"Have I seen you before?"
Izuki slanted a look over her shoulder to regard the inarguably unknown young man who had interrupted her advertising for the basketball club. He was dark of hair with tousled bangs, laid back air, buff, his wide grin both suave and cocksure.
"Yeah," she lied blankly, "and that's why I have been avoiding you ever since."
His face fell faster than a falcon diving to sink its claws into the targeted prey. Izuki felt more smug than guilty and cheerily waved him away as his disappeared into the tumultuous masses churning around them.
She could feel Koganei's flat stare on her back and she flashed him an amiable grin. "He sort of reminded me of a bison-"
"You've cracked the bison-bye son joke thrice these last few months already," the catlike young man interrupted hastily, brandishing his undistributed papers like a sword.
"Hmm, you're right," she agreed, not hesitating to use her brutally effective smile to hand over flyers to passing guys. She truly wanted Seirin's team to fill up, but part of her worried that if a new recruit showed enough promise as point guard, she'd be subbed out and left at her own devices not because he was that much more skilled, but rather because it was a hassle to keep a girl on the team.
She discarded the thought in favor of mulling over her meager repertoire of animal jokes. She'd never noticed how lacking it was.
Her decision to focus on animal puns turned out to be a good choice when a tall, tanned male who didn't just remind her of a tiger but simply seemed to be one kidnapped Koganei with the demand to be taken to the basketball stand.
"He's easily spotted," she murmured as she and Mitobe followed from a safe distance without losing sight of the tall redhead. "Usually tigers are striped instead. Striped, spotted, striped, spotted- geddit?"
Mitobe weighed a hand on her shoulder and gave her such a blank look even she could translate it into 'no, just no'.
"You're right, it was a bad one," she muttered sulkily. The world of creativity was cruel: it only ever opened when she didn't need it. (Usually when Hyuuga would be driven up the walls or her maths teacher would burst into tears. Apparently feeling divided about the answers of a division was not acceptable.)
The ridiculously tall kidnapper's name was Kagami Taiga. Riko and Hyuuga were visibly impressed, the former gaping and the latter unblinking.
"Basketball's always the same here in Japan," he sneered before walking away, lips curled with contempt though he'd signed the form nonetheless.
"I have the feeling this year will be interesting," Hyuuga commented with a vague smile as he watched the tall first year's retreating back.
Then Koganei pointed out a paper Riko had missed and things got even more interesting.
"How could I have missed this golden egg?!"
That afternoon, while heading to the gym, Izuki already knew what to expect. She'd been underestimated and looked down on the previous year -Seirin needed a point guard, she needed to play basketball and keep the then even more socially incapable Hyuuga in check, everybody was happy except for those not on the team, which was the vast majority of the world- for being a girl.
She rounded the corner and paused, eyes falling on the vending machine. The gates of creativity opened to cast a trickle of divine light, and she smirked.
At the still new-looking court, ickle firsties already lined up like the pickles on her sandwich (she didn't have pickles on her sandwich, ever, but that wasn't important), her teammates had already arrived.
"Looks like we've got ourselves a whole batch this time around," Izuki noted after regarding the wannabes for a good minute, swirling her apple-lemon energy drink.
"Yup, but count on a fifty percent drop-out rate within the first two weeks. It's the standard," Riko muttered absently whilst reviewing something on the top page of her clipboard. "See any Miracle-worthy guy?"
"Aside from Tiger-chan, not really," she admitted, "but who knows? Miraculously one of these might be a Mir-"
She was cut off by avoiding a flick from the clipboard, the weapon whipping past overhead. The brunette's tone was accusing: "Your puns have always been horrid, but today is a whole new league."
The inky-haired girl laughed, a free and soaring sound which was too rough around the edges to be dignified. "Yep, I'm a league of my own!"
By then, some of the hopeful first years had started whispering. The raven could hear them comment on Riko's cute appearance, dubbing her as the manager, as well as wonