this look like Kuroko’s bedhead if I can!”
“No, anything but that, please!!”
Aisaka spends the rest of his year at home and in the public library to study up on the basics again, if only for his father’s assurance.
His father’s job dwells to stable work hours. Learning strongly from mistakes, he scrounges through every loophole to come home in time for his son. Much more than anything, he loved his child and Aisaka almost found it miserable how he could never enjoy this love fully. He may be Hiroto now, but his heart will always think otherwise.
He sits on the dinner table with his father, and his mind brings him back to times with his mother-- his roommates-- and he would so starkly realize that in the end he is not and will never fully be Aisaka Hiroto.
He was just a ghost, possessing this body and using it to live his dream one more time, one more time-- until the spell inevitable shatters and hope is lost once again.
But maybe that’s fine, too.
“Goodnight, Hiroto,” his father whispers to him, brushing back his bangs and planting a gentle kiss on his forehead-- it’s an intimacy that they both think is too childish and cheesy, but they do it anyways. They wouldn’t give it up for the sake of the world.
“Sleep tight. Love you.”
Even if this love doesn’t truly belong to him--
Maybe he was put here to enjoy it anyways.
Chapter 6: when one leaves, another comes.
It didn’t matter which life it was, his passion was always for basketball.
He feels the rough of the ball grind through his palm, release from his hold-- he leaps higher than ever before, and slams it down the hoop.
He hangs heavily on the hoop, listening to the creak of the rusted steel for a bitingly long moment-- and he releases, distributing his weight to land on both his hands and feet. That was too high of a drop for hm to not injure his legs, after all.
He lifts his head, and the next breath is liberating . Accomplished. So impossibly sweet and for a moment, it’s like he’s won the world.
Almost two years since his first day here, and he finally manages to dunk.
Beside him, Ogiwara cheers and, like the mood-killing lump of energy he always is, he dives Aisaka into the ground, laughter coming out like a half snort, half sobs.
“You’ve grown so much,” he sobs fakely and Aisaka bonks him over the head, “I remember like yesterday, you couldn’t even speak a straight sentence to Kuroko!”
Aisaka flushes. “It’s not that big of a deal!” He was the type to only manage speaking well once he was comfortable. He did not like it being pointed out so clearly. Was he that obvious? Okay maybe but--
“You were flying,” Kuroko enters the conversation, everything and awe in his voice. There’s a look in his eyes, a mix of horror and surprise and bafflement that wasn’t going anywhere else anytime soon. “You were flying ,” he says again, because it apparently needs to be repeated.
With the three of them, there is no better trio. Aisaka is solid in the rear, Kuroko sticks them together, and Ogiwara continues to drag their pace forward. It’s an easy push and pull, gentle and as natural as water in a river.
Aisaka enjoys that. It’s a little dull compared to his old endeavours, but it’s nice too.
It’s awesome, the feeling of slowly, surely, building your body back up. Watching yourself grow like a new sprout, and feeling a rush of joy when a new leaf sets into shape. Aisaka loves progress. He’s trained youths in his past, he can never get over the exhilaration of documenting every moment of new talent.
You were flying, Kuroko says.
And he’ll keep flying, higher and higher, forever.
At least, he wanted to.
“Send letters, alright?” Aisaka nudges the brown-haired boy in the arm, “or an email, cause y’know your handwriting’s way too awful for the life of both of us.”
Ogiwara pulls Aisaka’s neck into a rough hold, mussling up his hair with a low growl, then pulling on the boy’s cheeks and stretching them wide, “why are you never cute? Is this mouth the one that’s being cheeky? Kuroko, bring the duct tape.”
“Ahbooze, abuuoooze!” Aisaka protests, weakly patting at the taller boy’s wrists. He was probably trying to say ‘abuse’, but Kuroko could only guess.
“I look forward to seeing you again, Ogiwara-kun,” Kuroko’s words are in their usual monotone, much less taunting and even itching with a hint of a smile as he gives a very polite, “have a safe trip.”
“There!” Ogiwara gestures dramatically at Kuroko, like he’s worthy of the greatest gems, “that’s how you’re supposed to do it, Aisaka. Learn from him!”
Aisaka pouts, not acknowledging the tiny smile Kuroko gives in response, as if he was proving his point with a snarky, haha-I’m-the-favourite-child look. Aisaka snorts against it.
Their fists join in a center, and they smile.
“The next time we meet, it’ll be me against the two of you!” Ogiwara whines half-heartedly, like it’s not fair but he loves the thought of it.
It’ll probably be just Ogiwara and Aisaka, though. Kuroko was weak in comparison and they all knew it-- but nothing felt forced about the way they said it. Kuroko wasn’t a burden-- he was the advantage both of them wanted desperately to have. Ogiwara just drew the short straw.
“See ya, Ogiwara.”
It’s late into sixth grade when Ogiwara leaves. The court feels a little emptier from then, the noisiest of them vanished-- and games were always a little quieter.
But that didn’t make it less fun.
Kuroko watches Aisaka grow, get better, and improve-- but he advances too. He trains and they practice. They work their hardest. They play streetball, not just with each other, but with strangers they come across on their days, and with new friends they make once in a while.
It’s a little lonelier, but they manage.
After all, they promised. They exchanged letters and huddled around to read and write back. It was dumb, childish, but enjoyable.
It’s on a day when Kuroko has remedial classes.
Aisaka, ditching self study, wanders away from the court he usually frequents. If he went there, he’d get absorbed and wouldn’t be able to stop himself from grinding till sundown-- so he wanders to the playground instead, and finds something else.
Deja vu bites him in the ass.
The bounce of a basketball against pavement, and a sharp shuttle of a hoop as the ball goes through-- he finds himself staring before he knows it.
Basketball had that sort of magic to him. He sees it and it’s a beauty that never fades, but only grows more magnificent with time.
Today, he watches a fellow twelve-year-old score the most beautiful dunk he’s ever seen, and the breath is gone from him.
It’s not a steel basketball stand, but it stood at the right height. There’s that crackle and that sharp shriek of strained nails as his weight drags the hoop down. It clutters and bounces back up when he lets go-- and he lands, staggering in his steps as an evident cringe shoots up his feet from the high drop.
“You did it, you did it!”
That’s when Aisaka notices the pink-haired girl beside them, sitting at the swings and watching with bated expectations. At the score, she jumps and actually throws herself onto the boy, who yelps but doesn’t topple over.
“Oh c’mon, Satsuki, it’s not that big of a deal,” the boy groans, trying to shove her off of him but she was solid there, “off. Off.”
“But you’ve been trying for ages to get a dunk!” the girl whines, and is she crying? Oh my god, “you jumped so high!!”
Aisaka catches the basketball before it rolls too far away, picking it up. That’s when the two notice him watching.
“Who’re you?” the boy looks at him weirdly.
Aisaka almost laughs, but he settles on a smile. Maybe it is weird to be staring at a boy playing basketball in this world. In the old world, it wasn’t exactly uncommon to have an audience when you play outside. This was one weird world.
“That was a cool dunk!” Aisaka says, and it strikes him how easily the words come.
It’s only been a year since he actually began to re learn Japanese, but he could speak it normally now. He’s more open than he was a few months back when he first met Kuroko.
It’s like Aisaka is slowly, but surely, assimilating into this body, and taking in what this body used to know and growing out of the flaws in his system.
Who was this body before he invaded it?
“Hey, you,” he passes the ball back to them, “wanna play a one-on-one?”
The boy snorts. Maybe it’s the fact that Aisaka doesn’t have a lot of bulk in him. He doesn’t look like he’ll be much-- but that isn’t underestimation in his eyes. Those are sheerly excited glances as he looks Aisaka up and down, trying to figure out how to get through him before they even begin.
Aisaka instantly knows this will be a fun game.
Chapter 7: find something new and carry on.
Their first meeting was strange. Aomine was entirely convinced he was rude, Momoi feared a street brawl, and Aisaka actually lost.
“This is bullshit,” he spits, breathing so heavily he can’t make a proper vowel.
Aomine laughs, “you’re weak!” he teases, spinning the basketball on his finger as he crouches down beside the shorter boy.
“I’m not!” Aisaka argues sharply, “you play rough!”
“You just don’t hold the ball strong enough,” Aomine makes a swinging motion with his hand, “I can hit the ball right outta your hand, easy.”
“I thought my fingers were going to rip off!”
“At some point I think I was just running away and you were cackling like a vampire.”
“I was not!”
“Yes you were!”
That continued for a while. They bark each other’s heads off until both were simply gasping for breath at the sheer stupidity of the situation.
They sit down, Aisaka on the bench and Aomine beside it on the ground.
That was too much yelling for the rest of his life, Aisaka decides. He actually manages to laugh at it.
“So, what’s your name?” Aisaka asks finally once he’s caught his breath. He sees Aomine and his sweat-drenched state, so he pulls a fresh towel from his bag and tosses it at the boy.
“Me? I’m Aomine,” he says, then adds a second later, “Daiki.”
He contemplates returning the towel, but uses it with a soft word of gratitude because it’s already touched him. Giving it back now would be nasty.
“And I’m Momoi Satsuki,” suddenly the girl is there again, and Aisaka realizes she’s been gone for a second. She holds two cans of Pocari in their direction, and that smile suggests he take it. “Here, I bought drinks.”
“Ah, thanks, Satsuki,” Aomine takes one without even thinking, but Aisaka freezes.
When the girl nudges it further in his direction, Aisaka blurts, “me too?”
Momoi giggles, pushing it into Aisaka’s hands before he can ask again, “of course! Thanks for playing with Dai-chan. Not many people like playing with him cause he gets way too into it sometimes.”
Aisaka looks at the Pocari like it’s a blessing from the gods above.
“They just get tired way too easily,” Aomine scoffs, taking a big, refreshing gulp, “I haven’t been this exhausted in ages! What are you made of?”
Aisaka shifts, offended, “I’m normal, thank you very much, you’re just a monster,” he says, “ah, and, I’m Aisaka! Aisaka Hiroto. Nice to meet you two.”
That was probably when things really began.
Aisaka meets Kuroko every few days before his classes, and he finds Aomine on every other day. For some reason or the other, they never meet, not even by coincidence. Aisaka tries to tell Kuroko about his other friend, but conversations would get interrupted somehow.
It was like some divine power was at work, so Aisaka stopped trying. They’ll meet soon, anyways. Might as well not try to speed it up.
Aisaka knows that soon, he’ll have to go to school each day. The empty, nonchalant days of just running and playing basketball would soon end, and he’ll churn back into the hell of daily schooling. He isn’t sure if he’s happy about that, but at this point everything beats this dullness.
“Are you sure you want to go with me?” Kuroko asks, not for the first time, about Aisaka’s choice of junior high, “the school I’m going to has standards for academics, so you might find it difficult to keep up.”
Aisaka laughs heartily, “is that coming from the boy that needs my help in his homework?”
Aisaka taps his pencil on Kuroko’s papers, and the boy promptly flushes. For a moment he seems to want to kick back his chair and bolt from this room, but Aisaka is standing within vicinity of the door.
“You’re just better at English than I am,” Kuroko insists.
“Sure,” Aisaka shrugs, “we have like, five subjects and you’re uncomfortably bad at four of them.”
“You are brutal.”
“It was not a compliment.”
“That wasn’t a-- nevermind.”
It’s the first time Kuroko’s gone as far as come into Aisaka’s house. Entrance exams are a month away, and Kuroko finally admits to his awful grades.
No, they aren’t awful , but for someone aiming for a high-end school like Teiko, they may be tottering at the edge. In short, they’re a little too slightly below average.
Aomine is an idiot too, but at least he’s getting in with a sports recommendation from his grade-school principal. Kuroko can’t do the same.
It isn’t as if Aisaka is smart, either-- this school maybe high end, but they’re lenient and big. As long as you aren’t entirely hopeless, you can still get in.
Which is why Kuroko is here,on a sleepover, with his textbooks and a will to live in tow. No basketball until it’s over.
Aisaka-kun is mean.
S. O. S. Ogiwara-kun, save me.
Fight-o! (ﾉ´ヮ`)ﾉ*: ･ﾟ
I’ll remember to scatter
Ur ashes from a mountain so
You’ll always feel super tall.
Why are we friends
Aisaka slams his hand on the table,and Kuroko’s phone jumps out of his hand. AIsaka scoops in to catch it while it’s in the air.
“Answer this next test, and you’ll get a break,” Aisaka says, and Kuroko finds a sheet of paper with math questions before him.
“Y- Yes… sir.”
Kuroko regrets everything.
“So you’re the Kuroko I’ve been hearing about,” his father looks at the small boy, “you’re smaller than Hiroto.”
Kuroko straightens at that, and Aisaka laughs, swinging an arm around the boys shoulders.
“Uh- Nice to meet you, I’m Kuroko Tetsuya.”
“And much more polite.”
Aisaka Jousuke, unlike his son, had black hair.
Proof that he’s not a main character. He’s got boring hair.
He also stood much taller than the average man. Hiroto would soon inherit that height, but for now and because of his period of not-eating-properly, he stood somewhere slightly below average. Even Aomine was taller than him.
It’s amazing to realize that Kuroko is still shorter. Or maybe he’s just normal and everyone else in this world is weirder. Even last time, Aisaka didn’t break the 150s until he was fifteen or something.
“Don’t eat him,” he says, and Jousuke does a double take.
“I don’t eat children!”
“Yeah, you just grab them and don’t let go.”
“That was a hug!”
They sit around the dinner table, and Kuroko is, once again, surprised. He had been doing a test while it happened, so he isn’t too sure where all this food came from. He feels oddly out of place on the table, as all sleepover dinner were-- but this was just the slightest bit uncomfortable for a different reason.
Aisaka hasn’t taken a seat yet. He makes sure his father got three portions set out before taking his own. He wore an apron that looked unsettlingly good on him. What in the world.
Aisaka could cook. And he’s good at it, dear lord this was the best nikujaga he’s had in his life. How could someone be so great at everything. He’s such a cheat.
“I don’t want to be called a cheat by you of all people, Kuroko,” Aisaka leans over his chair, pointing at the boy with his chopsticks.
“Ah, did I say that out loud?” he wonders rhetorically, then a second later, “I’m not a cheat.”
“Sure you aren’t.”
Beside them, Jousuke smiles at the sight.
Chapter 8: come together and don't give up.
“Are you excited to go to school?”
When his father asks that, Aisaka actually laughs. If he’d been asked that back in the other world, he would’ve rolled his eyes and scowled, saying something sarcastic.
He’s surprised to find his heart telling him to say yes .
Yes, I’m excited to go back to school .
It’s kind of stupid, really.
He jumps, leans back, and lobs the ball in the direction of the net. The mobile hoop in the apartment building’s garden isn’t quite the right height, but it works. He hears the swish as it goes in, and he breathes in the serenity of it.
He feels sonder, loving every bit of the excitement, the disappointment, and the thrill of the game. So long ago these wouldn’t have come to him so easily.
Now it’s different. He’s Aisaka Hiroto now.
And he’ll fulfill that dream this time.
“Ai-kun, you passed the test too? That’s amazing!”
Momoi’s very generous amount of female chest buries into his arm, so Aisaka stills, but doesn’t panic. No adult gets flustered by a barely-thirteen’s bosom, even if he’s physically thirteen now.
“Yep!” Aisaka holds up the letter of acceptance in one hand, a V on the other, “with flying colours. Now I’ll get to play with you on a team!”
Aomine stares dubiously at the letter, as if he can’t believe that one plus one equals one.
“Me, a team with you?” he can’t hold back the excitement in his tone, so he rushes forward and pumps a fist, beaming, “that sounds incredible. We’d never lose!”
Aisaka tries not to beam right back. He fails.
“We can conquer the whole world if wars were fought with basketball!” he boasts, overexcited, “now that we’re a team, we’re unstoppable!”
Momoi nods with an audible hum, still attached to Aisaka’s arm.
There’s a freeze. Then a dry laugh.
“But of course, first, we’ll have to actually get in…” Aisaka realizes, a little embarrassed. He takes a step back a shrinks, “and, y’know, I heard their club’s really big so we’ll have to work our way up to first string…”
In a world as illogical as this one, surely it’s not that easy to break the first string barrier, especially alongside a handful of other complete cheats.
Aomine stares at him like he’s acting like a fool. Aisaka shuffles under the look.
“Don’t be dumb,” he actually says it, knocking Aisaka once over the head with a sharp knock of knuckle against temple. “Of course we’re getting into first string. It’ll be easy for both of us!”
The way Aomine says it makes it seem so simple, it makes his worries seem so trivial and needless.
Aisaka smiles, and somehow, he thinks that maybe it’ll all go well after all.
“You’re not allowed to lose to anyone else, now that I’m with you!” Aisaka grabs Aomine by the wrist, grin toothy, “I’m the only one allowed to beat you!”
Aomine yells loudly, “I’m not going to be beat, not even by you!”
“Oh, wanna go?”
“I sure as hell do!”
Kuroko turns the corner-- and is instantly engulfed by a big mass of indigo.
Aisaka throws his whole weight on the boy, a hug rough and violent and so very warm. Kuroko’s knees buckle and they land painfully on the ground, in a mess of limbs and pained yelps.
“I’m so proud of you!” Aisaka sobs with exaggerated waterworks into the smaller boy’s shoulder, “You actually got through with your absolute shit grades---”
“You’re rude,” Kuroko murmured, “ow.”
Aisaka laughs at that. He clambers up, hand out as an offer to the shorter boy. Kuroko takes it, and Aisaka pulls him to his feet.
“Congratulations, Kuroko!” Aisaka throws his arms around the boy in a hug, “we’ll be going to school together! Oh, we need to tell Ogi about this. C’mon, let’s go to Maji Burger’s! My treat!”
“Calm down…” Kuroko feels himself pulled forward by the wrist as Aisaka leads him through their usual road. He fails to stifle a smile, “I’m really happy. Thank you so much for helping me study, Aisaka-kun.”
Aisaka looks back with a grin like he’s just won the world, and Kuroko’s mirroring it before he even realizes. There was something so honestly beautiful about him-- it makes Kuroko feel warm inside-- it amazes him how Aisaka can live so honestly, and be so happy over something that barely involved himself.
It was precious.
＼（Ｔ∇Ｔ）／ KUROKO PASSED
HE IS A CHILD OF HOPE AND DREAMS
HE CAN TAKE OVER THE WORLD NOW
WOOOOOOOOO ⤴︎ ε=ε=(ง ˃̶͈̀ᗨ˂̶͈́)۶ ⤴︎
GIVE THAT MAN A VANILLA MILKSHAKE
Camera03.jpg View Image
Already on it boss ヾ(･ω･｡)ｼ
Thank you very much, Ogiwara-kun.
“You and Ogiwara-kun have been calling each other ‘Ogi’ and ‘Saka’,” Kuroko mentions, “when did this happen?”
It’s strange to call your friends out for fast food and end up talking to each other on your phones, so Kuroko looks up and actually verbally offers the inquiry.
Aisaka raises an eyebrow at that, “ when , you ask, well… it kinda just did? We were tired of typing up full names all the time, so we just started and it stuck.”
Kuroko blinks as if that doesn’t make sense. He stops drinking his milkshake, and he stares. He stares, and stares, and stares.
Aisaka looks back.
And Kuroko stares even more.
“Okay, okay, I get it!” Aisaka shoots back, waving his arms around in a down boy motion, averting his eyes and bringing his arms up to shield himself from that gaze, “you can call me that too, if you want! I really don’t mind.”
Kuroko’s shoulders ease. There’s a visible sag of relief in his next smile, and he only hopes Aisaka didn’t see it. It’s embarrassing that he’s getting worked up over what they call each other-- wait, is he jealous? Surely not.
“Wait, first names?”
“Count it as part of your congratulatory present for me.”
“You mean the milkshake wasn’t enough?”
“I also want a new book.”
“Is today spoil-you-rotten day?”
Kuroko enjoys this. It’s a humorous, mutually understanding relationship they have. It’s friendship, brotherhood, or maybe it’s something more or something different.
If Ogiwara was an assuring and gentle younger brother, Aisaka was probably a dependable and strict older brother. Ironic, because the truth was the exact opposite.
Aisaka doubles over with laughter. He lifts his hand in a fist, hovering over the center of the table. Kuroko sees it and smiles, raising his own and bumping their knuckles together.
“To become number one in Japan?” Aisaka asks.
“Of course,” Kuroko agrees.
Chapter 9: step in there and advance.
They step into Teiko Junior High, but not together.
Aisaka thinks his father is embarrassing. He’s sobbing like his kid’s won the award of the universe, and that camera screams outdated old man.
Luckily, Aisaka manages to chase him off to work before the entrance ceremony could begin. He has about a year’s worth of shameless-daddy memories already, though.
He rides through the crowd of seniors. Some wear lanyards, others bombard him with offers of assistance he really doesn’t need. He dodges them, searches for the map, and follows the crowd to the hall.
The seniors here were too helpful. Each time they greeted him, Aisaka felt painfully self-conscious about the black brace glove on his right hand. Their eyes always consider it for a moment before they respectfully look away.
“Your seat is at the third row, you’ll find your name,” the senior tells him, handing him a leaflet. It had a big bold WELCOME FRESHMEN printed on it-- as well as a map that may have come in handy two seconds ago.
“Ah, thanks,” Aisaka answers automatically, the crowd easing him forward. He takes one look at the poor senior tasked with usher duty-- and freezes.
The senior sees him staring, and stills, too.
“You’re pretty tall for a first year,” he says, and instead of heading straight for the chairs, Aisaka steps out of the crowd to take another look, blinking once.
He looks familiar.
“You planning on joining any clubs later?” the senior asks with a crafty grin.
Immediately after, another usher whirls around to them, “hey, Nijimura, that’s not fair! You can’t recruit until after the ceremony!”
He then turns to Aisaka with a sort of accusatory look, “don’t get lured in. He’s the Captain of the Basketball Club right now, so he’s looking for fresh meat.”
Aisaka steps back at that, surprised. Meat?
Niji. Rainbow. He has black hair, so he wasn’t one of the miracles-- but maybe he’s an important character too? Damn, if only he’d actually watched that dumb show…
Captain. He’s the Captain of the basketball club-- so this guy is the one that gets replaced by one of the Generations of Miracles later?
Nijimura actually laughs sheepishly at that, rubbing the back of his head. “Well, I tried. Oh well, sorry to disturb you! Have a nice first day.”
“Ah-” Aisaka finds himself bowing, “then, excuse me.”
Looking from the back of the hall, he could see a lot. Blacks and browns mixed in with the blinding white and pale blue of the uniforms. It made sense that they would stick out-- in fact, they were so obvious Aisaka felt self conscious about his painfully indigo hair.
“There’s no orange,” he observes, “but we have pink, and three shades of blue? Ah, Purple’s a shade of blue too, so we have four shades of blue?”
Okay this makes zero sense. Isn’t Kuroko supposed to have black hair anyways? How on earth does he not stand out with bright turquoise hair? Ah, maybe because he’s the main character… and it’d be stupid if Nijimura had rainbow hair…
Aisaka screams. He whirls around and whacks Kuroko on the head.
“Hiroto-kun, Hiroto-kun,” Kuroko directs full attention to Aisaka’s arm, “that’s a different glove from usual.”
Direct and blunt as usual.
“My usual one’s just a shooting glove, after all,” Aisaka says as an explanation, “Dad bought me a proper brace because I’ll need one if I want to play properly. Also ‘cause dress code violation.”
Kuroko blinks, not having noticed there being an injury in the first place.
It had been an injury from before Aisaka even reincarnated into this world, after all-- a sprain that the real Hiroto left behind, and never let heal properly.
The bone healed badly so it was far from flexible, and excess weight in certain angles caused shooting pain. A shame, but not a very big setback.
Scouring through the wave of club recruiters, Aisaka has a significantly harder time weaving through the people than Kuroko did. All manners of sports clubs were plaguing him with interaction, while Kuroko could slip through everyone’s arm without them even noticing.
That was unfair.
It takes Aisaka a few minutes to catch up to Kuroko at the end of the crowd. Now that the entrance ceremony was over, they had to split to their classes.
“I’m in Class 1-4,” he slings an arm over the shorter boy’s shoulders, “what about you, Tetsuya? Also, stop reading that book while you walk, it’s dangerous.”
“I’m in Class 1-2,” Kuroko responds expertly, not lifting his eyes even once, “once you’ve read enough books, you have an ingrained instinct in you to be able to dodge objects coming in your direction.”
“You just had to be in a class really far from mine??” Aisaka whines, “and don’t lie, you’re using me as a guide dog! Your free hand’s been on my blazer this whole time!”
“That is precisely what I am doing.”
“At least try to deny it!”
This would be Aisaka Hiroto’s first official class session since his depressive strike two years back. And it would mentally be his first class in decades since he graduated last time around.
Maybe being nervous was justified.
“I’ll see you after this?” he says to Kuroko, who waves in response. Aisaka is left to fend for himself. He feels absolutely torn with betrayal, but he takes a deep breath and turns toward the door.
It’s open, so he follows a few others in. He searches for his name on the seating chart, and like a normal human being, he shuffles into his seat and waits.
Except-- the second after he sits down, a boy with green hair takes the spot beside him. He freezes shock still.
He spins and exclaims faster than he can think. Because hell, if you saw someone with that kinda hair in a school, you’d think that too. Holy crap that is an awful shade of green, who gave that to you?
Half the class has their attention on them, and Aisaka officially names himself an absolute first impression disaster. He’s sure come a long way from stuttering scream-it’s-a-ghost. Ogiwara might be proud.
Expertly, Midorima fixes his glasses and responds, “yes.”
And lord, that was probably the best reaction possible.
So, like a genius, Aisaka gawks. He turns halfway toward the green-haired boy, points at himself, and quickly adds, “I’m indigo, nice to meet you.”
Midorima takes a moment to really register the indigo-haired male. He nods with a very deeply considering hum, as if investigatively acknowledging their similarities.
“Nice to meet you, too,” he says, and since he doesn’t give a hand out for a handshake, Aisaka understands that he wasn’t a handshake kinda person.
Or maybe he just saw Aisaka’s glove brace and simply didn’t want to make things kinda weird. Whatever.
In that horrifying split second, Aisaka wonders why they just bonded over their stupid hair colours, of all things.
So Aisaka turns to the boy’s table, sees a potted plant, and it takes every mitochondria in him to not ask why he brought a fucking bonsai to day one of school.
“You two are really tall,” their homeroom teacher observes after she dismissed the rest of the class, “trying out for the basketball club?”
Neither of them respond, so when Aisaka averts his eyes toward the green-haired boy (who was like, three centimeters taller than him maybe) he finds Midorima staring right back, like they’re both waiting for each other to start talking first.
Aisaka does the honours.
“Yeah!” he beams, turning back to Midorima to send the boy a smile with his head tilted aside, “right?”
He’s not sure why Midorima looks away and takes a cautious step back. Green-haired doesn’t give more than a dismissive nod in response before bowing and excusing himself. Aisaka follows, because they’re going the same way, anyways.
The tryouts aren’t today, but dropping off their names to sign up was important.
“Tetsuya, you there?” Aisaka calls out to the crowded hallway.
“I am,” says a monotone voice beside his ear.
Kuroko gets smacked for the second time today.
Aisaka’s fist is still held tight beside him after the deed, having half a mind to pound another punch in.
“I’m just harder to notice in crowds,” he whines in complaint, not happy about being hit in the head so often. “You didn’t have to hit so hard…”
“It’s never happened before this, so you’re definitely doing that on purpose,” Aisaka points out sharply. In fact, it’s almost never happened to him, and it happened much less after Ogiwara left-- huh? “So the more people there are, the less you’re visible?”
Kuroko tilts his head to the side, confused, “I guess?”
“Do that again and I’ll make sure your head sinks in.”
“Please don’t make me shorter.”
Aisaka finds himself trailing behind Midorima on their way to the basketball gym. The taller boy was outside the building, standing by the wall as if he had been waiting.
He doesn’t turn around to acknowledge Kuroko, but he certainly begins walking once he sees Aisaka catch up.
“Huh, did you wait for me?” Aisaka trots up to ask.
“Of course not,” the boy doesn’t even look back while he says it.
Kuroko eyes the boy curiously, but neither of them address each other. Aisaka abruptly realizes that he doesn’t know the boy’s name-- it would be too awkward to ask now, though. But for the sake of it, he points.
“Ah, he’s in my class,” Aisaka manages a simple introduction for Kuroko’s benefit, “he’s going for basketball too.”
Kuroko hums, “is that so? Nice to meet you.”
At the new voice, Midorima stops. He turns around-- and promptly jumps at the sight of Kuroko behind Aisaka’s figure.
“How--? Wait, how long have you been there?”
“I’ve been here this whole time.”
“Woah, you really are harder to notice in crowds,” Aisaka splendidly observes.
“Ogiwara-kun still doesn’t know how you notice me as often as you already do,” Kuroko says, “ah, I’m Kuroko Tetsuya.”
Like an expert, the green-haired giant composes himself with the speed of a saint-- and, once again, he fixes his glasses for no reason. He clears his throat, “I’m Midorima Shintaro.”
“Ah, that’s right-- we never introduced ourselves, did we?” he realizes, cutting into the conversation between the two who were literally staring at each other awkwardly-- “my name’s Aisaka! Aisaka Hiroto. Nice to meet you too, Midorima!”
At that, Midorima tears his strangely antagonistic eyes from Kuroko, and turns back toward the gym. “I suppose we have to get along, seeing as we will be attending the same classes from now on.”
Aisaka isn’t sure what to make of that, so he looks at Kuroko and shrugs dismissively.
“Hey, Midorima, what’s your position?” Aisaka scrambles up to ask questions, Kuroko stuck by his side, “I usually play the Point Guard, but I saw this suuuper tall guy just now during the entrance ceremony and--”
“I’m the Shooting Guard.”
“Hehh, that actually kinda suits you!”
Midorima actually does a double take. No one’s ever actually said that to him before they see him shoot. In fact, what kind of person do you have to be to suit the position of a shooting guard?
With that, he comes to the conclusion that Aisaka is a genuine oddball.
“I mean, you look like the kind of guy who’d be serious about the little details, having a great foundation on the basics of basketball, that kinda stuff.”
He makes the motion of shooting a basketball, and Midorima is somehow flattered. Instead, he fixes his glasses, looks away, and mumbles, “nonsense.”
Aisaka only gets more confused from there on.
Chapter 10: strike down the trials and strive.
“And Number thirty-one, Kuroko Tetsuya. That’s all.”
As if a barrel of bricks had overturned on his head, Kuroko’s face falls. His hand, reaching over to Aisaka’s shirt, whiteknuckled.
In a painfully evident contrast, Aisaka isn’t too surprised.
Fists clenched at his sides, Aisaka can’t bring himself to look at Kuroko. But he manages a forced smile as he winds an arm around the boy’s shoulder.
“It’ll be fine, Tetsuya!” he assures in a way he can’t really believe, “you heard the coach. There’ll be periodical tests, so you’ll always have the chance to come up to the second string with me! Then we can go to the first string togeth--”
“And now I’ll announce the first string members.”
Aisaka stops short.
There it is-- the horrifying worst case scenario he’s been imagining for two years. It’s happening, right at this moment, and he’s hearing it.
“...number twenty-nine, Akashi Seijuurou… and number thirty-two, Aisaka Hiroto. That’s all. You five will be training under me with the rest of your seniors in the first string.”
Ah , Aisaka thinks.
This is officially fucked up . This was that kind of story, eh?
He doesn’t hear Kuroko congratulate him. He can’t bring himself to do something about the way Kuroko looks at him, mildly feeling betrayed but honestly overjoyed by it all the same.
Kuroko was a very kind person. He didn’t let jealousy take him. He pouts and maybe makes Aisaka buy him milkshakes as a retaliation, but there was a real competitive underlying intent underneath.
“I’ll wait for you, no matter how long it takes,” Aisaka holds out his fist, and he doesn’t like how it’s going at all, “playing without you wouldn’t be any fun, after all!”
Kuroko bumps their fists together.
“See you after practice,” he promises, because they’ll walk home together. They split to their separate gyms-- and only looked back once.
“Aisaka, you made it!”
Maybe Aisaka should’ve been surprised to see Aomine there, but he can’t bring himself to do anything like it.
It’s obvious that Aomine would be there.
After all, he’s one of the Generation of Miracles. Everything’s just going according to the script plotted out far before this story even began.
The only thorn in the page was Aisaka.
He’s an intruder.
“Why the long face? You made it in, right?”
Aomine’s in front of him now, something like two seconds away from grinding his knuckles through the boy’s knuckles.
Aisaka shakes away his depressed pout and slaps the discomposure out of his mind. This wasn’t the time to be trying to remember the plotline of a story he’s only watched out of spite.
“It’s nothing,” he decides, “thanks, Aomine. I’m glad there’s a familiar face around… ah, Midorima!”
There’s only five people in that corner of the gym, and they were all a strikingly colourful gang. Aisaka expertly doesn’t point that out as he finds the green-haired boy, stepping in beside him.
Instantly, Aisaka can tell that this atmosphere had been dead before he arrived. The shorter-than-him redhead had a permanent scowl in his features. Midorima had a resting bitch face. The purple giant looked like he had much better things to do.
He sees Aomine sink into his hunting face, and Aisaka has had enough.
This was a basketball club, not the prologue of a death game manga!
“You’re in the first string too? Amazing!” he speaks to Midorima, “I saw your shots, they’re crazy high! Could you teach me how to shoot like that too?”
He knows the exact moment Midorima shuffles away uncomfortably, but Aisaka simply steps closer. He doesn’t break eye contact until Midorima looks away to fix his glasses.
“Uh- oh, yeah, sure,” the boy stumbles over his words, “maybe later.”
“Yay!” he cheers, “hey, Aomine, don’t you suck at three pointers too? Maybe you can join me if you want--”
“Hah?!” the boy explodes, “I don’t need three pointers to win against you, Aisaka!”
And like a beautifully concocted delayed bomb, Midorima snaps, “hold on, are you underestimating three-pointers?”
“Dunks are cooler!” Aomine fights, “and, faster too.”
“Three-pointers obtain better scores-- it’s simple math.”
“Then I just have to score twice as much!”
“And you will exhaust twice as much energy as well. It is not efficient.”
Aisaka turns to Aomine, then Midorima, then Aomine. At some point they began to bicker about the importance of glasses, so Aisaka tunes them out with a sort of victory in his veins.
A warmth approaches him from behind, a shadow uncomfortably looming over him. Aisaka cranes his head and looks up. And up. And up.
He hasn’t felt this tiny in ages.
“This is scary, how tall are you?”
“Huh?” the purple-haired giant has a slur, but he speaks like he’s not sure how the creature under him is capable of speech, “hundred eighty-six,” he answers, “why?”
“You’re not that much taller!” Aisaka beams optimistically, “just about sixteen centimeters. Hey, hey, can you touch the rim without jumping?”
Purple blinks. “You can’t?” he asks.
Aisaka’s worldview officially blows up.
“That’s not normal!” he accuses. Officially now, the world is unfair, “I can barely touch it if I jump!”
“You must be quite a jumper, then,” the red-haired one observes out loud.
When Aisaka turns to him, he’s a little surprised to see those eyes so red. He’s had his fair share of odd eye colours-- but blue and green, in hindsight, weren’t too strange after all.
He finds himself staring.
Red eyes are always the mark of something ominous. These-- although sharp, are narrowed in something akin to a gentle interest. Something infinitely calculating shines in the way he blinks and looks around-- kind of like Momoi.
He closes his eyes, and opens them a little more composed.
“You’re a point guard,” Aisaka says, and it’s as much a guess as it is a statement.
Red’s lips curl upward, and there’s a surprise he can’t quite hide in his eyes.
“That is a rather intriguing conclusion you’ve come to,” he says. Aisaka wonders why his speech is formal, but dismisses the thought, “how could you tell?”
How could you tell?
Aisaka hums. How do you nicely tell someone you’ve cultivated a skill for talent-seeking in your past life because you were a veteran coach and player and you’ve spent more than half of your life scouting newbies in basketball videos--
“Instinct,” he summarises.
Red looks fairly satisfied by that answer. His arms folded, he stalks up to Aisaka-- and they have a rather decent height difference. Aisaka is faintly reminded of Kuroko’s own miserable height, so he makes no mention of it.
This boy may be small where he stands, but he has the presence of someone so much bigger. Aisaka’s learned enough from his past about tiny towers and little giants. He isn’t taking any chances by underestimating this one before him.
Maybe Aisaka’s set up for failure already. After all-- this guy brims with the charisma of a natural born leader. He must have been the captain of the generation of miracles.
“Hey, Aisaka! One on One!” suddenly there’s a tanned arm around his shoulders, and a disturbingly loud voice by his ears. “I’m gonna prove to that nutjob that dunks are way cooler than three-pointers.”
He points rudely at Midorima, who physically winces and points right back, “No, I’ll take you on! I’ll prove it to you myself.”
Aisaka considers the strange nanodayo he’s hearing before looking between them, not really understanding how their new chemistry happened. Maybe it’s his fault?
“So, you five are the new first years… oh, it’s you!”
The Captain, Nijimura Shuuzo, is pleasantly surprised to see the indigo-haired boy here. In fact, his vice-captain is fairly sure he’s never seen Nijimura smile so widely before.
Aisaka lets a bashful laugh escape him before bowing, “I’m Aisaka Hiroto.”
“What, you know him?” Aomine has that frown set on him like he’s trying to conclude between friend and foe. He slings an arm around Aisaka’s shoulders and looks the (only slightly) taller male up and down.
A crunch noise came from behind (wait no, above) him, and Aisaka sees Nijimura snap and flip a new switch.
“Hey, don’t eat in here!” there’s a hint of disbelief in Nijimura’s voice as he yells at the boy behind Aisaka.
“You’ll get crumbs around the place!”
There’s a splendid amount of chaos in this group that somehow never allows a moment of peace. Aisaka misses the serious demeanor of an actual team, but maybe this isn’t so bad either. Less stressful.
“I’m Nijimura Shuzo,” the Captain finally introduces himself, “and this is Coach Sanada, who will be overseeing the first string, which includes you guys, from now on. I’m sure you’ve heard the talk about our motto and policy around here. I look forward to working with you five from now on.”
Their motto and policy? A hundred battles, a hundred victories; to attain absolute supremacy. And yeah, Aisaka could live with that. That was an ambitious goal that matched so perfectly well with his competitive spirit.
The echo rings loud and clear through the gym. Aisaka feels the excited smiles on his senior’s faces as they see their new, potential-filled rookies.
The longer Aisaka lived here, the harder it was to realize that this world wasn’t so real after all.
He doesn’t care, after all, that his new teammates are overpowered junkies that will soon take the world by storm. He can’t bring himself to care if he tries.
“It does worry me,” he says out loud, mumbling to himself without even noticing-- Kuroko thinks Aisaka is talking to him, but realizes he isn’t and stays silent, because that’s normal for his friend. It’s normal for him to suddenly talk about things that don’t make much sense.
They are intriguing to listen to, though.
“Tetsuya will get stronger,” Aisaka says, and something about the stars makes him look up, “and so will the rest of them in the first string. And when Tetsuya makes it to the first string, things will get so much better from there.”
Kuroko pauses when Aisaka stops walking.
“I can’t remember why… they all broke up,” he says, “it’s not because of Tetsuya…”
Kuroko’s eyes widen.
Aisaka blinks, suddenly realizing they’ve stopped walking.
Kuroko responds expertly, casting his concern back into his neutral expression, “what’s wrong, Hiroto-kun? Is the first string too hard for you? You’ve been blanking out for a while now.”
Kuroko speaks as if he hadn’t heard a thing Aisaka said. And that’s how it should be-- if Kuroko mentions it, he knows that Aisaka will be more conscious in trying to stop them, and Kuroko’s curiosity will never be sated.
“Oh!” Aisaka laughs, embarrassed, “my bad! It’s just… there’s a lot of weirdos in the first string… no worries, though, they’re pretty nice on their own! Oh, Aomine and Midorima are both with me, which is a really cool coincidence.”
When they begin walking again, Kuroko’s heart never settles.
What did Aisaka mean by they all broke up ?
Chapter 11: come at me if you dare.
“You,” Akashi is standing much too close to Aisaka to be comfortable, “are not a Point Guard.”
He’s glaring like he’s just been offended beyond belief, and Aisaka struggles to stand upright. Short people can be absolute devils and he honestly hates that.
“Uh-- yeah,” he steps back, but Akashi follows. He tries not to cry. “I usually play Point Guard to fill in positions, but I’m a Center at my best.”
Murasakibara and Nijimura perks up simultaneously. Then they turn to Aomine, who didn’t look the least bit surprised.
Aomine raises an eyebrow, “you didn’t know?”
“Go tell the managers before the set up the next practice,” he waves a hand in the others’ direction, “we have a position-based system here and Momoi works really hard on them.”
“But Momoi already knows--”
“She knew ??”
“Well, I pretty much can play any position except Shooting Guard--”
The karate chop that lands on his head hurts like a sharp gong. He wisely decides to shut up.
“Are you actually pouting, Akashi?” Aomine teases, (and immediately gets socked in the stomach by Nijimura but details) and Akashi folds his arms and huffs.
“I suppose I am upset,” to the horror of everyone, Akashi doesn’t deny it, “if Aisaka can coordinate his attacks with Aomine, they might conjure a rather fearsome combination.”
“Exactly!” Aomine looks up from where he’s groveling on the floor, “we’re unstoppable together!”
“Then why didn’t you play like that from the start? It’s been weeks since we’ve all been here!”
All eyes are now on Aisaka. Aisaka doesn’t meet them, he simply looks away like a child getting lectured for stepping on ants.
“As long as it’s fun, why does it matter?” he says, “and I’m a little short to be playing Center, anyways.”
Akashi dribbles the ball, and swerves to a stop when Aomine rushes up to face him. He doesn’t even blink. He expected this, after all. His gaze flickers across the court-- he takes one step back and hurls the ball to the ground.
The bounce-pass is scooped up by Aisaka, who transfers into a dribble-- only to skid to a halt when he crosses the three-point line and Murasakibara comes before him.
He only takes half a second to falter.
He searches for Midorima, but he’s ducked by Nijimura much too far away. Akashi isn’t anywhere close enough either-- Aisaka plants a foot halfway behind him, and turns half his body back.
Murasakibara frowns. Is he running away from a direct confrontation?
Then Aisaka leaps. One arm tucked back, his jump is twirled like a spun spring. His arm releases the ball in a hook toward the net, and it bounces against the rim, sinking right in.
Murasakibara, caught off guard, doesn’t react in time.
“Woah, a turnaround hook,” Nijimura gapes.
“Huh, is that what it’s called?” Aisaka looks at him like he’s just said something strange.
“You don’t know what you just did?”
“I mean, it just kinda happened.”
“Ah, I totally understand.”
Aisaka looks back to see Murasakibara glowering at him.
“I hate those kind of plays,” he mutters, like Aisaka’s offended his greatest ancestors. He scoffs and looks disdainfully at Aisaka, “it’s annoying.”
Aisaka feels a sense of deja vu. That’s something an amateur player would usually say when they fail to block a shot-- but this is different.
Murasakibara wasn’t an amateur at all-- he’s only saying this because, although he has the ability to block Aisaka’s plays, it will take him a certain amount of effort he really doesn’t want to put in.
Honestly, Aisaka think it’s fun trying to get over taller opponents.
Maybe it isn’t the same way around for said taller opponent.
“Ah, sorry,” he says, “Murasaki...bara, right? Actually, that’s kinda a mouthful. Can I just call you Atsushi?”
“Huh? Anything’s fine,” Murasakibara dismisses, and Aisaka can tell that’s not the first time he’s been told his name is a mouthful, “if you jump around like that again, I’ll swat at you.”
Aisaka bursts into laughter at that, “what am I, a fly?”
“You just keep buzzing around everywhere.”
“Yeah, that’s kinda annoying, eh?”
“Hey, you’re pissing me off.”
“Oh, okay, sorry!”
Watching from the sides, Akashi isn’t quite sure what’s going on over there. Neither is Nijimura, because he actually points at them and has to ask Midorima of all people, “are they getting along or do they hate each others’ guts?”
“How the hell would I know?” was Midorima’s answer.
“Hey, both of you! Clock’s ticking!” Coach Sanada realizes the childish bickering and raises his voice over half the entire gym.
They all scramble back in position, and practice resumes.
“You didn’t make it this time either?”
It hurts Kuroko a little when Aisaka doesn’t sound too surprised. He nods, a little dejected, unable to look up to meet the boy in the eyes.
A hand lands on his shoulder, and Aisaka hums assuringly.
“You’ll come around,” and Kuroko isn’t sure what that means, “it’s just a matter of patience and perseverance now.”
Aisaka is telling him to endure ?
Kuroko pays attention for a second longer, and barely catches the next words Aisaka mutters under his breath.
“The main character of this story is you , after all.”
Kuroko always feels so conflicted by it. Sometimes, it’s as if Aisaka is being so optimistically encouraging-- who else would believe that Kuroko, Kuroko of all people could make first string?
It’s so flattering that Aisaka believed in him so much-- but why, under what basis, was Aisaka saying it so confidently?
How can Aisaka say it in a way that makes it feel so inevitable, so matter of fact?
Why is it that Aisaka thinks so highly of Kuroko, so much more than Kuroko thinks of himself?
For the first time in the handful of years they’ve met-- Kuroko realizes that he really doesn’t know anything about the boy known as Aisaka Hiroto .
“Ogi sent another letter? God, I don’t want to read his chicken scratch.”
First string practice ends later than the third and second strings’, so Kuroko takes to staying after for more practice. Aisaka would usually join him after his side was over, then they’d walk home together when the security guards threatened to lock the gates on them.
“His handwriting is improving,” Kuroko weakly offers, “if you really don’t want to read it, I’ll tell him to transcribe it into an email.”
“Just read it to me, we all know his dumb phone doesn’t have enough cash for it,” Aisaka mutters with a wave of his hand. His hand grasps his burger messily as he takes another uncomfortably juicy bite.
Then why don’t you read it yourself , Kuroko doesn’t ask in retaliation. They were both incredibly aware that Ogiwara’s handwriting isn’t all that messy-- Aisaka just has a hard time reading in Japanese and he doesn’t want to admit it.
Kuroko takes another sip of his vanilla milkshake, and flaps up the letter in his hands.
“He’s recently gotten his uniform, and is now a benchwarmer,” he summarises, “he’s looking forward to playing against you, though…”
Kuroko trails off, and they both know what comes next. It’s a frequent end note of their usual correspondence-- I hope you make it up here with us soon, Kuroko!
Kuroko doesn’t hate it when he says that, though he does feel bitter. He’s always been lacking compared to the both of them, and it aches to know that he’s being pushed down the pedestal of their promise by Aisaka who joined their duo later.
It’s a little unfair.
“Do you have paper on you? I wanna write up a response,” Aisaka says, and Kuroko jerks, taken by surprise.
“But you hate writing letters,” Kuroko can’t believe what he’s hearing.
“I just feel like writing one right now.”
“Are you sick, Hiroto-kun? Maybe you should take time off the first string practice, I think it’s really too hard for you.”
“Tetsuya, I’ll punch you.”
Aisaka ends up texting instead. Kuroko doesn’t see what he says, so now they held secrets between themselves and Kuroko tries very hard not to pout.
Ogiwara is unfair.
(Wait, wasn’t Hiroto the unfair one?)
“Aisaka, this is Haizaki; he’s new to the first string. Haizaki, this is Aisaka; he’s your mentor. Get along now,” Aomine points at them alternatively for a messy introduction before going back to his dunking drills.
The first thing Aisaka is glad about is that his new student looks like a picture book delinquent. That’s adorable.
The second thing he’s glad about is the fact that Haizaki is glaring at Aisaka, like everyone else does when they first meet him. There’s something about a pompous, friendly indigo-haired boy that makes everyone want to underestimate him.
“Pleasure to meet you, welcome to the first string,” Aisaka says without even batting an eyelash, “I’ve heard about you, heard you’re an explosive sort.”
“I’ve heard a lot about you too!” Haizaki obnoxiously mirrors the smile, but there was a clear venom in his voice, “people say you jump like a fairy.”
Aisaka snorts at that, “is that your way of calling me a sissy?”
Haizaki smiles victoriously, “if I may be honest, yes.”
Aisaka sighs. So he tucks his hands at his hips and grins. This was nostalgic. So, so nostalgic, it’s almost humorous.
Haizaki is an overconfident little shit. Well, so is Aomine and Midorima, but details. Aisaka doesn’t really hate that at all. In fact, he loves them.
People have been deeming him the least of a threat among the five big rookies. He’s not sure how they came to that conclusion, but that gained him plenty of letters in his shoe locker asking for a challenge, especially after he got the starters’ uniform.
“One on One, just a half court game, first to score five wins,” he says, and begins moving, “that fine with you?”
Haizaki didn’t particularly ask for a challenge, but it was deeply insinuated. So Aisaka is pleasantly amused when Haizaki quietly follows him to a corner of the gym while he asks Midorima to lend them the spot.
“Again?” he hears a senior groan, exasperated.
Haizaki hears it too, so he snorts proudly, “this happen to you a lot?” he says loftly, “is it cause you’re the weakest?”
There’s a little more curiosity than gibe in his tone.
Aisaka honestly isn’t sure if he’s the weakest. People seem to say whatever they want, but perhaps that’s because he’s a player with too little height compared to Murasakibara. They always line him up with the purple giant to see the obvious differences. They never do that to Akashi because he freaks people out either way.
All of them were individually strong in their own right. If they were to face off in a One on One, the winner would be hard to say.
Who cares anyway, as long as they make a good team?
A right to left crossover, jump, dunk.
Barely five seconds in, and Haizaki loses a basket. He’s not particularly faltered by that, though-- he smirks like he’s got a scheme up his mind.
Aisaka sees the problem immediately.
Haizaki starts this time-- a dribble, a fake to the right-- then a right to left crossover, he jumps, and dunks.
Aisaka laughs when he heard the rim creak and spring back into place. He can’t even feel frustrated that he was just copied like that. It’s so amazing he’s just left in awe.
Haizaki’s smirk is a little more excited this time. Aisaka can’t blame him.
Aisaka jumps again-- but this time, he doesn’t jump high enough for a dunk. He switches to a layup at the last moment, and Haizaki knocks it away.
Aisaka lands a second before Haizaki does, and they both charge at it. Aisaka gets it first, easily bypassing the gray-haired boy with a clean reverse dribble-- then he leaps and shoots right inside the three-point line.
He doesn’t have a second to compose himself. Haizaki has the ball, and he’s making his way back in.
“What’s going on?”
“Aisaka’s having a match with the new kid. It’s a close match.”
Aisaka freezes, and Haizaki takes the moment the toss an unguarded layup. This takes everyone by surprise, and Haizaki scowls at the letup.
He turns to Aisaka-- and stills.
Aisaka thinks this is stupid. People think this is a close match? They must be kidding. This is child’s play-- he’s an adult in a child’s body, for god’s sake. He has so much more experience that anyone in this life can imagine.
He’s not going to lose to a brat who doesn’t even have manners. Not even close.
“Oh fuck, Aisaka’s angry.”
“Get back to practice, guys, this ain’t a show anymore!”
Even Haizaki has to shrink at the glare Aisaka is fuming off his features. Indigo eyes seem to gleam (no, it’s just pure determination, scary) as he lowers his stance, ball in hand--
Haizaki was standing right before him.
Then he wasn’t.
He spins around, suddenly realizing that Aisaka’s gone past him-- but the boy’s already jumping. He couldn’t do a thing but watch himself lose another point.
The ball is passed back to him, and he breathes deeply. Now wasn’t the time to freak out. Calm down, calm down.
It’s not like he disappeared-- he just moved quickly. Haizaki could see him move, he just couldn’t react in time.
Two seconds into his dribbling, the ball is tapped away. When did Aisaka get behind him? Fuck, the ball!
Aisaka picks it up, leaps from the three-point line, and his hands land harshly on the rim, a dunk so loud and strong the entire gym watches in bated breath.
There is no way a thirteen-year-old can jump that high! What in the world are his legs made of?
He jumps like a fairy , Haizaki heard the managers gossip during lunch.
It’s like he’s completely weightless, he jumps and lands and he dances through the court, because he’s too light for gravity to chain him down.
He lands, and without even a second to regain his balance, he’s running. His footsteps are soundless like feathers, quick and nimble.
This might be the first time Haizaki’s ever thought fairies were scary.
Aisaka scores the last shot in easily, and marches off in a fit of anger, weight in his heels but the sound nothing more than a sharp tap, like stilettos.
“Bloody hell, could they quit it with that fairy thing, I’m sick of all these dumb challenges!”
Chapter 12: find your place and assimilate.
“You did my move just slightly different,” Aisaka says to Haizaki, “so when I tried again, I subconsciously tried to replicate yours, which made me not jump high enough. Effectively, you stole it from me at least for the rest of that match.”
No one blames Haizaki when the boy shrinks away from Aisaka.
“Huh-- oh, you’re talking about yesterday’s one-on-one?” he asks rhetorically, “yeah, that’s… one of my skills.”
Aisaka sits down beside Haizaki. Said gray-haired boy becomes too nervous to drink his water. Aisaka pays it no mind.
He continues his observation, “but it’s not that you did it deliberately, right? I mean the difference in our jumps.”
Haizaki blinks. Then he seems to have his own epiphany.
“That’s right, your jumping style is weird!” he’s speaking impulsively before he thinks twice, “it’s like your body’s got no weight or something, what are you, a ghost?”
It’s Aisaka’s turn to be confused.
“We’re the same height, but I jump higher,” Aisaka says, remembering the information he’d read out from Momoi’s list, “is it normal for you to be able to imitate other moves perfectly?”
“Yeah, that’s normal,” he doesn’t even hesitate. Absolutely not humble at all.
Aisaka doesn’t bat an eyelash at that. He continues the discussion, “is there any other specific moves you can’t imitate, like other than my jumps?”
They spend a moment of silence.
“Midorima’s three pointers?” Aisaka offers, and Haizaki nods frantically like he’s just realized it himself. “They’ve got that crazy arc, after all.”
“Murasakibara’s jump reflexes are crazy too,” Haizaki continues, “some things you’re either born with or train like hell, after all…”
“Oh, so you can’t copy talent!”
Aomine looks at the two, and something like jealousy fills him.
“What’s that asshole doing, stealing my one-on-one partner?” he mutters spitefully (to who? To Midorima beside him?) as he grips the basketball in his hand, “heyy, someone! One on One with me!”
The answers come more as a joke than a serious answer, because a senior walks up to him, muttering something about hyperactive freshmen who don’t know how to catch a break. He still offers to play the Power Forward anyways.
Midorima fixes his glasses. “They are indeed making a surprisingly good combination,” he says, mostly to Akashi, “we thought Haizaki would be a handful, but look at that.”
“He tamed him,” Murasakibara chides, “Saka-chin is good at that.”
Akashi blinks up at the male, silently conveying his disbelief, because to this day he still can’t believe that Aisaka won over Murasakibara (who he got along the least with,) with a bag of sugar cookies from Home Ec.
(Is Murasakibara admitting to being tamed? )
“He’s a natural beast tamer,” Akashi concludes.
藍坂 大翔 ・ (Aisaka Hiroto)
“Tetsuyaaa!! Teach me Japanese, please!”
“For the twentieth time, your name is written as Daisho, read as Hiroto.”
“It’s the Aisaka part this time!”
“Learn how to write your name properly already, you’re thirteen.”
There are many things Aisaka is known around school for-- his curly indigo hair, and the black basketball glove he wore on his right hand. The hair not so much, but the wrist brace was something that stood out in a uniform-wearing society.
So when Midorima sees the brace lying by the locker room bench after morning practice, he immediately knows who it belongs to. Aisaka is almost never seen without it, after all-- he wears it everywhere except during class.
(Because apparently, it was an obstruction when he tried to write, so he always took it off to take notes or do his homework.)
“That’s Aisaka’s, right?” Aomine points out, “come to think of it, Satsuki said there was something wrong with his wrist.”
“That’s evidently why he has to wear a brace to begin with,” Midorima replies, not intending to sound sarcastic but doing it either way.
“Apparently if he tries to shoot without it, he can’t,” Aomine says, “and even though he’s more flexible than a snake, if you bend his wrist too much it’ll probably just break instead. Like a twig.”
“So Atsushi can literally crush him?” Haizaki asks.
“No, I’m pretty sure Murasakibara can crush anyone, ” Aomine returns in a matter-of-fact tone, “but Aisaka’s got a physical handicap. Last time I tossed him a bag he just crumpled, though that was kinda funny.”
Silence settles. They’ve probably never considered this before-- physical injuries, and how serious they could actually be. Aisaka seems volatile and sturdy, but in truth, his wrist wears down with each match.
This may cause a rift in their winning streaks, and if the injury worsens, they would lose an important peg in their starting lineup.
Their formation at the moment, with Aisaka as the Small Forward, was unstoppable.
Everyone played their part perfectly-- a strong offensive combination with Aomine and Aisaka inside, Midorima and Akashi outside; a sturdy defense with Murasakibara holding down the fort.
Aisaka had always been a cracked gear in the equation. No one paid any mind to his injury because he played well despite it. It was not a weakness he was dragged down by. But the fact remained that his injury, slowly, steadily, would begin to worsen.
If they were to abruptly lose Aisaka now-- the shear in their balance would be a fissure Haizaki could not suddenly hope to fill.
Something had to be done.
Everyone in the vicinity spits out their drinks.
Aisaka stares at Momoi with the most disgruntled expression he can manage, but if the girl gets the memo, she doesn’t care.
So Aisaka says it.
“Momoi, I’ve told you many times-- please stop calling me that,” he says, and it’s only slightly above a plea.
Aisaka has nothing against nicknames, and he has even less against first names. Being formerly European, he was never one for the last-name-basis thing, anyways. He wouldn’t really care what people called him unless it was derogatory.
“But Ai-kun is Ai-kun, right?” Momoi says teasingly, and Aisaka groans longsufferingly.
At this point, everyone’s gotten a nickname from her, save for Akashi (because Akashi-kun is Akashi-kun, apparently) and even Midorima had to give up on his case.
“I know you’re just taking the front of my name--” AIsaka tries, “but Ai sounds like, y’know, Ai ,” he somehow loses his grammar, so he blows up with a splendid: “people will misunderstand!”
Momoi blinks, “it’s fine, it’s not like I’m calling you by your first name.”
Aisaka promptly buries his head into the desk. “Is that why you stopped calling Aomine, Dai-chan?” he weakly continues the conversation.
“Yep!” she beams, “anyways, Ai-kun, you’re in charge of the club room’s key’s tomorrow, so Akashi-kun wanted…”
If there’s someone Haizaki listens to, it’s Aisaka.
There’s no real reason. Haizaki’s a roughneck. A problem child, and no one cares what he really does, most people try to avoid him on a daily basis. Maybe once he’s caused enough trouble, the school can have a reason to evict him.
Haizaki throws a fist into this one guy’s gut, and they double over, swearing at him. He scoffs and swears right back, because he’s the moron that thought numbers could win shit against him.
Then Aisaka shows up. And as usual, he says nothing about it. He doesn’t look like he wants to scold the delinquent, or tell him to apologize.
But Aisaka always bails the boy out before the teachers find him.
Haizaki will find himself in the gym, and Aisaka will play him. And Aisaka will crush him thoroughly. And he’ll let Haizaki shove and throw out the near-foul moves, until they’re both exhausted and panting and unable to even get up.
Midorima would be yelling at their bruises (mostly the ones he gave Aisaka) later, but there’s nothing more worth it than that.
Was it respect, that Haizaki felt for Aisaka? He doesn’t really understand. It’s a sort of frustration, because he knows that no matter how hard he tries, he can never climb high enough conquer the mountain called Aisaka .
A part of him thinks that’s perfectly fine, too.
There’s always something in front of him, something to stay behind, and something to aim for. Haizaki would never admit it, but he enjoys it.
Aisaka will never reprimand him. Not because he doesn’t think Haizaki was right-- but simply because he believes Haizaki understands his own mistakes.
Aisaka believed in him, and more so than anything else, Haizaki thinks that’s important.
Among the rest of the first-string starters, Aomine has known Aisaka the longest. And he’s also the one that can give Aomine the biggest run for his money, though the latter inherently denies so.
When they duel out on the court, everyone stops to admire. When they leap for a battle in the air, there are cheers. When they pass and cut through the court, there are cameras flashing against them, hoping to capture it forever.
There was no better duo. They were the divine combination.
Or so they tried to be.
“Am I never going to meet that Tetsuya friend of yours?” Aomine groans one day, yawning widely as he leans a shoulder on Aisaka’s.
“Well, you’ll probably meet him soon.”
They walk each other home early for once, with the normal students at a normal school time. Apparently, they’re grounded for breaking a basketball hoop.
And because Aomine’s knees are strained and Aisaka’s wrist is overworked, so they’re walking each other home to make sure they don’t do anything stupid.
(Which is counterproductive, because they’re probably going to go do something stupid together instead.)
“I’ve never walked home with you before, have I?” Aomine realizes, opening the wrapper of his popsicle and tossing it in the trash, “only when coach lets us out early.”
“I usually stay until dinnertime with Tetsuya,” Aisaka says, tugging out his own popsicle and clumsily dropping it into the bin, “he’s a hard worker.”
“Until dinnertime? My mom would have my head.”
“Tetsuya’s house eats dinner late and I cook for myself, so we’re both okay.”
“You can cook?!”
Aisaka holds his ice cream with his left hand instead of his right. It’s summer and the weather’s warmed up now, but it isn’t enough to stop them from playing basketball under the scorching heat.
Aisaka makes sure Aomine doesn’t pass through the court on his way back, because as much as they’re itching to play, Aisaka understands the consequences of injuries that don’t heal well.
Aomine and Aisaka were something short of best friends.
Aomine isn’t sure what that something is, but he’s eager, almost desperate, to close the gap between them.
Murasakibara likes Tuesdays.
P.E. was on that day, but that’s definitely not the reason. He hates P.E. anyways-- it’s because this was the day Aisaka’s class had Home Ec.
Aisaka walks out of the class for lunch, and walks right into a wall of purple.
“Saka-chin, snacks,” says the giant.
“Oh, Atsushi,” Aisaka steps back to address the boy, “you didn’t have to come all the way here, you’d have found me in the cafeteria.”
“I can’t wait that long.”
“You’re so spoiled,” Aisaka says with a sigh, “we made muffins today. Hey, can I have some from you tomorrow, too?”
“Huh? Uh… well, sure.”
To the outside witness, this was a strange sight. A moody, ever-unapproachable tree of a human being, and a sociable and friendly, much-too-kind-for-his-own-good class rep. They weren’t even in the same class, but they were together often.
(Midorima also gets entirely livid when the purple-haired one comes around. Maybe that contributed to how fearful the class is of their interactions.)
All of the girls are unanimously terrified of Murasakibara. The boys are fully convinced that Aisaka is being bullied into it, or at least being taken advantage of.
(Little did they know, the one in control of the situation was not Murasakibara, but Aisaka.)
“Aisaka, you should stop pampering him,” Midorima marches up beside them, “Murasakibara can make his own snacks. Actually, he should not be eating in the hallways, so you should stop encouraging him--”
“Mido-chin is stingy, so you don’t get any,” Murasakibara says with a rather festy pout. He’s holding a tupperware of Aisaka’s muffins, and expertly holding it away from the green-haired boy.
Midorima blushes, “I didn’t ask for any!”
“It’s okay, Midorima,” Aisaka beams at them both, “I saved some more for everyone else, so you can have one once we’re in the cafeteria!”
“I said I didn’t want any!”
“Saka-chin, don’t give him any.”
When Aisaka laughs at that, it’s like they’re children. At the very least, the boy in the seat nearest to them thinks that Midorima and Murasakibara are actually fighting for Aisaka’s attention.
“I’m thinking of giving some to Haizaki too,” he says, and everyone swears there are flowers around him.
Synchronously, Midorima and Murasakibara snap, “NO!”
It’s a little ironic, how they never agree about anything except Aisaka.
“Aisaka, help me! My finger’s bending in a weird direction!”
“Just bend it back the right way, then,” Aisaka says offhandedly before standing up, “Momoi, could you fetch the first aid kit?”
Aomine is beside the boy in seconds, holding onto his finger. Thankfully, it hadn’t been broken, but it still gave everyone quite a fright and Aomine was staying off that hand for a good week.
“What in the world happened?” Aisaka demands the second the fuss is over. There’s a splint on Aomine’s hand to set the dislocation and Aomine’s eyes are still teary.
Murasakibara and Midorima gives Akashi a skeptical side glance. Akashi turns away, arms folded-- and Aisaka almost thinks there a pout pursing his lips. Aomine looks too scared shitless to say anything for the rest of the day.
When there’s no answer after five seconds, Aisaka barks, “Haizaki.”
And Haizaki raises his hands in surrender, speeding through his lines, “Murasakibara passed too high over Akashi’s head and then Aomine pointed at Akashi and called him short so--”
A hand slaps over his mouth. Akashi glares at Haizaki, daring him to continue-- but too late, the story was relayed.
Aisaka facepalms, looks up to the ceiling and counts to ten.
“Akashi,” he says after a while, “say sorry to Aomine.”
And Akashi whirls around, looking absolutely scandalised.
Chapter 13: you can stumble, but don't cry!
“You’re removing me from the starting lineup?”
Midorima almost falters. He looks way, unable to bear being the one that had to deliver this news. It hurts more to realize that Aisaka isn’t directly asking him why .
Aisaka sits there, quiet, eyes wide, hands clenched over the side of his desk.
Midorima offers the reason anyways.
“Akashi wants to make better use of Haizaki’s skills in matches from now on,” and it’s a practiced reasoning Akashi told him to repeat word for word, “you will not be Haizaki’s substitute-- but you will be our trump card.”
It’s not hard to guess.
Akashi isn’t doing this because he’s worried about Aisaka’s wrist worsening-- of course, he was concerned, but to freak out this far was just exaggerating. Midorima chants the reason in his head and quickly understands that Akashi’s put a lot of thought into this.
Akashi had been planning to propose this idea much longer ago. The wrist injury was just an excuse.
There was something in Aisaka’s play style that made him valuable as a player-- not in the same explosive way as Aomine or Midorima-- but as an abrupt, surprising force to swerve the flow of the game in trying times.
Like a pinch hitter, or clutch shooter-- that’s where Akashi will use Aisaka in a game. That’s where Aisaka’s talents would most bloom, or so Akashi believes.
Aisaka looks torn by the end of Midorima’s explanation. The green-haired boy simply turns around, clutching his lucky item between his fingers and trying not to show the world how he regrets telling the boy the news.
Being taken off the starting lineup for his own junior-- maybe it was degrading. Maybe he thought the whole trump card thing was bull. Midorima wouldn’t blame him for thinking that.
Midorima doesn’t like the smile on Aisaka’s face. He usually finds his smile warm and oddly endearing-- but now, they were just irritating. So irritating-- because that’s not his face. That’s nothing like him--
Midorima doesn’t let himself be angry.
He doesn’t have the right to be angry.
“Saka? It’s rare that you’re calling me-- are you crying?”
“Oh god, who? Saka, you better tell me who and what they did--”
“It’s nothing, really! Just--”
“Is Kuroko there? Does Kuroko know?”
“I’m really fine.”
“You wouldn’t have called if you were.”
“I’m depressed. Tetsuya, buy me a milkshake.”
“Yes, yes,” Kuroko eases into his seat, setting down an icy strawberry milkshake in the space before him.
Aisaka grabs it like a zombie, sluggishly tilting his head aside and bringing the cup down under the table so he could drink just like that.
“It’s not like you’ve fallen a string, cheer up,” he offers half-heartedly, “and if you drink like that, you’re going to spill it.”
Aisaka lifts the cup onto the table again, and makes a dying, strangled noise that Kuroko discerns is a refusal to obey. What a handful.
“In the course of less than four months, you’ve made it to the first string, got a uniform, became a benchwarmer, then a starter, then a sub. You should be proud of it,” Kuroko tries again, “I’m sure your dad’s overjoyed either way.”
Kuroko wonders if Aisaka permanently rooted his head into that table, because he doesn’t budge at all. Kuroko’s out of things to say, so he looks at the boy worriedly.
Ogiwara texted him about this sobbing mess of a human a while back, but Kuroko honestly isn’t the right person to ask. Only the red in his eyes are left, but Aisaka is far from fine.
Then Aisaka springs up like a broken pen. He slaps himself on both cheeks.
Watching it, mildly horrified, Kuroko sips on his milkshake.
“Yosh!” Aisaka pumps a fist, “I ain’t going down here!” he declares, a little too loudly. People stare, then look away. Kuroko is glad he’s semi-invisible.
“On the range of one to let’s-go-to-the-arcade, how much do you need my presence right now?” Kuroko offers.
“Something like nine!” Aisaka declares, a finger pointed at the boy. “And damn that Haizaki, this is war!”
“I’m sure Haizaki-kun didn’t have much to do with the decision.”
And immediately, his head is back on the table.
“They’re bullying me!” he sounds like he’s going to cry again, and Kuroko has his phone on Ogiwara’s number just in case. He seriously can’t take more of this--
“Well, maybe I should’ve expected it,” Aisaka sounds tearfully drunk at this point. There’s a song in his voice as he sniffles into his sleeve, takes another sip of his milkshake, and blinks a little harder.
“Don’t say that, you know you’re stronger than Haizaki-kun in skills alone,” says Kuroko, searching for tissues before he soiled his sleeves further.
“I might be,” Aisaka takes the tissues gratefully, “but I’m not a miracle .”
“You don’t need to be--” Kuroko stops himself from saying anything else. That wasn’t a response to him-- that was Aisaka’s mumbling.
“I think we’re missing something. Either orange, or yellow,” Aisaka says, “gray isn’t a colour of the rainbow, so Haizaki isn’t a miracle either. That’s why he’s such an asshole, he’s cannon fodder.”
There’s a very heavy sigh and Kuroko hesitates, bringing his phone down slowly so he wouldn’t disrupt the boy and make him realize he’s speaking out.
“I guess no matter what, what has to happen will happen, even if I interfere,” Aisaka’s voice is slightly below a whisper, “is that why I have this wrist? The gods up there are telling me not to make a mess of the flow of things?”
Kuroko moves in to stop him. He wraps a hand around the glove of Aisaka’s wrist, “help me practice?” he asks, “there’s an outdoor court nearby.”
As if he hadn’t been mumbling at all, Aisaka smiles.
Surprisingly, the one to object to Aisaka’s new role on the bench was Haizaki.
“Aisaka works better with Aomine!” was his reason.
But Akashi was firm-- and everyone knows that with Akashi’s position as the vice captain, no one could defy Akashi unless they had a solid way to prove him wrong.
“Aisaka works well with Aomine and Murasakibara,” Akashi agrees, “but individually, our abilities are strong enough on its own. As we’ve seen in past matches, we can obtain a team balance not at all lower in grade than if we had Aisaka instead.”
That makes perfect sense.
If they can do it and avoid the risks, why not? They won’t get any weaker, they’ll individually get stronger, and Aisaka won’t have as much pressure on the court.
It’s a win-win situation.
Aisaka listens to them discuss it this time, and he relents. He puts a hand on Haizaki’s shoulder, and manages to thank him.
“It’s fine, Haizaki!” Aisaka tells him as Haizaki puts on the number eight and steps out into the court, “I’ll stay here-- and if it’s gets too hard out there, just know I’m here to pick up after you!”
One of these days, he’s going to bring Haizaki to tears.
But for now, Haizaki pushes his number thirteen jersey into his hands, and basks in the light of a gym. He wasn’t going to let them all down now.
Aisaka is the type that got along with everyone, so it’s no surprise that he doesn’t really have a best friend of sorts. Aomine trains like a madman, Midorima is stubbornly not not not attached, and Murasakibara is disinterested in anything except sweets.
He has a great friend in Kuroko, but them being in different strings unfortunately meant they saw each other less.
Nijimura was the only one that Aisaka ever tried to tack an honorific on. He was also the only one to receive permission to take it off, but everyone else followed suit anyways.
Sitting by the bench during practice, Aisaka takes a breather while Nijimura joins him.
“I was thinking…” the senior says, “among our monster six, are you the leader?”
Aisaka gawks in displeasure, “of course not!” he says, because that was a stupid question, “it’s obviously Akashi.”
And Nijimura actually blinks in surprise.
“Akashi’s the one that thinks up plans, and coordinates our next course of action,” Aisaka can’t believe Nijimura would ever think otherwise. “It’s why you made him vice, right?”
Nijimura hums, acknowledging the thought “That may be true, but in my point of view, they’re like a bunch of rabid dogs and you’re holding the leash… like a pack of lions and you’re the zookeeper; the fairy in a dragon’s den; like a bunch of delinquents and you’re that one old granny they love and respect--”
“What is that even supposed to mean?!” Aisaka can’t help the retort.
Aisaka stares back incredulously.
Nijimura decides, “you’re like their Mama.”
“Nijimura, clench your teeth.”
“Wait, wait, no violence on the cour-- oof! ...ow! You seriously punched me?”
When Aisaka plays with Kuroko, it’s slow.
It’s slow, but so addictive and so beautiful. Kuroko doesn’t fire a sharp, fast pass like they would usually ask of him-- it a soft, high pass that drifts in a stable arc.
At the pinnacle of his jump, the ball would only be at Aisaka’s chest. His fingers curl over the leather of the ball-- and for a moment, they hover together.
It’s a tap, but it looks more like a gentle push.
Aisaka simply leads the ball on its way into the hoop, as if he were scooping up a handful of water from a lake and spilling it across a wildflower.
It’s a ridiculous style of basketball, but that’s exactly how he became the first string’s trump card. Kuroko wonders how it really is when Aisaka doesn’t slow down for Kuroko.
They pass the ball between themselves, and sometimes Kuroko would shoot. When he misses, they laugh. They chase each other around the court with the ball between them, and although this was training, they have so much fun.
“It’ll be okay, Tetsuya,” Aisaka pats him on the shoulder, “you’re a miracle. You’ll come around, definitely.”
Kuroko blinks at that. He isn’t too sure what to make of it.
“I’m glad to hear that you believe in me so much,” Kuroko says, unsure, “you might have more hope for me than I do myself.”
Aisaka knows that Kuroko will come around. He will, soon enough, bloom into a creature that leaves everyone in awe. Until then, if he was to stay weak, so be it.
Fate was a thing that didn’t change easily, after all.
“People are saying that you and Aomine are a great match,” Kuroko brings up, “I might become a burden, y’know.”
Aisaka scoffs, “basketball isn’t played by two people! If we’re the ultimate duo, you just have to come in and make us the ultimate trio!”
“I don’t think it works that way--”
“Then let’s make it that way!”
Kuroko looks at the boy like he’d just proposed a childish plan of world domination. He doesn’t believe him in the slightest-- but maybe, just maybe.
Just maybe, it can happen.
So he smiles, and lets Aisaka pull him along his road.
“Hey, Basketball Club’s Mama,” someone hollers from the front door of the classroom, “Murasakibara is arguing with the Disciplinary Committee again!”
“Hello, is the Basketball Club’s Mama here, because Akashi just got sent to the principal’s office and the principal walked out crying.”
“Excuse me, are you the Basketball Club’s Mama?” this time it’s a girl, and she sounds scared, “someone tried to hit on Momoi-chan so Aomine-kun is-- and then Haizaki-kun got involved and--”
“Basketball Club’s Mama! Aomine’s not doing his cleanup duty!”
There’s something evidently wrong yet so hilariously right with the situation. Nijimura walks into club and is greeted with the sight of the century.
All of their first year idiots (five, sans Aisaka) were kneeling down before the indigo-haired boy. They sported a big bump on their heads, and were all looking at the ground as Aisaka glared them down.
He has them perfectly tamed, Nijimura thinks, as expected from the Basketball Club’s Mama --
A hand crashes sharply into the wall beside him, and suddenly Aisaka’s face is two inches away. He looks absolutely livid, and Nijimura’s smile freezes.
“Hi, Nijimura,” Aisaka beams in the world’s most unromantic kabedon, “do you happen to know who spread around the Basketball Club’s Mama rumour?”
Nijimura thinks that even Akashi can’t be this scary--
“What… will you be doing with that information?” he asks.
Aisaka just smiles back.
Nijimura spends the next hour kneeling down as well, in line with the rest of the idiots.
“Oh no, Mama’s mad,” another third year whispers, “Coach Sanada, you better fess up or we’re all dead.”
“But it suits him,” the coach whispers back remorsefully.
Thinking back, perhaps Kuroko was a little selfish.
All he ever thought about was himself. He wanted to be included, and Aisaka was kind. So kind, Kuroko never really bothered to ask how Aisaka was doing on his end.
After all, Aisaka was always so happy. Everyone always relied on him and everyone ran to him in times of trouble.
...did he have anyone to run to in times of trouble?
When did it become so matter of fact, that people just assumed that Aisaka was perfectly fine?
Chapter 14: blink and it's all gone.
It started being weird at the Summer Tournament, in their very last match.
The first years only played in some of the matches at the time, and only as subs to see how they would actually do in a game. Aisaka had two matches as a sub, yet it wouldn’t be much of an exaggeration to say that Aisaka was the MVP of the day.
When he stepped onto the court, the air sank many times heavier.
He had played in the previous match as well, and had scored a devastating thirty points upon entry. It made sense that people were wary of him.
Aisaka played the Center in place of Murasakibara, and he caught every rebound despite his shorter stature. He avoided every screen and slipped past every one-on-one he had to face.
In the air with their opponent’s Center, Aisaka leaps-- he fakes a layup, and rolls the basketball with a perfectly executed Teardrop.
No one could stop him.
“Your jumping power is really amazing. What’s your record on high jumps?”
“Huh? Uh, 2.3 meters?”
Aisaka grins. That was much higher than his record even in his past life. Maybe it was the fact that this world stretches the bounds of realism-- Aisaka can do things commonly considered impossible and ridiculous for someone his age.
This was a world where boundaries and physical limits could go to hell, apparently.
Aisaka loves this place more and more each day. There was very little chaining him down. He gained fame after the Summer Tournament as a super rookie of sorts, and so did the rest of his first-year pals.
Though, the exaggerated term of Generation of Miracles had yet to become known.
“Ah, am I late? There’s no free spot to use,” Aisaka realizes that the gym is packed. It was free training time, and most people opted to stay a little later now in preparation for the Winter Cup.
“You could try the third gym, the third stringers are already done with their training,” a senior suggests, “if you stay here we’ll all just get in your way, anyways.”
“Aomine went there already, didn’t he?” another says.
Aisaka jumps, “so that’s where he ran off to!” he realizes, “oh, Tetsuya might be there already.”
“Don’t go, Aisaka, it’s haunted!”
“It’s the ghost of a boy that lost his life in a freak incident and--”
“--now he plays basketball when no one is around because he’s practicing and never got to play because of the cruel three string systems--”
“--and when he sees a starter player he might kill you to take your spot cause he’s jealous!!”
Aisaka doubles back, because last he’d heard, that ghost was a girl with a passion for basketball that couldn’t happen because there was no girl’s team in this school before she died so she posed as a boy and then got found out and—
(yeah, rumours were so weird.)
“Whad’ya mean, haunted? I go there every other day!” Then he pauses and laughs, “but that’d be awesome! Who wants to join me in challenging a ghost to a One-on-One?”
“Nooo! Mama Aisaka, come back!”
“Coach, we’ve lost him!”
“If you love him, let him go.”
Aisaka takes a spare basketball with him as he goes, expertly avoiding further whiny attempts at getting him back. Aisaka isn’t an expert of this world, but ghosts could fight him if they dared!
Come to think of it, maybe Kuroko would know more about whatever that ghost was. After all, Kuroko’s always in that gym.
“Then, I’ll practice with you every day! And one day, let’s stand on the court together, Tetsu.”
Aisaka stops at the doorway.
“Are you sure?” Kuroko’s there, looking at the tanned male like he’s just been offered a full-class feast he did nothing to deserve.
Aomine snickers, “of course!” He laughs like it’s nothing at all.
Their fists bump in between them, and Aisaka realizes he’s witnessing something that’s close to a game changer. They were complete-- they were complementary.
They belonged to each other, like ink to a pen and a wires to a computer.
Aisaka leans against the door, and snorts, “what’s this, Aomine, you’re stealing Tetsuya from me while I’m out? You’re such a sly boy.”
“Geh-- Aisaka?!” Aomine jumps when he notices him, “wait, Tetsuya-- oh , is this the guy you’ve been talking about?”
“Hiroto-kun,” Kuroko addresses calmly, “I’ve finally met Aomine-kun.”
“I suppose you’ve already met,” Aisaka joins them, “how’s he, Aomine? Isn’t he cool?” he gestures to Kuroko.
Kuroko freezes, because why is he suggesting that he’s cool when Aomine is right in front of them, that’s embarrassing, “Hiroto-kun--”
“Yeah!” Aomine replies enthusiastically, “he’s the coolest guy I’ve seen in ages!”
Kuroko actually whirls around, horrified.
“He’s actually smaller than Akashi,” Aisaka tells the taller boy, “though he’s still nothing compared to the others. I think his basketball sense is as great as Haizaki.”
“Tetsuya’s just naturally weaker,” Aisaka says, rubbing the back of his neck as he sighs, “but if he was like, say, your sized, he’d be a scary thing to look at.”
Aomine looks between Aisaka and Kuroko a few more times.
“Well, it’s not that I’m doubting you, Aisaka,” Aomine says, “and yeah my feint didn’t work on him just now so you’re not wrong, but still, he’s tiny.”
Aisaka looks past Kuroko’s pout.
“Tiny is all he is, Aomine,” he says, “I can prove it to you, wanna play a two-on-one?”
Aomine raises an eyebrow, “I still have more wins than you, Aisaka.”
“Then I’ll draw my wins over yours right now,” Aisaka challenges.
Aomine lays on the floor, facedown, and he’s looking far more dejected than usual.
“Is he dead?” Kuroko deadpans.
“I’M NOT DEAD,” he squawks, bolting up like a roller coaster contraption, “god damn it, one more time!”
A basketball lands on his head and he oomphs , face-planting right back onto the ground. Kuroko looks fairly horrified.
“What in the hell time do you think it is, Ahomine,” Aisaka says in a growl, “me and Tetsuya are unbeatable. Give up.”
“I thought you and me were unbeatable!”
“Yes, but there’s only one of me to go around at a time. Learn to share.”
Aomine all but lunges at Aisaka, declaring ownership. Kuroko takes Aisaka’s other arm, and they begin the world’s most childish argument, ever.
“I’ve known him longer,” Kuroko says stubbornly, “and we’ve been practicing longer.”
“But I’ve been playing with him in matches,” Aomine fights back, “I’ve won more One-on-Ones against him!”
“I’ve lost more One-on-Ones against him,” Kuroko argues back, like a child, “I know everything about him.”
“ I know more!”
“No, I do.”
“No, I do!”
“No, me !”
Aisaka snaps, “enough already! I’m not sharing popsicles with the next guy that continues fighting with me in between them!”
They fall silent quicker than kittens.
“C’mon, let’s go get changed!” Aisaka leads the way to the lockers, “and Aomine, you should be texting your mom before she murders you for staying out so late.”
Aomine flips into a panic, “oh shit, oh shit, oh shiiiiiii--”
“Are you going to stay over at mine’s for dinner too? Cause it looks like Aomine’s not getting any dinner tonight,” Aisaka says to Kuroko, who nods jerkily in surprise.
“If your father would not mind the late company…”
Aisaka leans over Aomine to listen in on the cranky lecture his mother was giving, offering words of assurances and greetings like an old girlfriend, and Kuroko suddenly remembers the rumours he’s been hearing around the parts.
“He’s seriously the basketball club’s Mama…”
“Hey, Aisaka, haven’t you been getting better recently?”
Aomine’s the one to say that, so it’s uncomfortably uncharacteristic of him. Aisaka almost thinks he has a fever before the boy snaps back at his rudeness.
“Like, even when Tetsu isn’t playing with you,” Aomine sounds honestly begrudged, “I hate to say this but your dribbling’s getting a step ahead of mine.”
“Are you sure it’s not your imagination?” Aisaka splits the twin popsicle in half and offers it to Kuroko, “you still steal the most of my crossovers.”
“I’m stealing ‘em less than usual,” Aomine groans, tearing off the package of his garigari-kun and taking a monstrous chomp out of it, “and you know I can never steal anything from you once you’re in the air.”
Aisaka shrugs at that, looking over to watch Kuroko struggle through his popsicle.
“Man, I can’t stand falling behind! Watch and see, Aisaka, I’ll catch up soon,” he points the half-bitten ice cream at him, “and Tetsu, you’re not stealing him from me anymore, ya hear?”
“Hiroto-kun is mine either way.”
“No he isn’t!”
“Yes he is.”
“Yes I am.”
“Whose side are you on, Aisaka?!”
“Hey, Tetsuya-kun, Daiki-kun.”
Aomine turns back to see Aisaka’s father still at the door. Hiroto’s gone in, so Jousuke closes the door to see them out.
“Thanks for looking after him all the time,” and even in the darkness, even though father and son looked barely alike, Aomine can see the similarities in that toothy grin. The same little curve of their cheeks that’s equal parts adorable as it is rough.
“No, I’m the one that’s always in his care,” Kuroko responds like a textbook, and Aomine is reminded once again of the boy’s incredible stoicism.
“He might be a handful, but I’m really glad he has friends to bring over,” Jousuke looks at the open front door, where Hiroto had just gone through and would turn back if he realizes the adult hasn’t followed him in yet, “compared to a couple of years back, he’s really cheerful-- and really, thank you so much for that.”
To Aomine, Aisaka has always been the brightest candle in the box. He’s involved with everyone and he gets along with everyone. He’s almost never sad-- he doesn’t let anything bring him down and he meets the hardest situations with a smile that baffles everyone.
Aomine can’t really believe it when Jousuke tells him Aisaka used to be duller . It’s as if they’re talking about a completely different person.
“Well,” he says, boredly, “if Aisaka wasn’t around, I wouldn’t have a rival, would I? The only one who can keep up with me in practice is him, after all.”
When Jousuke laughs, Kuroko smiles. And Aomine can’t help but mirror it. Hiroto himself shows up not too long later, frantically asking his father had spilled anything remotely personal about his well-being again.
They tease him, and they all kick up a giggling fuss.
It saddens him sometimes, and Kuroko too-- but Aomine can’t really remember if they’ve smiled like that ever again after that.
Chapter 15: love it so don't let go.
“Come to think of it,” Kuroko recalls it as if it were yesterday, “the first one to bloom… maybe it wasn’t Aomine-kun after all. It was probably Hiroto-kun.”
Everyone remembers the day Aisaka blew Murasakibara to the floor.
The former had attempted a lane-up, and Murasakibara hadn’t expected it to actually reach. It did, so Murasakibara leaped for it-- only for the boy to dunk right through his arms, the sheer force of the blow making the entire hoop shudder and Murasakibara swayed backward, landing hard on his bottom, staring up in fear and wonder.
The entire court silenced.
Aisaka lands on the ground after hanging on the hoop for reverent moments. He looks up to the sky, and the court becomes clearer. The world is sharper, brighter, cleaner-- and Aisaka stands there, unhindered, like a god.
There’s almost a flash of indigo in his eyes, electrifying and brokenly static.
For the rest of the practice match, Murasakibara is completely shut down. From his shooting to his charges, Aisaka was there-- posed like an expert, not to obstruct, but to pressure just enough to steal, to tap, and to make him miss.
It was frustrating for Murasakibara. Enough to make him give up and bench himself.
Sekiguchi, a third year, takes his place-- and is met with the same fate, if not worse. It was humiliating to think that Aisaka moved like a veteran player when he was two years younger, but the skill was unmistakable.
Aomine challenges him to a One-on-One, and the results are too heartbreakingly clear by the one minute mark.
Momoi keeps score for them, but at some point, she began to falter. When Aisaka broke through twenty points against Aomine’s zero, neither of them wanted to continue.
There was something so pathetic in the situation.
The way Aomine looked so mortified, so speechless, sitting on the ground and breathing like he’d just run a marathon-- and there Aisaka stood, barely a sweat broken from his skin.
Aisaka had turned around and ran right out of the gym.
Because it was that pathetic. So pathetic he didn’t want to stay to see, to realize it.
He was scared.
Scared of what he was becoming. Scared of becoming something so much more than he was-- scared of becoming a miracle.
It’s the final stretch of Autumn, and with the Cultural Festival upon them, the clubs began to strain their hours to make time for preparations.
The basketball club itself would be hosting a school-wide streetball tournament, so aside from the seniors and the teacher advisors, no one had any preparations to work for.
“Murasakibara’s class is doing a royal restaurant? And he’s the Empress?” Aomine isn’t sure if he’s hearing this right, “what’s with that?”
“They told him he could eat as many sweets as he wanted as long as he stays on the throne, and really that’s the only way you can operate a cafe with him around,” Aisaka shrugs, “and well, they have this model guy in their class and they wanted to see him be a Knight…”
“What’s Tetsu doing? He’s in that class too, right?” Aomine changes the subject, not at all interested in some no-name blond hottie or something.
“I’m a butler,” came the answer, “I wait tables.”
Two identical shrieks echo through the hallway, and Kuroko gets smacked once.
“Aisaka, you really havta stop hitting him every time,” Aomine says, half pleading, “he’s not me, y’know.”
“Tetsuya’s better off in a haunted house,” Aisaka says, not acknowledging the reprimand at all, “but that’s one hell of a crazy setup in your classroom.”
“Well,” Kuroko recovers, though his eyes are still teary, “it’s fine, I guess, we have quite a few people that are good at cooking… Murasakibara-kun will also be helping if he feels like it.”
At this point, Kuroko had yet to formally join the first string. Akashi had found him a while prior and talked to him (what they spoke of, Aisaka would probably never know) but Kuroko himself had yet to find an answer for himself.
They’ve been acquainted, but perhaps it was not yet the time for them to become the Generation of Miracles. It would take some more time.
“What is your class doing, Aomine-kun?”
At the question, Aomine looks away, rubbing the back of his head. “Uhh, mine?” he asks rhetorically, “I think they’re doing a play, but I’ll be working with the club so I’m only helping with the props.”
“A play?” Aisaka repeats with a shine in his eyes, “what’s the story?”
Aomine heaves his shoulders, “hell if I know. I think Haizaki’s got himself some part of it, though.”
All drops silent as Aisaka literally sparkles at the thought.
“I’m gonna go ask him what it is!” he says, and he sounds as excited as an overgrown puppy. He lifts himself from his spot on the table, and he leaves the other two alone where they were.
“Ah, wait, Aisaka! What’s your class doing?”
The boy’s gone before he answers, so Aomine and Kuroko are left at the cafeteria table as a silence quells over them.
Aomine looks at him and grumbles, “you’re really hard to find during school hours, y’know? I was starting to think you were the ghost of that gym and I’ve been imagining all that practice.”
Kuroko blinks, “I’m quite sure that the ghost they are talking about is me, though.”
“...well, you sure have your own share of problems...”
“I’m used to it.”
“Don’t get used to it, that’s just sad!”
“So, Aomine-kun, what are you really doing in your class play?”
“So, Momoi is in the Photography Team, and Akashi is in the Organising Committee,” Aisaka repeats the information like it’s a foreign language, “so neither of you are involved in whatever Class Five is doing?”
“I’ll be manning the service counter at the gates and the discipline patrol during the whole of those two days,” Akashi says in his ever-so-serious tone, “I won’t have time to do much for my class.”
“I’ll be doubling as advertisement!” Momoi beams, “since I’ll be walking around anyways. Oh! And we’re doing a Haunted Experimental Facility, so I’ll be wearing a nurse’s outfit!”
“That sounds morbid, I don’t wanna be anywhere near there!” Aisaka says, monotonous and bright, “you’re always doing the coolest stuff, Akashi. Be sure to catch a break if you need it okay, you can drop by my class and--”
“Yes, mother,” Akashi responds.
“Akashi, I thought you were incapable of making jokes.”
“Ai-kun, your class is doing a vintage cafe, right?” Momoi asks, swirling attention back on her, “I heard Midorin’s playing the piano and you’re playing the guitar! Is that true? I didn’t know you could play the guitar! Is that why you have a guitar pick hidden in the second compartment of your wallet?”
Aisaka flushes, “why on earth do you know I have a hidden-”
“A vintage cafe is quite a strange choice for a cultural festival,” Akashi says, unexpectedly participating in the conversation, “I suppose it will be a nice place to relax, in the midst of the chaotic festival. It is a choice very like Midorima.”
“Midorima’s lucky item today is a vintage charm bracelet,” Aisaka says, “so he just… went with the first thing our class rep could come up with in relation to that.”
“Are you sure it wasn’t because they wanted to put a non-alcohol bar, a piano, and jazz music together and the boys wanted the girls to wear cute waitress outfits and the girls didn’t want something too hard to make and--”
The Cultural Festival doesn’t stop Kuroko from his nighttime training. Although half the gym is booked and will soon be filled with chairs for the music clubs to perform, Kuroko takes all the time he can to practice, and Aomine joins him.
Aisaka rarely joins them. Apparently, he’s busy with preparations for his class, since he’s also a member of the costume team.
Kuroko hasn’t played basketball with Aisaka in quite a while.
(When was the last time Aisaka touched a basketball?)
When Kuroko asks Aomine about it, he avoids the question. Why was basketball a touchy subject to Aisaka? That couldn’t be.
Surely, it’s just his imagination. Everyone’s a mess, since it’s the festival and all.
Kuroko hurls the ball in the direction of the net-- and it goes straight in, not even bouncing off the rim or the backboard.
Aomine cheers and yells out a happy score, but Kuroko feels his stomach sink.
It’s not a good omen.
“I won’t always be here for you, Shougo.”
“Shut up, stop living up to your nickname, Basketball Club’s Mama!”
Aisaka dodges the basketball that comes flying his way, catching it with his left hand before transferring it into a spin on his finger.
He breathes out a sigh.
“Look at you. You’re full of scratches all over and for once, I don’t have anyone to get the first aid kit over for me,” he says, and there’s a suffering edge to his tone, “I don’t suppose you want to talk about it.”
With a disdainful scoff, Haizaki turns away.
He’s seated on the grounds, and a part of his white blazer is torn and muddy. There’s no blood, but it’s certainly not a sign of his good condition.
Aisaka crouches down beside him, and Haizaki shuffles away from the gaze.
“I don’t think we’re up for some basketball today,” Aisaka says, discarding the basketball as he stands up and offers a hand, “so let’s go to the arcade!”
Haizaki looks at the hand skeptically, dumbstruck.
Aisaka pulls him forward by the elbow and off they went, out of the school in broad daylight, leaving all Cultural Festival preparations behind them and throwing school hours out the window.
They bark their heads off at the fighting machines (Aisaka won every round) and stomped the dance machine to oblivion (Haizaki won all of those) then went to the shooting galleries, basketball simulators, yada yada.
It doesn’t take long for Haizaki to lose himself in the atmosphere, but it’s all according to plan. There’s only a few plasters over the larger of his scratches, but he enjoys himself all the same.
They lose all their money at the crane game, then Haizaki punches the machine and a very fluffy gray persian cat toy drops down. Aisaka happily keeps it and names it Hai-chan, which Haizaki is both horrified and embarrassed by.
By the time night rolls around and their phones have rung to death, Aomine and Nijimura march up to them absolutely murderous about their truancy, (and corrupting Aisaka, Aomine adds,) so they’re punished with a long cheek pinch before getting sent off to their homes.
(Aisaka distantly wonders who the real mother is, because Nijimura is starting to fit the bill pretty well.)
“You all cheered up now?” Aisaka asks. The cat toy is held carelessly in his gloved right hand while his left scoops up to brush his bangs out of his face. They didn’t play basketball, but they’re sweaty either way.
Haizaki watches him, and there’s a feeling that washes over him-- it’s not hate, it’s not irritation, and it’s nothing as noble as respect or admiration.
It’s simply a confused, maybe platonic sort of love.
He doesn’t pay it any mind.
“Yeah,” he says, and his eyes don’t leave the other’s, “thanks, Hiroto. See ya tomorrow.”
(Nobody else treated Haizaki like this. Not even his own mother.)
When they split ways towards their own homes, Haizaki looks back. He’s not sure why, but a part of him calls out--
Stop him, it says. Don’t let him go.
He doesn’t know what it means-- so like a fool, he watches him go.
The Cultural Festival runs smoothly.
Aisaka leans on the bar stool, wearing a barista’s coat, with a deep chestnut acoustic guitar in his lap. He strums each beat and lets the notes sing for themselves.
His hair is bound up halfway because the girls in class thought he’d look cuter that way. They were too fearsome to resist, so he allowed them to bind his hair in a rather simple half-bun.
He’d managed to convince them to leave his glove as it is, (mainly because he’ll have to take it off while his hands are on the guitar) but he still can’t understand why he needed makeup and eyeliner.
He’s not playing a tune anyone recognizes. It’s a tune from his past that he’s heard many times on the radio but never bothered to learn its name. He plays it by ear with what meager self-taught understanding of the instrument he has, and it works, barely.
Midorima plays the part of a waiter perfectly. His hands are held in professional angles and his mannerisms are so perfect he could pass for a real butler. (Though, he’s only supposed to be a waiter-- oh well, nevermind.)
It impresses the guests as much as it does his own classmates, and the peaceful lull of their cafe is a hotspot of the festival.
There’s little that actually happens in the store, so in the off chance where they both have a break and another pianist or guitarist takes over, they take a walk around. Aisaka slips his glove on and the girls in class have no way to protest.
They escape the hell hole that was Murasakibara’s class (he looked amazing in that wig and dress) and says hi to Kuroko (Midorima shrieks [I did NOT]) and Kuroko gets slapped in the face) then they find themselves watching part of a play where Soldier Haizaki is pushed off a tower to his death. (Curse you, Queen Aomine!)
“I thought you said you weren’t part of the play!”
“Shut up, I was the sub!”
It’s blissfully stupid, but they enjoy it all the same. Midorima’s expressions rarely change from exasperated to stupefied, but when he thinks Aisaka isn’t looking, there’s a faint smile left at the curl of his lips.
(Aisaka’s not sure why Midorima always looks away when Aisaka turns to him, though.)
“Where should we go next? A haunted house?”
“I am not interested in such things, but if you would like to go, I am willing to accompany you.”
“Really? Thank you! Then, let’s go to Momoi’s class!”
“Wait-- why that one?!”
“...oh, we can’t?”
“No, that’s not what I meant--”
“Then off to there we go!”
I heard ur a butler Kuroko ヽ(・∀・)ﾉ
And Saka’s a host or smth?
IM NOT A HOST (ᗒᗣᗕ)՞
IM JUST A BARISTA OK
He makes a very pretty barista.
I have scared more customers
than I have served today.
U guys shuda done a haunted house
The girls wanted to see Kise-kun
in a royal prince costume so
Camera0.jpg View Image.
Our costumes are kinda similar ( ˙▿˙ )/
Except he has a suit and I have an apron
U GUYS R SO CUTE
IS THAT KUROKO SMILING
IS THAT SAKA W ICE CREAM
ON HIS CHEEK
I WANT TWENTY
Sorry, limited edition items
Can’t be bought in bulk.
Aisaka crashes headfirst into a wall.
Or, it isn’t a wall. It was a pokey human being with an obnoxious amount of metal ornaments at the chest of whatever shirt he was wearing-- holy crap, golden hair.
“Sorry, I wasn’t looking where I was--”
Aisaka is gaping before he realizes it, then he snaps out of it and fumbles to compose himself.
But blondie himself is gaping like a horror story.
That’s when Aisaka sees the paper cup in his hand, crushed by the impact, and the blond boy’s hands are glistening with orange juice.
Aisaka looks down, and suddenly realizes the front of his barista costume is drenched.
“Oh my goodness I’m so sorry!” blondie freaks out, and suddenly his one hand is too full. The crowd parts for the scene, and mister prince scrambles for a tissue, though his attempt is just a little more than screaming ‘tissues!’ at anyone that passes by.
Aisaka stares down at this shirt morbidly, knowing that the girls in class would be furious at him.
“Ah- it’s okay! I think we have spares,” he assures the boy first, who was meaninglessly trying to soak up some of the juice from the hopelessly stained shirt, “and it’s my fault, anyways, is your costume alright?”
Aisaka takes the orange juice cup from the boy’s hand, and pulls out a handkerchief from his pocket (because it’s his lucky item, says Midorima) and wipes the blond’s hand between the fingers-- because at least that is salvageable.
“You’re from Class Two… Kise, right?” Aisaka remembers to say, “it’s a relief your costume isn’t ruined! It looks super expensive and whoever made it probably put in a lot of effort into it… oh no.”
His rambling comes to an abrupt pause when he realizes his brace is coated in the sticky liquid.
Both pairs of eyes stop on it.
Then all calm goes out the window.
“No, seriously, it’s okay!”
“Are you sure? Like, seriously, I don’t need to run out to a pharmacist and, say, buy a new one for you--”
Aisaka gives up. He just laughs, flapping the washed cloth brace in his left hand in some form of an attempt to shake some more water out of it.
“It’s completely fine! You freak out way too much!” he says, and his right hand hovers in the hand hesitantly as it gets used to bare air again, “it’s not like it’s torn or anything. And I’m only playing the guitar today, so I won’t need it anyways!”
“I still feel incredibly guilty…”
“Don’t be!” Aisaka responds, brightly. “I’m the one that crashed into you and you’ve already trailed me all the way to the washroom. You’re a nice guy, huh?”
“Oh-- yeah, I… guess,” Kise stumbles, “also because you’re apparently the guy that tamed Murasakibara so.”
Aisaka laughs again, “don’t worry, I won’t sic him on you or anything. Your fans would kill me!”
Aisaka smiles at him in a startlingly stable manner, and Kise has to relent. There’s little worry for more than his own well-being anyways. Kise looks at the boy again and has the distinct realization that he has no idea of his own fame.
If the basketball club members ever find out he did anything to the boy, Kise would lose his head in a few seconds. This was the kind of situation that’s gotten people kicked out of their clubs, after all.
(If Kise’s fan club is crazy, Aisaka’s fan club is absolutely rabid.)
And really, it’s not like he can’t understand it.
Girls tend to like the cute types, and since he’s such a calm guy… yeah, he understands why people are protective over him. But he’s so smiley, isn’t that annoying? And he’s not exactly tiny, either.
Kise finds this guy oddly annoying.
He wouldn’t want to meet him again, if possible. He’s bad with the obnoxiously oblivious ones. They were always painful to look at.
“Anyways, thanks for your concern. My shift is soon, so I’ll have to go back,” Aisaka says to Kise, who visibly snaps out of his thoughts, “I’ll see you around!”
Kise barely manages to return the goodbye before the boy leaves.
Kise turns to the mirror, fixes his hair-- and scrunches into a frown before leaving with a model’s best smile.
“Aisaka! Help us out!”
Aomine barges into the classroom just as Aisaka is getting lectured by Midorima about the ruined shirt.
“Aomine? Aren’t you supposed to be helping out in the basketball team-- wait, shush, this is quiet zone!”
Midorima scowls at the tanned boy, not at all appreciating his sweaty presence in the scented classroom cafe. But he steps up anyways, seeking to address the issue as he hands Aisaka a kitchen apron to string over his button-up.
“One of our guys twisted a foot so we’re a man down,” Aomine looks distressed enough to not really care for Midorima’s presence there, “these outsider college guys are being pretty mean ta’ us, so could you help us out? I’d ask Murasakibara but he’d rather bake than play basketball.”
Aisaka blinks, taken aback.
“What about-- ah, Akashi probably won’t be free. What about Midorima… right, he won’t play anything other than the shooting guard position,” he mutters to himself, “but my shift is starting soon--”
“He called us a bunch of english words none of us understand and spat gum on a basketball.”
“Alright, lead the way.”
Midorima whirls, flabbergasted. “Aisaka, your shift starts now--”
“I’m so sorry, Midorima!” the indigo-haired boy turns to him, hands held together in a prayerful apology, “could you take my shift for me? I’ll get back to you as soon as I can, I promise!”
Midorima shoots back, stumbled by the sudden desperate offer. He steels himself, looking away and fixing his glasses as he stutters, “no, I- I am tired, tired from my previous shift. You should be more responsible--”
Aisaka’s face falls, hurt and crestfallen.
Midorima stumbles over his own words, “bu- but I uh, guess that if we were to lose to such people, it would be… a disgrace to our club and Akashi will not be pleased, so--”
“Thanks, Midorima!” Aisaka brims into a smile, like he’d planned this all along, “I’ll treat you to a meal some other time! Sorry guys, I’ll be right back!”
Aisaka spins out of the classroom, eyes still on him. Even Aomine is gaping at the amazing show of manipulation, but he doesn’t react until someone from the counter calls him out.
“Wait, Aisaka, change out of those! Don’t you have anything in the lockers?”
“Your hair! Come back here, we need to tie your hair back!”
“Aisaka, your wrist brace is dry now, don’t forget it!”
“Aisaka, bring your lucky item with you.”
Seriously, who’s the mama again?
you thought this was going to be an angst chapter but no, it was
me, dioa fluff chapter!
Chapter 17: find yourself above, and...
"Hey, Aisaka's playing!"
"Really? C'mon, let's go watch!"
"Wait, what's the commotion about?"
"Dude, this is one basketball player you cannot pass on seeing."
There's a crowd around the streetball tournament and it's growing with the bustle of the rumours in the school. In the center of the field, Aisaka pulls on the yellow team bib, tightening the strap on his wrist brace.
"You sure the brace is fine?" Aomine looks at him, panting from the run.
From the benches, a senior raises a thumbs up in their direction, an ice pack at his foot.
Aisaka laughs, twirling his ankle and stretching out a little, "of course! The girls blew it dry with the hairdryer out back so it's super nice and warm right now."
Their opponents were a set of college sophomores. There were no age limits on the tournament bracket, just height limits, and Teiko fully expected to lose some matches (contrary to popular belief) for posterity purposes.
"What, I wondered what you were doing running off in that time out, you brought back another kid?" Mean Guy #1 scoffs, "couldn't you at least bring a taller kid? This is the above 180s bracket, y'know. How tall's this one? 170?"
"Now now, you know what they said, apparently their first string club members have to play a bracket higher for fairness purposes," Mean Guy #2 says, a pitch to his voice that was only satirical empathy, "so we have to play with the little babies if it makes them feel better about themselves."
Aisaka's face twists into a frown.
The score is at 48 to 27 in the other team's favour, and the whistle blows for the second half to begin.
Aisaka and Aomine's eyes meet for the briefest of moments. Their side loses the tip off, but Aisaka is the one who scoops the ball up from the enemy's pass.
It takes them by surprise. Mean Guy #2 yells at Mean Guy #3 for not paying attention. The crowd roars.
Aisaka thrusts forward one step, two steps-- he brings the ball up with one arm, and lobs it in the direction of the hoop.
Mean Guy #4 jumps for an interception, but falls short on the timing.
Aisaka turns to Aomine when he lands-- and the gaze in his eyes is feral, hungry. His brows are furrowed and there's a concentration in his movements that he rarely shows.
Aomine breaks into the widest grin he can, not only out of excitement, but because he's utterly terrified.
"Ahh," he mutters at a volume the rival team can hear, "he's angry."
The crowd never seems to stop cheering, and really, Aomine revels in the attention.
"They're pretty tall for junior high schoolers, but against college students I guess they really do seem shorter," Nijimura muses, manning the referee stand, "but in terms of skills... I mean, Teiko has its name for a reason, but this year's rookies are a special case in itself."
Kubota blows the whistle. Nijimura reaches over, and adds to the scoreboard with his expressions as blank as usual.
"You should be stopping them, Captain," Sekiguchi groans, gesturing vaguely in the direction of the court, "you know how Aomine and Aisaka are."
Nijimura looks at the score, 52 to 91.
"Nah, we've only got like, five minutes left on the clock. Let it run its course."
"Don't lie, you just want to watch your juniors own the shit out of some assholes."
"I think everyone does. C'mon Sekiguchi the crowd loves the show, who am I to take it from them? And trust me, I'd rather watch Aisaka explode from afar than from point blank range."
He casts a glance to the crowd. Aside from the students and the guests of the cultural festival, a bunch of adults in suits and cameras perched in desirable spots.
The fame of Teiko went as far as magazines, so perhaps this could be good exposure as well.
He turns back to the match. Aomine whirls, cutting through with a crossover and a spin, leaping back for a fadeaway no one expected from that position.
The ball comes back into play.
Aomine is stopped in his tracks. He spins, feints-- and to the right, from the lane, Aisaka leaps high. Aomine hurls the ball toward him-- at the highest point of his jump, Aisaka taps it, the momentum jutting it into a perfect arc.
The ball bounces against the backboard, and enters the rim with a clutter.
"Aisaka and Aomine's team play is as crazy as ever," Sekiguchi grumbles from his spot, because he hasn't had to move a score in a while now.
Nijimura agrees, "Aomine's style is rough and unpredictable, but undeniably skillful," he observes, "Aisaka is unexpected and his actions range from lengthy lane-ups to one-touches... we can't even tell if Aisaka is skilled or just insanely lucky sometimes."
"That's the scariest part about him," Sekiguchi throws his arms up, exasperated, "Aomine's reckless like a rocket no one can stop, and Aisaka just knows exactly what to do in every chance situation. If Aomine has any holes in his form, Aisaka fills them."
"So together, they're unstoppable?"
"They're getting angry," Aisaka says during the break before the fourth quarter, "so watch for three-pointers and sloppy passes... o'seven and o'nine are aggressive players, and cause you guys are being looked down on," he looks at the players other than Aomine, "try and get fouls out of them."
"Yes, sir," they say, because although they weren't club members, they were from other athletic clubs and they know coaching when they hear it.
"Our score gap's too wide for them to catch up now, so for the last quarter..." Aisaka smiles deviously, "just go out there and have the fun you signed up for, aye?"
The responding snickers are out of breath and heartily satisfied.
"This is the best basketball match I've ever played," a senior, Torii, laughs, "man, this is making me want to double up on clubs!"
"No way dude, imagine being against these two crazies," another senior, Honda, shoves him playfully, "you'll come running back to track and field right away."
Aomine and the third senior laughs at that, because that isn't at all wrong.
But Aisaka-- he doesn't laugh. His face falls, and a recognition blinks into his eyes-- and for a moment, time slowed for him to slowly, slowly, sink into realization.
He's not wrong, it tells him. It's not like your past life where everyone has a chance to play and train and get better, aiming for reachable heights with endurance.
In this world, there are cheats.
And everyone knows that cheats can't be beat. And no one likes cheaters, much less cheaters that get away with what they do.
The Generation of Miracles are cheaters of the system of life. Someone's gonna think it's unfair and they're going to quit. And it won't be unwarranted, people are going to nod, they're going to understand just why people drop out.
Aisaka lived a life wanting more people to love what he loved, reach where he got to-- that was something every sport veteran did-- they wanted the world to benefit as much as they enjoyed themselves playing.
(So why is the opposite happening?)
"Fuck all of you!"
Aisaka is drawn back into the game. The final whistle has blown, and the score stills at its very prominent 55 - 121 as the crowd cheers and hoots, applause resounding through the school yard.
At some point, the cultural festival's side attraction became its main attraction.
Looking toward the school building, Aisaka could see the eyes on them, from every window and every balcony of every floor.
Everyone's scowling now.
Mean Guy #1 growls out at Aisaka, a bunch of swears and accusations spilling out of him.
"There's a cheat somewhere, maybe in the drinks you gave us. There's no way we lost to a fucking twink like you!" he raises his voice, "this is a fucking scam! Teiko's Absolute Victory? Yeah, there must have been more to it after all, eh?"
Aomine steps between them, "hey, you guys lost fair and square! Don't--"
Aisaka stops him. Aomine was the yelling, screaming, jump-punch-kick-go-to-hell type of arguer-- if Aisaka left this to him, Teiko's reputation could really take a hit. It wasn't worth it to quarrel against them. People like these don't exactly listen to reason, after all.
"They've been nothing but rude and unreasonable this whole time!" Aomine protests, "Aisaka, you can't be telling me you want to just let them go like this."
Aisaka doesn't bother to hide the sigh.
"It's alright, Aomine... losing a match is emotionally hard after all. I can't blame them for their anger," Aisaka looks Mean Guy #1 in the eye-- both him and Aomine flinches at the cold, blank look on Aisaka's face-- "in this world, there are people you can't beat, no matter how strong you are. Some people are just... destined... to be at the top of the world, and there's nothing you can do about it."
Aomine's eyes widen, and the two teams on the field falls eerily silent. The crowd is none the wiser.
The opposing team blows up.
"You fucken' brat!" he yells, "what are you implying? That you guys are the chosen ones? What, you think you're a superhero? And what are we, mobs? Trash at your feet? Is that how you look at us?"
Aisaka stares back, emptiness in his eyes and only a little, sarcastic smile on his face.
"Oh, you have no idea," he says.
Nijimura and Sekiguchi, along with the others in his team, have to step in to hold him back from dragging the kid down and punching him black and blue.
Aisaka turns around and walks away.
"Hey, Ogi, do you... have fun?"
"Haha, what's with that? Of course I'm having fun! Though, I'll definitely be leaps happier if I was with you guys! Oh, are you feeling sentimental? Did Kuroko infect you with his cheesy one-liners?"
A moment of silence later, Ogiwara continues, his tone laced with a confused concern.
Aisaka swallows, and leans back against the wall. He puts a hand on him stomach to feel the warmth of his hand, still numb from the basketball match.
"I was just... thinking, y'know," he says, and he sounds as unsure as he feels, "that I... don't wanna become a monster."
Aisaka slides back, then down. He crouches down, face buried in his knees as he breathes, breathes-- and no, he's not crying. He's not. He's too old for that shit.
His chest is hot and his throat is tight, but the burning in his eyes aren't tears.
"This world's really unfair, Ogi," he says, and it doesn't quite register in him that Ogiwara isn't responding, just listening, but that's okay, "you know once upon a time I would've thought this was a stupid cringey thing to worry about but--"
He chokes on something and sniffles, brokenly admitting, "I don't want to get too good at basketball."
There's no sound on the other end, and honestly? Aisaka wouldn't know how to respond either.
"It's funny, right? I thought it was my dream to become the best and," he curls in deeper into himself, shamed, ashamed of himself, "now that I'm up here, I realize that there's just nothing worth the effort."
So you're going to be the best? And then what? Sit down in the midst of your wealth? And then?
The best player is one without a rival, standing above the masses as the one and only.
The best player in the world is such a sad, sad existence. The best player in the world is a player that should never exist. The best player in the world is a curse.
He doesn't cry. He laughs. He laughs at himself, for sounding so pathetic over something so hilariously impossible.
Think realistically, where would you find a moron that cries over being too strong? First world problems, can't you think of the less fortunate? Why is he victimizing himself like this?
Suddenly he remembers that life strapped to a hospital bed and now it all makes sense.
All those holy preachers knew nothing about fate and destiny and whatnot. There's only one reason bad things happen to good people-- whoever the fuck's up there knew this would happen.
He knew that once we grew too strong, once we've gotten too much, we'd realize that there's nothing left for us. And then we'd despair like the morons we are.
In that other world, an almighty force had struck him down at his prime, simply to spare him of this agonizing realization.
And he, the idiot, cursed that god.
So he was sent here, and now he's facing the exact pain he could've avoided simply because he's a fucking idiot.
Is it because this world has no god? Or because the gods of this world do not bother?
It didn't matter.
Everything's just so fucking meaningless.
Chapter 18: a frog in the well knows not of the world.
“Tetsu, why’re your results better than mine?”
“Because Hiroto-kun is very scary.”
Aomine and Kuroko sits down at a table at Maji Burger’s, the former wolfing down a burger and the latter sipping on his vanilla milkshake as he texted.
Aomine groans, tossing a paper over his shoulder.
Kuroko, unaffected, looks at Aomine again.
“How has Hiroto-kun been in club?” he asks, and there’s worry in his tone. It’s not a casual, conversation-starter-- and Aomine understands.
The tanned male straightens, a sternness in his posture. He’s not sure what to say.
Instead, he asks, “what do you notice?”
And the temperature in the area falls. Kuroko’s hands tighten on his milkshake, and his phone is put on the table, closed.
“He’s upset about something,” he says, “he’s not telling me what, and he doesn’t think he should ask anyone for help.”
That’s the kind of person Aisaka was. He hated asking for help, he wanted to be independent even more so than he was allowed to be and it was so stupid. He didn’t like relying on people-- what was wrong with relying on others?
“He’s not skipping practice, but he’s only doing the bare minimum. That isn’t like him at all,” Aomine breaks it out of him, “he’s… I hate to admit it, but he’s gotten great enough that I can’t call myself his rival anymore.”
That makes Kuroko lift his head.
“Aisaka’s the strongest in the club right now. No one can defeat him,” Aomine says, “and I think that makes him feel lonely.”
How on earth do you deal with a problem like this?
“He promised to wait for me,” Kuroko says, sounding as if he were hurt, “do you think I’m forcing him to do something he doesn’t want to do?”
Do you think Aisaka still wants to play basketball?
“It’s not your fault,” Aomine looks away, “it’s a little hard to explain… but I think I understand what he's going through.”
"Because, like him, you're strong and talented?"
Aomine winces. He wouldn't have phrased it that way-- it sounded much too proud of him. Kuroko was a weak player and Aomine was a strong player-- they both loved basketball and trained with all their might. The only difference between Kuroko, Aomine, and Aisaka was talent.
"Yeah," Aomine chokes out of him, his appetite lost, "Aisaka is at the peak of his talent right now and… because of that…"
Kuroko takes over. "He's drowning," he says, like it means something, "he's drowning in it."
Aomine's fist tightens.
Aomine feels it too. The sense of having everyone around him cower in despair, the realization that while he rose in the ranks, his comrades would decrease.
It hurts him already. He only has Murasakibara and Nijimura to stand up against in a one on one now. Aisaka has no one. Aomine clings to the edge of the next step, but he still doesn't have enough strength to join Aisaka up there.
It scares him.
He's drowning in it. Yeah, and no one is strong enough to help him out.
Aomine puts down his drink and breathes out, shakily. It's cold, the air conditioning a little less than much too freezing, and Aomine hates it. He hates it, everything.
Kuroko stares at him with that conviction, that desperate almost-angry look he always had against bullies-- he doesn't touch his vanilla milkshake.
"Please don't give up yet," he pleads, "I don't like to admit it, but… I think you're the best partner for him right now--"
"Tetsu," Aomine interrupts, and it's sharp, "I'm trying, okay? But just think about it--"
He trails off, as if something in Kuroko's eyes makes him hesitate, almost cry-- he doesn't. He looks away sharply.
(Just think about it. No one wants to be where he is now. I can't-- I can't.)
Kuroko remains silent.
They spend a quiet moment, and then they both leave the store, never speaking beyond a simple goodbye for today.
After the festival, things were a little shaky. Rumours spilled like milk across the halls, and the usual awed murmuring became unpleasant gossip.
His reputation took a blow, but that's to be expected. Some people blame Haizaki for the change, and that's a little amusing to hear about.
He takes a basketball, balances it on his right hand-- and tries to shoot a one-handed throw.
He drops the ball, and clenches his wrist with a sharp hiss, waiting for the pain to fade.
(This is stupid.)
He can't shoot with his dominant hand. He can't even do anything remotely skillful with this hand.
And yet, he was the strongest?
Was he just too strong or were middle schoolers just too weak for him?
(I mean, he was a veteran NBA player. It would only make sense that his experience brought about so much of a difference in skills.)
Standing in the court, empty and quiet at night, Hiroto feels too big for the world.
This side of the world was too small for him.
(He's standing in front of a tall, tall wall.)
(Maybe if he took a step back, he'd be able to see what lay beyond it.)
(Maybe, if he looked from a different angle, he could see something new.)
That's the only way he can get his passion back.
"So, what's with the long face?"
Jousuke sits down beside him.
Brooding on the couch, Hiroto sighs. He stares at his hands, to the uncovered wrist, and wondered why he ever worried about it.
His wrist was a handicap necessary to even things out for everyone else, wasn't it?
"Is your wrist giving you problems in basketball?" Jousuke asks worriedly, an arm snaking over his son's shoulders, bringing him closer.
Hiroto shakes his head.
"Just…" he hesitates to way-- what if his father looked down on him for it? It was such a petty worry over nothing. "Basketball is getting boring."
I'm getting sick of my hobby.
After a moment to deliberate, Jousuke asks, "why?"
Hiroto bites his lip. He pulls his knees onto the couch and to his chest, never looking up.
He leaves it at that.
And Jousuke took in the answer with understanding, slowly trying to decipher the meaning behind it.
"Is that so?" He says, as if he knew what was going on, "then…"
He leans in, and whispers into Hiroto's ear.
"Do you want to skip grades? Or do you want to move somewhere with a stronger basketball community?"
Hiroto jumps, surprised by the suggestion.
"The frog in the well knows not of the world," Jousuke quotes, "if that's how you feel… then we can go somewhere together. Somewhere you can spread your wings and fly."
Let's go out into the world, and see how small you truly are.
Biting back a tear, Hiroto leans into his father's chest and laughs.
"We don't have that kind of cash, idiot," Hiroto says without a spell of mirth in his tone.
He's smiling wide and happy now, so Jousuke only smiles back in response.
“I’m going to try a little harder,” Aisaka says to Kuroko.
They’re at the outdoor court, for the first time in many months. The night is still young, the street lights flicker, and the basket clutters when the ball bursts through the rim.
“Hurry and make it up here, Tetsuya,” he says, “you and Aomine make a good combination. I wanna have a two on one with you two against me!”
Kuroko’s still breathing heavily from the exercise, so he only manages a weak nod. Well, he thinks, at least he’s cheered up now…
“What about your talk with Ogiwara?” Kuroko tests the waters, only to immediately regret it when Aisaka’s face falls.
It was a worrying conversation, after all. Almost embarrassing now that it was over-- after all, a phone conversation and he cried? Is he dumb?
“I’ll wait,” Aisaka tells him, looking at his hand.
Kuroko doesn’t smile back.
Aisaka’s face is painful to look at, because there he was, forcing himself to even smile, forcing himself to believe this was the best course of action right now.
He’s climbing up the highest mountain in the world, and he’s far ahead of everyone. The top is still far away, and everyone else is distant beneath him.
“I’ll wait for you two to come up here with me-- then we’ll go the rest of the way together.”
(Because I don’t want to climb up alone.)
(I really, really don’t want to be up there on my own.)
“So hurry up, okay?” Aisaka tells him, and Kuroko feels his heart wrench.
Aisaka knows there’s so much more out there for him, somewhere beyond the ranges of this school and this prefecture. Somewhere in a higher circle-- that’s where he can really fly. Now, he’s a bird trapped in a cage, longing for a wider sky.
But he can’t fly. He doesn’t have that kind of privilege. So he’s stuck down here, not knowing what he could do. For what reason should a bird in a cage learn how to fly better? There was no point, he was not born for that purpose.
Right now, Aisaka is forcing himself into a standstill just to tell himself he still has some sort of a meaning in this world.
So Kuroko trains harder, harder, harder. He practices longer, more than anyone-- because no matter what, he wants to make it before the last of Aisaka fades away.
Chapter 19: hold on, not yet, not ye--
“They gave up in the middle of the match, huh,” Aisaka sighed.
The match had been a disaster. Aomine joins in, eager to play against a power forward that had given him trouble last time-- only for his opponent to not even try against him.
When Aisaka looks into those eyes-- he only see fear, fear and despair. Saddening, really, but it wasn’t as if he couldn’t understand. Aomine’s facing exactly what made his own heart wrench and shatter.
And Aomine is a young heart-- unlike Aisaka’s soul, he isn’t mature enough. Aomine is still a kid, it made sense that he hurt harder.
“Am I… a monster?” Aomine asks, leaning on the ledge of the pedestrian crossing, watching the cars drive by.
The light passes his face, and he rests his chin on the cold paint.
The night is high. The street lights are luminescent against the curtain of darkness. Aisaka leaned back against that ledge, and wondered what he could say.
Their heads turn to each other, the same, lifeless smiles on their faces. It’s hard to say whose was harder to witness.
“After all, I’m still here, aren’t I?” Aisaka twists into a happier smile, hoping that can seem a little more assuring.
Aomine does not tell Aisaka that he is not a monster.
(Aisaka is a monster, after all.)
“Then, when I finally surpass you...” Aomine lets the word hold on his tongue. When, exactly, did Aomine start being the one that chased after Aisaka? Once, it was the other way around… it was barely a year ago. Why did it feel so far away?
“When you do,” Aisaka tells him, “you’ll be a Miracle.”
(Ah, Aomine thinks.)
(So that’s what it means.)
“Is it scary?” Aisaka asks, and Kuroko falters.
“What is?” Kuroko asks, though he knows exactly what the question was about. He’s asking it rhetorically-- because he doesn’t want to answer it.
“Is it scary, knowing how we can fall apart because of something we love?” Aisaka says, and he’s not sure if he’s asking it for an answer, or if he’s asking it just to make him think of it.
Kuroko doesn’t know, and he doesn’t want to know.
“I wonder how he felt that time too,” Aisaka mutters a little softer, just under his breath, “when everyone broke away, and he began to hate basketball.”
It’s been a while since Kuroko heard Aisaka mutter to himself.
Is Aisaka aware of this habit of his? Or does he than he is thinking in his mind? Kuroko isn’t too sure, and in fear of never hearing them again, he doesn’t try to find out.
“But I’m sure there was eventually a happy ending,” Aisaka says, and there’s a ghost of a smile on his lips. A smile that everyone thought lost-- just barely there. “I’m sure they were all able to smile together again.”
Kuroko wrapped his arms around Aisaka, and there’s a little desperation in that hug.
“Hm? What’s wrong, Tetsuya?” Aisaka laughs, trying to struggle out of the sudden grasp, “I’m not going anywhere, and you know that, right?”
“I know,” Kuroko responds too quickly, too painfully. “I know.”
(So why was it?)
(Why was it that, when Kuroko tried to envision his future, Aisaka was never there, smiling with him?)
“Please don’t go anywhere, Hiroto-kun.”
"You're such a sap sometimes, Tetsuya."
“What’s up with you, Hiroto?”
Haizaki finds Aisaka in the arcade. It was practice hours, and Haizaki was off the wheel after escaping from detention. He never expected to find Aisaka here.
Aisaka spots him, and laughs, sheepish.
They get a drink from the vending machine, and they talk over the balcony of the shopping mall, blue above their heads and the city beneath their feet.
“I think club would be boring for everyone else if I’m there,” he admits, “after all-- I’m too strong. They don’t think they can beat me. If I ask for a one-on-one, they’d be playing a losing game, it’s meaningless.”
Haizaki had never wanted to deck him up the head more than now.
But he realizes, that that’s true.
“Club morale and motivation is important!” Aisaka has the audacity to smile at him, “and, we’re strong, even without me. I like everyone in the club, including the seniors. I don’t want them to get discouraged and quit basketball after junior high. That’d be too sad, right?”
Haizaki slams a fist on the steel ledge.
“If they quit that’d be because they’re weak!” he raises his voice, “you don’t have to pull back your own passion for them, are you stupid? You’re not some holy martyr, stop that!”
Haizaki is infuriated when Aisaka only laughs.
“Holy martyr!” he repeats, bursting into giggles, “that sounds about right.”
Haizaki doesn’t want to punch him.
He just doesn’t understand. He doesn’t understand why Aisaka is acting like this-- so passive, so pessimistic, so-- so pathetic.
Where’s the Aisaka that always cheered him up after a bad brawl? Where’s the endlessly positive, incredibly blunt, raging little fairy that took no shit from other people? Where did he go?
“Hey, Shougo,” Aisaka turns back toward the sky, “all of you are only going to get stronger from now on. And you’re not like me.”
Haizaki stops. A deep, murky feeling fills the pits of his stomach and he feels it-- he feels what’s coming-- but nothing, nothing he says can stop it now.
“All of you are strong enough, that’s why all of you are miracles,” Aisaka says, “and me? I’m just a prototype. I was never meant to be a miracle.”
The way Aisaka spoke of himself was strange. It was melodramatic, as if they were in a play, he was a story, but he was simply a plot device to curry pity points from the audience. A little twist to the story to build up a better hero behind him.
(I am a side character. I am fated to not shine here.)
Haizaki doesn’t like where this is going.
“But I'm not giving up here,” Aisaka tells him, “but I think I really do need some time away… to face the bigger world so I can really find myself.”
The first hammer shatters the mirror of Haizaki’s world.
(Are you serious right now?)
Haizaki genuinely can't believe he's hearing this.
“Think on the bright side! I might find out that I'm actually wrong about everything, and…" he says, sounding obnoxiously positive, “and of course, I might find the right route for me somewhere else. But with this, you'll be...”
“Shut up!” Haizaki slams his fist against the steel ledge.
He wants to shout. To yell, to scream.
(Don't be selfish!)
(You don't think about anyone but yourself!)
(Stop being a fucking baby and talk to me about it! That's what I'm here for, right?)
Aisaka stops speaking.
They spend a minute in utter silence, pained and broken-- then Aisaka bids him a quiet goodbye, not once turning back again.
And like an idiot, Haizaki simply stared at the pieces, praying they’d come back together someday, and this would all just be one bad dream.
He opens the door to his house.
“I’m home,” he hopes his father doesn’t hear the shakiness in his voice. That doting father of his was always a worrywart for the worst things, after all.
Maybe it wouldn’t be bad to be pampered for once.
(He’s too old for that, but even adults want to be spoiled sometimes…)
“Dad? Why’re the lights out…” he toes off his shoes, scrambling for the light switches two steps from the doorway, “I swear, dad, if you’re taking a nap again, I hope you didn’t leave the stove on.”
Fluorescent white flickers on, and suddenly Aisaka is aware of two things.
The sickening stench of iron, and the red splashed across the walls.
Chapter 20: close your eyes.
Kuroko never really knew what happened to Aisaka after that.
Thing just kind of washed over, and his memories of that week was simply a blur of surprises he subconsciously desired to not remember. Even though he dearly wished he could have done something more.
He heard of the incident the day after it occurred. The adults in the shopping district gossiped fervently about a robbery-gone-wrong three streets down. Rumours spilled like a bucket of botched paint, lingering like stains on school grounds.
Aisaka’s name came up way too many times, but he never picked up his phone.
Then the newspapers had a field day with this tragic incident and that was all Kuroko could know about the situation therein.
There had been a funeral, but was Aisaka there? He was. Kuroko was sure that he was-- he remembered wanting to talk to him. As soon as the service was over, run over and hug him, cry on him, and tell him it’d be alright.
(But he didn’t get the opportunity.)
Aisaka was gone with the wind, as soon as it ended. Kuroko couldn’t find him again after that-- and simply went home, devastated.
Surely, they’d see each other in school, once Monday comes.
The house was barricaded. The police declined to comment. Aisaka never picked up his phone. No one knew if he had any other relatives.
(In one night, Aisaka vanished off the face of the earth.)
Kuroko finds his way up to the first string, only to realize nothing was waiting for him.
“Are you sure you have no ideas, Ogiwara-kun?”
“My last phone call with him was… I told you about that one, Kuroko. He’s never talked to me since. Not even a message.”
There were no signs of him anywhere.
Aisaka didn’t have a home to go back to, but he wasn’t in anyone else’s house, either. They couldn’t find anything out from the police, something about sensitive information and how his relatives would settle his whereabouts herein. If they were so worried, they could just call him. He has his phone.
(Then why isn’t he fucking picking up, Aomine yelled at them.)
(The policemen simply repeated what they said, and sent them on their way.)
(Right now, they weren’t Aisaka’s friends-- they were simply outsiders.)
Kuroko grips the fabric of his chest. Looking up to the sky, Kuroko bites his lips and tries his hardest not to cry.
There’s a void inside him. Something so deep and so scarring, every movement tugged at the tender wound and it was agonizing, so excruciating, it hurt.
“You liar,” he whispered to himself, though he didn’t really mean it. There was no bite in his tone, no anger-- just sorrow, “you promised you’d wait for me.”
When Coach Sanada told them Aisaka had resigned from the basketball club, and altogether the school, Aomine was stricken.
Midorima was furious. Akashi admitted to have expected this-- but not this way, not yet. Murasakibara was irritated too if the crushed chips bag and continued sour mood was any indication.
Haizaki had no reaction--even though everyone expected him to blow up and get angry, he didn’t. Aomine realized that perhaps he had already known.
(He told Haizaki? And didn’t tell me?)
Aomine couldn’t hide the shock in his expressions. His movements shook, every nerve in him was battered by the situation-- he couldn’t focus on anything.
He dribbled the ball, and when he realized Tetsu wasn’t focusing too, he sat down right there and howled into the ground.
(Because how could Aisaka just do that to him?)
He just left. Without saying a thing. Weren’t they friends?
It was like something died inside of him. Curled up and rotted through like an infectious disease, and only now was he feeling the intense agony.
He was missing something. Something beside him, a presence that was always one step before him, behind him, beside him.
The light he had been chasing had flickered away like a blown-out candle. Engulfed by darkness, losing his guide, missing his path, Aomine realized something.
He realized that he was now the one in the front of the pack.
(You saw what happened to him, a cold, haunting voice-- his own-- whispered to him.)
(Now, it’s your turn.)
Aomine was scared of everything.
Ogiwara Shigehiro nearly got kicked off the basketball team in Meiko.
All of a sudden, in the middle of a vital practice match, he declared his desire to go to Tokyo to meet a friend. You can guess how the team took it.
“Ogiwara, you have the potential to become the core of the team,” the captain at that time told him, “I know how much you value your friends over in Tokyo, but if you disregard us in the process, I don’t think they’d like it, would they?”
“But, Captain,” Ogiwara had fought back, determined, “I’m training to fulfill a promise I once had with a friend. If I’m not there for my friend when he really needs me just because we’re too far away, I’d be having my priorities backward.”
Ogiwara sat out for the rest of that match to watch and learn from his seniors. Right after that, with permission from the Captain and the coach, Ogiwara caught the first train in the morning to Tokyo.
But he was too late.
When he came to that house, picking up a rock and reminiscing the times he would toss a rock at that window-- it suddenly became so clear that everything, everything has changed since then.
(“Hey, Aisaka, come out and plaaaaay!!”)
(“It’s five bloody AM you oversized fucking idiot!”)
The entire apartment block was barricaded and lined with yellow tape. Police surrounded the premises. Neighbours talked up a fuss about what they think happened.
Ogiwara couldn’t find Aisaka anywhere.
(“Next time we meet, it’ll be me against the two of you!”)
He and Kuroko went out that night, to a small restaurant down the road-- and somehow, there was nothing they could talk about that day.
In silence, both of them tried their hardest not to cry.
To say Nijimura saw this coming was a stretch.
However, it wouldn’t be a stretch to say that everyone expected Aisaka to snap one day or another. Everyone could see the mental toll everything was taking on the boy.
He had changed so much.
Most thought he was simply growing arrogant. Especially after his display in the Cultural Festival, his fame had cranked down a few inches. He became known to be an abuser of his strength.
But Nijimura could see it.
He could see Aisaka suffocating in power and strength that just didn’t stop coming at him. He could see Aisaka fall apart every step of the way-- but what could Nijimura do?
Nijimura was never one to boast, but he was among the strongest power forwards in the prefecture. Yet, he stood no chance against Aisaka in a one-on-one.
He could see it.
Aisaka running forward, so far forward-- only to turn around and realize no one was following him after all.
Nijimura couldn’t imagine how much that would hurt.
(Sometimes, he would think about the boy he scouted on the first day of school, and a part of him hurts so badly thinking about what basketball had done to him.)
Just why was this happening to them?
Why couldn't they just continue living their lives, peacefully enjoying the basketball they loved?
Basketball had betrayed them.
Aisaka Hiroto’s presence blew through like a hurricane, settling as quickly and then disappeared, as if he was never there to begin with.
There was a grave. But at the front, there was no family. There was no Hiroto, nor any extended relatives to be seen.
(Hiroto didn’t make it.)
The one last chance to ever see him again-- and it was null. And that spoke everything of what lay beyond.
(There was no possible way to find out where Aisaka Hiroto was now.)
They would have to live from herein, alone, and without him. Aisaka was an old, and they, they had to continue the story alone.
Is this what Aisaka meant, when he said so many times how he wasn’t a Miracle? Is this why he always spoke of himself with such insignificance?
(Did he know, from the start, that all this would happen eventually?)
And so, the days turned into weeks, then months, and the new school year began.
People got over him, overcame his loss like a passing grievance… and that was frustrating. It wasn’t as if he was dead. He was simply… missing.
(Or so Kuroko wanted to believe.)
Shortly after Aisaka left, their fame burst into overflow. Unofficial tournaments and prefecture-wide practice matches were held, and Teiko’s prodigious five were in the center of it all.
The “Generation of Miracles”, someone began to call them.
With the addition of their Phantom Sixth Man, they were almost complete. Unbeatable-- invincible.
What happened to them hereon in… that is a story for another time.
Could they truly be called a Generation of “Miracles”?
The word itself connotes a blessing. It is a positive word, usually an occurrence that brings joy and amazement-- often believed to be of divine origins.
Yet, they’ve been harbingers of nothing but misfortune, both to themselves and to the people around them.
Miracles are an event people long to see.
But these miracles-- they were a misery no one wanted to experience.
I shall draw a conclusion from this: They were not Miracles of any sort.
Miracles are things too good to be true-- much like a utopia. They were words conjured to depict things that can never possibly exist, because everything in the world falls short of the perfection we are too imperfect to imagine.
The six of them were not the legends everyone made them out to be.
They were simply human.
And humans are machines; they were robots that worked tirelessly day after day after day, with no one acknowledging their efforts.
It would be much stranger if none of them broke down.
(They were most definitely, without a doubt,)
(A mark of tragedy to come.)
Chapter 21: a step forward, a step back.
“Are you sure you don’t want to take any of their calls?”
“Yeah, I’m fine.”
Fate really has it out for Aisaka Hiroto. Maybe it’s because he cheated on death and decided to live again. Yeah, maybe he really wasn’t supposed to be here at all.
He really didn’t think he’d have to suffer the pain of losing his father, twice.
(Both of them meant equally as much to him.)
(Yet, why did this one hurt more than the other? Is it because it’s the second time?)
“Hiroto-kun, you really don’t need to rush,” kind Mister Policeman tries to urge him, “you can stay here for another week, or month, or even a year before you go.”
Hiroto leans against his suitcase, taking one last look at his room.
He looks at the unmade bed, then to the pile of reference books he wasn’t going to bring with him. He picks up a gray cat plush and decides to stuff it in the edge of his backpack.
The smell of chlorine fills his nose. He didn’t want to be in this house any longer.
“I’m fine,” he tells the man.
“You could stay with one of your friends, or even your neighbours,” the policeman continues-- he’s really desperate to have Hiroto not leave, huh? “It wouldn’t trouble me if you wanted to stay in my house for a few more days, too.”
By law, it’s required for every underage child to be under legal guardianship. Hiroto lost his, and without guardian approval he doesn’t have, he can’t continue to stay alone. But he doesn’t want to stay over at Kuroko’s or Aomine’s.
(It would just hurt more if everything reminded him of his dad and how he isn’t here anymore.)
“I’m fine,” he insists, “I’ll go to American and stay with my Aunt.”
Maybe it was ironic. His dad promised to bring him out of the country one day, when they had enough cash to get by-- but in the end, Hiroto is sent out of the country because his dad died.
(It’s all just a fucking joke, right?)
“You can get everything else you need in America,” he’s told, so he doesn’t bring much. There isn’t much he wants to bring, anyways.
(It’s not a joke?)
(He’s really gone?)
Maybe he imagined his upcoming trip to America to be something happier. Something more interesting, something to look forward to.
But Dad isn’t here. Dad isn’t here with him, and wouldn’t be there when he returns.
He’s not going there with hope and aspirations. He’s going there in despair, torn away from everything he once knew was his own.
(It can’t be real.)
He rubs his wrist brace, looking at the stains and the worn-out velcro, and he can only try his hardest not to cry again.
(Maybe if he woke up, this would all just be a nightmare.)
Ah, maybe if he died again, all this would reset and he could start over again, just like the first time.
He doesn’t need his legs. He doesn’t need his arms. All that can go to hell and screw all this power he doesn’t need.
He just wants normality, he just wants peace.
(Why won’t the gods give it to him? He’s really not asking for much, is he?)
The plane ride is quiet. Hiroto checks his phone to find many, many missed calls. Mails from everyone from Tetsuya and Aomine to Akashi and Midorima, panicked voicemails from Ogiwara.
(Oh, Ogiwara was on his way back to Tokyo. What a shame, they’d just barely missed each other, then.)
Everyone asks the same things. Where was he? Why wasn’t he coming back? Why isn’t he responding?
Hiroto isn’t too sure how to respond to them.
(Sorry, guys. I’m moving to America.) Then what? They’ll ask questions, so many questions, and more than anything Hiroto doesn’t want to answer questions right now.
So like a coward, he puts his phone away, closes his eyes, and sleeps.
Maybe in his dreams, things would still be the same as the were a week ago. Maybe in his dreams at least, the world wasn’t so painful to look at.
In his past life, the first few days of many things were just like this. He’d lived a long and eventful life, after all. There was joy, there was sadness, and that was normality in its finest.
This, too, was a part of normality.
When he lost his father the first time around, he mourned his lost, but didn’t feel as devastated as he did now. After all, he still had his mother, he still had his family.
But here, his father was his one and only. Maybe that was why there was a sinking hole in his gut that made him want to throw up every few seconds, unable to bear with the pain and the emptiness, and the realization that never stopped realizing.
When he became a quadriplegic, a part of him understood that he had achieved a lot for his little life. But there was that feeling of not having done enough, not yet, and that was what ate at him the most in all those years of emptiness on the bed.
Maybe that was why he was reincarnated… because he hadn’t fulfilled his quota of good deeds in his life, hadn’t achieved enough in this life, so god’s given him some more time to reach the bare minimum of that scale.
Maybe that was why dad had to die. He was a good man, after all. Such a good man, fate fell in love with his spirit and took him away.
“She broke her foot a week ago, which is why she wasn’t able to make it to Japan to pick you up instead,” the policeman told him, “she’s in the hospital now-- that’s where we’re going. Then we’ll head to the house she’s living in, and there we’ll get you settled.”
When they alighted from the long plane ride, Hiroto almost felt cheatedly excited to explore the new land he was in. After all, the speakers boomed in an American accent and the words on the billboards were a familiar, oh-so familiar set of alphabets. English. The familiarity made him want to ditch his luggage and run across the lawn barefoot.
Something holds him back from the urge-- the simple understanding that this man, the policeman that accompanied his flight, was not his father.
He was supposed to come here with Jousuke, not an obligatory, very kind police man that followed him along just to make sure he got here alright and safe. Hiroto knows it’s ridiculous to blame the man for not being a dead other man, but he still felt irritated by it.
“I’ll say this first, Hiroto-kun,” the policeman leaned forward slightly to whisper in his ears, arms held assuringly at the boy’s shoulders-- “if you don’t like her, you can just say so. I can still bring you back, and if you’re not too comfortable at my house, we can ask any of your friends--”
“I’m fine,” Hiroto interrupts him, because this isn’t the first time he’s offered all that nonsense, “thanks, Takahashi-san, but I think I'll be fine.”
Maybe it was very lucky that the policeman never suggested possibilities of him being sent into an orphanage. Maybe it was because Aisaka was almost at a right age, or because people in this town were loose and friendly like that.
But he was finally in America, albeit not in the way he initially expected. If there was something his dad wanted him to do, it was to pursue his strengths here. Hiroto wasn’t going to waste this chance, no matter how hard it was to go with.
The policeman only sighs. He’s much more stressed about the situation than Hiroto himself was-- after all, who wouldn’t? This child had just lost his lifeline and only parent, his father. He only got over severe depression a couple years ago. Apparently, his prowess in school isn’t doing well, if the nasty rumours amongst basketballers have been any indication.
Police Sergeant Takahashi was extremely worried for the boy. Was he really alright? Wasn’t he just pushing himself? He hadn’t cried even once, and maybe he was just being a mature, strong child for the eyes of the people.
(But he was just a child.)
He had children of his own. Seeing Hiroto fall so quiet, stoic, and painfully emotionless was hard on his heart. He felt for the boy, but there was nothing he could offer but empty assurances, kindness, and the fatherly touch he no doubt was still missing.
A little research told him so much. The child had gone through so much. He lost his mother. He fell into depression that he’s only recently gotten over. His father became his sole living grace, and they depended heavily on each other for monetary, emotional, and psychological comfort.
Losing two parents in such a short time was something no child should ever go through, and yet here Hiroto was, braving it with no tears streaming down his cheeks.
Takahashi hated it. He hated it when children acted mature in these situations.
Hiroto was calm, quiet, and although he looked downcast through the funeral, he shed no tears and didn’t demand for any sort of compensation for his loss. His father’s murderer was gone, not arrested, and he wasn’t giving chase.
He was simply accepting it, like an adult devastated by the usual spin of the circle of life.
Hiroto was a child, he was supposed to be a child.
(He wasn’t, not anymore.)
(He couldn’t be one any longer.)
“Alright, then,” he resigns himself, seeing as the boy was stubborn, “let’s go meet her, then. Her name is Alexandra Garcia, and she’s your mother’s sister.”
Chapter 22: in a new place, he doesn't belong.
hey guys! it's your author, that desperately doesn't socialize with yall at all but I promise I still love you guys! I really, really don't say this enough, but thanks so much for reading, leaving kudos and reviews, and all the other etc stuff i'm blessed with. I'm surprised this story is getting attention and it makes me overjoyed that people actually enjoy this as much as I'm writing it. I hope you'll continue to support me as the story moves to a new location!
Now onto an important message-- I'm really, really sorry to disappoint some people, but Kagami isn't actually going to make an appearance just yet. I'm the kind of person that can't settle without following timelines to a T, and after doing some math, Hiroto moves to America right after Kagami moves back to Japan. We are, however, going to switch between the countries just to see how things change or don't, but Kagami and Hiroto won't be meeting just yet.
If you haven't already heard, I have an instagram account dedicated to my stories and my writing. If you're interested in hearing behind-the-scenes and character-bios of my OCs, do give me a follow or just check me out there!
And onto another rather depressing chapter! Ready? Ah, and may I ask who y'all ship Hiroto with, if you do?
“You can call me Alex. This is Tatsuya, my protege.”
“It’s nice to meet you, Hiroto-kun.”
Is America the land of pretty people or something?
Hiroto thought that his aunt was quite a textbook definition of drop-dead gorgeous. Long, blonde hair, refined curves even against toned muscles. And this was looking at her while she lay on the hospital bed, slightly thinned from her stay.
He gulps. And her Japanese was good.
Tatsuya-- he's another one. What’s with those bangs? That perfectly placed beauty mark? And his voice-- god, Hiroto didn’t think a boy could have a voice that exudes so much gentleness. You could feel the calmness from five feet away.
“I’m Takahashi, we talked on the phone,” the policeman steps in, knowing Hiroto wouldn’t be comfortable enough to give a response. “It’s a pleasure to finally meet you, Miss Garcia.”
“The pleasure is all mine, Mister Takahashi.”
Initial greetings are calm, a little awkward, but without interruptions. The Japanese are much more formal in this regard, but Alex and Tatsuya seem to understand it quite well enough to respect it.
Hiroto sets his suitcase aside, but clutches onto his carry on nervously, looking anywhere but at the other occupants of the room.
He feels regressed, back into the days right after he came into this world-- he wants to shrink inside himself, away from social interaction. A lump forms in his throat, and somehow, he didn’t think he could say a thing today.
He thumbs at the strap of his bag anxiously.
Takahashi and Alex had started off with small talk-- “Are you well?”, “Of course, it’s just a broken foot, nothing out of the ordinary for a former veteran basketball player!” then proceeded into talks about the rest of the day-- “Tatsuya will bring you to my house and help you get him settled,” to “I will be staying for two days before I return to Japan. Protocol, it seems.”
The voices seem to mute out, and Hiroto breathes out a sigh. This was exhausting-- custody was hard to settle, wasn’t it? Alex seemed like a nice person, but all the paperwork Takahashi had lugged over from Japan seemed like such a pain.
“Alex,” suddenly Tatsuya is beside him, hand on his shoulder, “can I take Hiroto out for a walk in the garden?”
“Of course, but keep your hands off where you shouldn’t be touching!”
“Oh you’re so mean, Alex, are you implying something?”
“I am implying everything, Tatsuya.”
With a series of witch-natured laughter, Hiroto found himself leaving his belongings behind and getting tugged away by the arm across the hospital hallways.
Maybe he’ll die today, who knows.
“Sorry about Alex,” he says as soon as they turn out of earshot. Tatsuya lets go of Hiroto’s hand and faces him with a smile, “it’s an inside joke.”
Hiroto does not feel assured at all, but this is America, so whatever works.
Of all the places in America to end up in, he’s in Los Angeles. It’s so cliche, he realizes-- it’s exactly the first place an asian random would say if they were told “America”. Like, maybe New York is a close second… is god a random asian kid?
Now that Tatsuya is within five paces of him, Hiroto realizes something.
Underneath the jacket, Tatsuya is lean. Thin, but toned and strong even through his clothing. His fingers were long-- and his shoes-- oh, Tatsuya’s a basketball player.
(And heck, he’s pretty enough to make people gay. Stop it. Stop staring at me.)
He’s lost his bag, so he fiddles with his wrist brace instead. Looking away into that very interesting corner, Hiroto wondered why he was so bad with teenagers his age. It was like this with Kuroko at first, wasn’t it?
“Oh, hey,” Tatsuya points out happily, taking Hiroto’s hand in his, “look, we match.”
Hiroto’s right hand was covered in a black wrist brace. Tatsuya’s left hand was wrapped in a bigger, medical-use wrist brace. Hiroto’s was much more worn down, but Tatsuya’s looked almost new.
(Did he hurt his wrist too?)
Hiroto’s eyes narrowed in pity. Wrist injuries were always the most annoying-- they almost never healed well, and even if they did, they’d have future complications. They were essentially career killers for careless players.
“I got this in a match a couple days back,” Tatsuya quickly said, “a few more and the doctor said it’ll be good as new. I’ve been basketball-deprived all this time and that totally sucks.”
(That’s a relief,) Hiroto doesn’t say, but his gaze softens and a ghost of a smile tickles at his lips.
Tatsuya doesn’t ask about Hiroto’s wrist brace. He keeps a hand on Hiroto’s uninjured hand, and they made their way across the halls into the gardens.
And somehow, Hiroto thinks this is okay.
They get waffles from the hospital cafe, drink awful canned coffee from the vending machine, and visit a couple of kids from the pediatrician.They stole oranges from a tree in the garden and raced away with a kid in a wheelchair. Hiroto is fairly sure some of that was illegal but he’s trying not to think too much about it.
After an essential tour of the hospital (how on earth does Tatsuya know this hospital so well anyways) they find their way back to Alex’s room.
The two adults are strewn about with papers, coffee, and a headache, but Takahashi’s already gathering the papers, so they’re probably done.
“Welcome back, you two, had fun out there?” Takahashi asks, and one can essentially hear the exhaustion in his voice. Hiroto empathized. He had to handle all the legal issues and organisation of paperwork, after all. He probably hadn’t had a good night’s rest since… since that day.
“I hope so,” Tatsuya smiles at them, and Hiroto flushes when he realizes they’re still holding hands.
“Tatsuya, I told you not to do anything funny,” Alex stares at them skeptically, particularly at the intertwined palms between them.
Tatsuya essentially sparkles, “but I’m not doing anything funny. Am I, Hiroto-kun?”
Somehow, Hiroto feels like his chastity is in danger. He lets go of Tatsuya’s hand anyways, and goes over to Takahashi, clinging to him instead.
“Look, you really did do something,” Alex sneers, but more of a tease than a reprimand. “You were overexcited about a new brother, weren’t you? You creeped him out, Tatsuya.”
“Ehhh, I really didn’t,” Tatsuya pouts.
“And this is Alex’s apartment,” Tatsuya brings them into a house, and collectively Takahashi and Hiroto give the place awed looks. “Make yourself at home, I guess.”
The place is, for lack of better words, clean and modern. The walls were a light shade of cream, the furniture were a deep brown. The tables were smooth, coated wood, and the rugs were soft and fluffy.
The place smelled like autumn, even in the middle of spring.
The picture frames on the wall and on the fireplace showed plenty of basketball-- times when Alex was in WNBA, streetball with the boys, and many of a pair of boys being smothered with her affection.
There was even a whole glass cabinet full of trophies and medals.
Takahashi politely took off his shoes and his coat. “A living room joined with a kitchen, a master bedroom, with two guest rooms, and one shared washroom...” he counted them off, “Tatsuya-kun, I’ll have to check on the fridge and everything thing else Hiroto-kun would need in his stay, so could you show him around in the meantime?”
Hiroto and Tatsuya’s eyes meet.
Hiroto feels increasingly unsettled by Tatsuya’s smile, but he lets the boy take his luggage and make his way to a guest room near the corner of the apartment.
“Only Alex’s room has a private bathroom, so you’ll have to share with Takahashi-san while he stays here… though that isn’t all that uncommon in Japan, right?” Tatsuya spoke again, looking back in case Hiroto nodded or shook his head in response.
One thing Hiroto noticed-- was that Tatsuya never directly prompted for a verbal answer. Was he used to children? He was so abnormally kind that Hiroto really didn’t know how to handle a person like him.
“Here’s your room, it’s cleaned, but you might find one of Taiga’s things here from when he slept over…” he mutters to himself, then turned around, “oh, Taiga’s my brother, not biological though. We’re both Alex’s students, so we sleep over in her house a lot, and this was the room he used.”
Tatsuya’s a rambler if you let him, surprisingly. Or maybe he’s just speaking more to make up for what Hiroto can’t add to the conversation.
“It’s your room from now on, so you can do whatever you want with it.”
Hiroto tries to nod-- but what hits him is a wave of hurt.
(It’s your room from now on,) so he says. You don’t live in that old house anymore-- you live here now. Here, alone, with a lady you barely know.
Everything’s different. Nothing looks, sounds, or smells familiar.
Everything is changed now.
(And that kind of hurts to realize again.)
Takahashi gets himself settled into the other guest room. Tatsuya helps Hiroto unpack, though there wasn’t much to go through.
Hiroto only had the bare minimum. He didn’t need his school uniform, and aside from a few pairs of casual clothes, he had nothing he really wanted to keep. No books, no games-- just the essentials, and a fluffy gray cat toy set on his table.
He sets a row of pictures on his desk.
One of his father, his mother, and him. He puts that one on a high drawer-- claps his hands together twice, and tries to greet them in a prayer to the dead.
There’s a picture of him, Kuroko, and Ogiwara; and another picture of Aomine, Kuroko, Momoi, and Hiroto together. They all seemed homely, friendly, and they all wore such warm smiles on their faces. Both of those pictures were taken by his father, when they came over to visit.
There’s another picture of them in the cultural festival. He was playing the guitar, a strangely gentle expression on his face-- and Midorima was there too, pouring coffee through the filter into the mug as Akashi nursed his own cup, enjoying the relaxing ambience of the cafe.
Then there’s a picture of him and Haizaki, a candid taken by Momoi during a practice match against each other. It was a beautiful shot, with Hiroto smiling brightly through a flawless feint across, and Haizaki’s eyes were sharpened in focus, arms reaching over for an interception that barely missed. Murasakibara and Nijimura are in a corner of this picture, by sheer coincidence.
It’s saddening that he doesn’t have a picture of all of them together.
(Hiroto’s really made so many friends, hasn’t he? He hadn’t even noticed.)
“Your friends from Japan?” Tatsuya asks, and Hiroto juts out a nod. Tatsuya looks over the boy’s shoulders, and his eyes almost gleam with interest.
Being formerly American himself, Hiroto honestly has no qualms about the casual intimacy Tatsuya seemed to like. Maybe Alex’s playful warnings were bothering him.
“You play basketball too, Hiroto-kun?” Tatsuya asks, excited, “that’s amazing! Let’s play together one day, okay?”
(Let’s play basketball?) right, that’s what he has to do here. He was going to come here to expand his horizons anyways, this shouldn’t even be a surprise.
(So why does the thought scare him?)
(Should he really continue to play basketball, after all this?)
Was there a point to his life other than basketball? Surely, there was. Surely the answer is here, because why else would fate lead him to this country?
“It’s a promise, okay? Maybe when Alex gets back,” Tatsuya says, and it’s like he’s making a vow. His face is two inches from Hiroto’s, and the smile on his face is radiant enough for both of them.
Hiroto finds himself nodding, looking forlornly at the picture of him and Ogiwara.
(If I continue playing basketball here, would I be betraying Ogi?)
He lets the thought rest in the back of his mind, and hopes it would fade soon.
He didn’t need more guilt to eat him out now.
Chapter 23: believe in the world and fly.
Hi guy! Thanks for all the reviews and feedback in the previous chapter! Sometimes I want to frame up review and put them on my wall because god I've never felt so appreciated in my life ok
This chapter finally draws an end to the first essential "arc" of this story, thanks for reading this far! Upcoming chapters will depict Hiroto's new connections while overcoming insert context of this chapter here as well as the GoM adapting to his disappearance back in Japan.
All in all, thanks for following this story, and I hope you'll enjoy this chapter! Follow my trivia instagram account canaeris for some random reason!
Good mornighternooning, eat your veggies, stay in school, bye!
“We think he has severe anxiety,” Takahashi says, and his voice is only slightly hushed. It’s coming from the living room, and-- ah, they’re speaking in English. No wonder.
“You think?” Alex sounds exasperated, “have you not signed him up with a counselor? That’s step one for children when they’re grieving, aren’t they?”
She knows what she’s talking about-- and Takahashi does too. There’s a bit of a condescending air through the house as they argue.
Hiroto doesn’t really care.
He leans over the toilet bowl, and heaves up nothing but stomach acid. His throat is sore and everything burns like searing acid on his tongue, yet all he could think of was how much his head hurt and how loud the ringing in his ears was.
He wants to cry, but he has no energy to make anything more than a pitiful whimper. He’s so nervous he could throw up-- he already did, so many times that he has nothing left to throw-- and Tatsuya’s weak pattings on his back really isn’t helping much.
“We have,” Takahashi remains strangely calm, “but this isn’t the first time. Hiroto-kun is a smart child, he knows what they’re going to say and he doesn’t want to hear it. If we force him to go through another session, he might shut himself in his room again, like that time a few years ago.”
Like that time a few years ago? Hiroto worked to catch his breath, leaning hazily against the sink as he struggled to wash the horrid taste from his mouth. Were they talking about the time before he came into this world? Hiroto had some sort of depressive bout at that time too, didn’t he?
“Are you okay?” Tatsuya asks him, looking bedraggled, and worried. His hands are extended in case Hiroto stumbles again.
Hiroto nods weakly, unable to look the boy in the eyes.
This was all so humiliating.
Alex was released from the hospital the day Takahashi had to leave, and they spent the greater of the time discussing what they could do for Hiroto thereafter.
They spoke mostly in English, because they didn’t want Hiroto to eavesdrop-- so Hiroto wasn’t going to tell them how much he understood.
Takahashi leaves soon after that, and Hiroto is stuck in this foreign house, forced to adapt. It doesn’t sound as hard as it really feels. He adapted to this new world easily, but something’s different this time.
This time, he feels Hiroto’s pain. The real Hiroto, the one that disappeared-- he feels the agony, the depression, the anxiety. He feels it all and he just can’t take it.
Hiroto spends an hour seated on his bed, blanket in his lap, lost in thought. He doesn’t move, doesn’t speak, barely breathes. Something goes through his head like a thread of endless questions that never has a full sentence-- plaguing his mind over and over and over--
Then he breathes out, slowly, slowly.
He feels like throwing up again.
There’s a weight in his chest, a ticklish feeling that burns, itches, drives him mad. It’s telling him something’s wrong, something is different, and something is never going to be the same again.
But the question remains unanswered, and if he isn’t crying, maybe throwing up would make this burning ease.
He doesn’t move for another hour after that.
The alarm clock rings. It’s set to five in the morning, because that’s when he would usually wake up to get breakfast ready. They've neglected to shut it off beforehand.
Hiroto moves for the first time in a number of hours, and Tatsuya rouses from his sleepover mattress on the floor. He shuts the alarm, and sets the clock back on the nightstand.
“Good morning, Hiroto-kun,” Tatsuya says, and although he looks drowsy, he wakes up because Hiroto is awake, and as much as he can he doesn’t want Hiroto to be alone.
Hiroto tries to speak.
The heat in his chest boils over to his throat, threatening to spill like vomit in his lungs-- but he doesn’t have the energy for that. He doesn’t feel anything solid to throw up either.
He just wants to cry without crying.
(God, why was he so weak?)
Hiroto stands up, picks up his wrist brace from the table-- and leaves the room. He slept in a pair of shorts last night-- good enough.
"Hiroto-kun? Where are you going-- wait!"
Tatsuya, hastily grabbing a pair of jackets, follows after him.
A quiet basketball court. The sun, barely rising. A single figure racing across the streets in nothing but his bare feet, breathing heavily, breathing in disbelief, breathing against the world.
There are tears in his eyes, and a pain in his chest nothing, nothing can describe.
He screams, but there is no sound. Something in his just mutes him, and he shrieks in frustration. He stumbles, catching himself, and continues running.
He’s here, in the basketball court adjacent to Alex’s apartment.
There’s a stray basketball on the ground. Blisters were forming on the skin of his feet, he can feel it. His hands were clenched so tightly they were cramped and kind of hurt. The brace is cold against his warm wrist, and he breathes out.
He scoops up the ball, and runs.
He breaks into a new step, the coarse bumps scratching against his fingers. He feels chapped skin, feels friction as he dribbles. He spins, he does a crossover, he shoots and he misses, because that was his right hand and his right hand never scores. He catches the ball again, and races himself to the other side of the court.
There’s a familiarity in this. He’s done this before, the first day he came into this world. Overwhelmed by everything and fearing the world would fade, he went wild against the world, harder than a sane person would dare.
He had felt like an intruder, and the hole in his chest told him that the world didn’t recognize him as a citizen. He was fighting against the universe and something up there, hoping if he screamed hard enough, he could make this dream last longer.
And it did.
Now, he was here, hollering until his throat was sore and fighting against that thing above again. But for what reason?
He takes one step, two steps.
And he leaps.
It’s not fairy-like at all. He soars across the lane and it’s rough, it’s fierce, it’s like a wild beast. It’s like an enraged, angered vulture, spreading wide wings and slamming the ball right down on the hoop.
(No, it’s still a fairy.)
(A furious little fae, driven to insanity, screeching against injustice and finally revealing its purest, ugliest form to the world that was never fair to him.)
He lands on the ground, and somehow, air flows into his lungs, cleaner, fresher, purer, and colder than before.
He’s breathing heavily from his run. He’s sweating from the exertion. The thin shirt on him isn’t nearly enough for the cold spring morning-- but it doesn’t matter.
Right now, his world consists of two things-- himself, and basketball. These were the only things that mattered-- all those that wielded fate could go screw themselves.
(Hiroto has had enough of being toyed with.)
He closes his eyes, feeling the spark of indigo threading through his soul, tingling like electricity coursing through his veins.
Like a drug, it’s the best feeling in the world.
“Hey, you’ll catch a cold!”
Tatsuya had run after him, all the way from the apartment-- though he was ragged and out of breath. “You forgot your shoes, too!”
Hiroto feels the boy drape a purple sweater across his shoulders, and it’s much warmer than he thought it would be. Maybe it’s because Tatsuya is looking at him just like how Dad had looked at him that day-- desperate, relieved, and so kind.
“Goodness, your body got so cold!” Tatsuya puts his hands on Hiroto’s cheeks, and against Hiroto’s freezing cold face, Tatsuya’s hands were warm. “You didn’t put on your shoes? Why didn’t you--”
Hiroto leans into the touch, and breathed out a smooth, very light and liberated sigh. A smile perks at the sides of his lips, and he can’t help but feel so happy-- so blessed.
“Is that a smile? Oh my god, is that a smile?” Tatsuya freaks out, pulling Hiroto’s face closer so he could get a better look, “now? Of all times?! You couldn’t have done that when I had a camera on me?”
Maybe, slowly, his world will get bigger again.
One thing at a time.
Chapter 24: fill in the gap and pull on forward.
*camera pans to the rainbow morons*
Murasakibara sighs for the third time in that hour, and Akashi is visibly getting irritated. It’s not helping the grim mood of practice.
“Murasakibara, get up and practice or get out,” Midorima chides. No one mentions that Midorima has missed about five shots since this morning.
“It’s only Tuesday, you can’t be tired already,” Aomine groans, wiping off some sweat with his arm, “if you don’t have individual practice to focus on, go help some of the seniors with defense drills.”
Murasakibara only pouts at that, sinking his face deeper into the gaps of his knees.
Kuroko sits beside the purple giant, (“Tetsu, when the fu--?!”) and they sigh synchronously.
The scene was only getting weirder to witness. Haizaki stared at them, and affected by the sheer grim atmosphere, he could only sigh as well.
“They’re radiating depression,” Aomine makes a very keen observation, “what do we do, Midorima?”
“Throw Aisaka at them,” Midorima says, then corrects, “or so I would like to do, but that’s currently impossible.”
And this time, Aomine and Haizaki sigh in unison.
“This isn’t going well at all,” Akashi speaks up, arms crossed and giving his own sigh of utter resignation, “it’s Tuesday after all.”
“What does it being Tuesday have to do with--” Midorima stops, and finally, he too sighs. “Oh, because we don’t get Aisaka’s Home Ec snacks anymore.”
There’s a moment of silence, then they all sigh again.
“Where are the rainbow morons?” Nijimura walks into the gym, and the moment he sees the group, he snaps, “not again!”
“Aisaka isn’t around anymore, you know.”
When Nijimura says that, it’s like he’s picking a fight. He really isn’t trying to, but when Haizaki hears it, it feels like an insult to his very core.
“Fuck if I care about him.”
Everything hurts. His head is ringing and pulsing in waves of agony-- he touches his temple where a sting is burning and he sees blood. He swears again. There are too many new bruises on him and he thinks that ache at his side might be a broken rib. There’s a big tear in his jacket and he knows his mother is going to be cranky about it.
“Even if you do this, he’s not going to come back to pick you up.”
And Haizaki all but screams, “I said, shut the fuck up!” His fuse is shorter than ever before, “I’m not expecting anything from him and you can screw off and mind your own goddamn business, Nijimura!”
Nijimura sees it very clearly from where he’s standing, even in the dim lighting.
Head wounds bleed the worse, and with how the boy cringes at every move, he probably needs a hospital. When doesn’t he need a hospital, really? How did Aisaka always deal with this?
“We’re all angry that Aisaka left, so--”
Haizaki feels himself get lifted up and he yelps. He’s thrown over a shoulder with one arm-- fuck, Nijimura, what are you, superman?-- and Nijimura is on his phone, calling someone Haizaki can’t see.
“What are you doing, Nijimura! Hey, NIJIMURA! Stop that! Put me do-- Ow ow ow OW OW!”
“If Aisaka ever starts replying to messages, that little shit better send me an instruction guide… ah, Momoi? Mind telling me where Haizaki’s house is? Or a hospital, wherever closest I can go with a shrieking thirteen-year-old on my shoulder.”
“Nijimura PUT ME DOWN, my FUCKING RIBS ARE BROKEN!”
“You are the light-- and I’m the shadow. Right?” Kuroko says, and Aomine flushes red even against his dark skin.
“How many times do you have to say that before you’re satisfied?!” Aomine squawks, trying to hide how madly he’s blushing, “I still don’t understand how you can say something so embarrassing with a straight face!”
Kuroko all but sparkles at the reaction, “because Aomine-kun’s reactions are always really funny.”
“I’ll seriously punch you one day, Tetsu.”
They were a duo that never really complemented each other before this. Sure, they hung around all the time, but they were two people with a bridge in between them. They only knew what to talk about and how to treat each other because Aisaka was around.
They had nothing in common outside of basketball, yet on the court no one understood them better. That was how they were-- light and shadow, white and black.
“Are you lonely?” Kuroko asks.
Aomine hates having to admit his own weaknesses, but something in him wants to be vulnerable, if only for a moment. “Yeah,” he says, not thinking much of it. It’s just Tetsu, after all, “but there’s nothing we can do about it, right?”
Together, they had to soldier on. Even without Aisaka, they can keep going.
They have to, because life goes on.
“Wanna go practice?” Aomines prompts, and Kuroko smiles back easily.
Their fist joins in the center, a little lonelier now, but they were together and as long as they were together, nothing was going to break just yet.
It’s rare for Akashi to be approached by the coach-- after all, Akashi was the vice. Everything from the coach, much less the Head Coach, goes through Nijimura.
“Tell me honestly, Akashi-kun,” the coach invites him for a chat, along with a rather dignified cup of coffee, “what do you, personally, think of the Generation of Miracles as it is now?”
Coach Shirogane was a wise man. He only did what was best for the team, and without a doubt he would lead the club onto the path of Absolute Victory they would always preach of.
Akashi can’t possibly know what Coach Shirogane is thinking. Maybe it’s just a whim, and the Coach isn’t asking because of some deep, ulterior meaning behind it.
So Akashi, for once, thinks honestly. Not objectively, not in terms of the benefits, the failures, or the challenges. He just thinks as Akashi Seijuurou, as a friend and a teammate.
“We can go long,” he tells the coach, “Aomine is almost there. Once he peaks, the rest of us will tag along. We’ll get stronger, and we’ll become the best.”
Kuroko’s analogy of light and shadow isn’t too far away. Aomine is a light, it’s in his name-- but he’s not just a light that complements the shadow. He’s a light that draws people in. Even without trying, the rest of their generation will follow along, drawn by his talent, and soon they will all stand up there with him, if he doesn’t break first.
“We can become the best,” Akashi continues, and there’s a little more meaning into his tone this time, “but perfect-- perfect is something we can’t become anymore.”
Coach Shirogane casts him a strange look, but Akashi remains unfazed.
“Aisaka-kun,” the coach mentions, and Akashi perks up, “what kind of person was he? I almost regret never having the opportunity to see him in action.”
Against all the rules of the world, Akashi perks out a smile, though it reeks of a mischievous devil.
“He was like a mother,” Akashi simply says, and he doesn’t add anything to it.
Coach Shirogane stares, not too sure how to respond. Akashi isn’t the kind to make jokes, so this wasn’t the right place for a tsukkomi return.
“So is Njimura-kun the dad?” Coach Shirogane asks instead, and Akashi bursts into amused laughter.
“Pisces is in first place today! The world might not seem so bright, but there will definitely be people around to remind you of how beautiful the world is. Spread your wings and fly! Your lucky item is a sweater, and your lucky colour is purple. Scorpios are your best match today, so be sure to stick around one of them!”
Midorima hums. Well, Oha-asa is never wrong, so maybe he doesn’t have to be so worried for Aisaka after all, wherever on earth he vanished to.
His own sign is at third place, so maybe something good will happen… he makes sure to borrow a purse from his sister before he leaves the house.
Hm, wasn’t Haizaki a Scorpio too? Midorima thinks to himself, nah, it’s probably someone else, wherever Aisaka had gone off to. Which leaves the question again, where on earth is Aisaka?
There’s only so many places an underage boy can go after being suddenly orphaned.
The orphanage, but that wouldn’t explain anything. To a relative’s house, but that wouldn’t explain why he wasn’t answering the phone either. Maybe he’s gone far into the countryside, so far in there’s no cell reception. Or he’s overseas, and hasn’t gotten a new mobile plan yet.
Neither of those remotely answer why Aisaka isn’t replying to their texts.
“Hiroto-kun used to have social anxiety, so he’s probably just nervous.”
Midorima shrieks, no I don’t, when Kuroko’s voice comes within five paces of him. He nearly stumbles into a telephone pole, clutching his heart in the wake of a heart attack.
“Good morning to you too, Midorima-kun.”
Kuroko is a little shit sometimes.
“G- Good morning, Kuroko,” he reluctantly stutters out, desperately fixing his glasses to pretend the previous embarrassing show wasn’t real, “what a coincidence, seeing you on the way to school.”
“We walk the same route every day, you just don’t notice me.”
Midorima was now reconsidering his life.
He spends a deadpan moment thinking about stupidity and the meaning of everything, and Kuroko, like the sardonic bastard he is, waits patiently for Midorima to come back to earth.
“He didn’t seem all so socially anxious when he first met me,” Midorima points out, finding it hard to believe that Aisaka, that living definition of social butterfly (social fairy?) had social anxiety. It was just too out there to believe.
I mean, the first thing Aisaka said to him was right out of a 4-koma manga. “Hi, green, I’m indigo!” with the most serious expression on his face. Midorima could remember that day like it was yesterday, it was not how he imagined his first day of school to be.
“Well, he got better after he met me, and Aomine-kun,” Kuroko tells him, “but before that, he would punch me every time I talked to him because he got scared of me suddenly appearing around the place. After a while of punching me all the time, he got used to talking to people.”
“That made absolutely no sense, but basically you’ve been scaring him since the day you’ve met?”
“Yeah,” Kuroko has the gall to say with a look of blissful melancholy on his face, “he used to be really cute. He would shriek and run away and apologize at the same time. I almost felt like a proud mother the first time he stood his ground and just scolded me instead.”
Midorima stares at Kuroko like he’s an idiot. Kuroko stares back, expressions unreadable as always.
And Midorima nods to himself.
Yeah, if some ghost was haunting him every day, he’d probably get over social anxiety too. That makes sense.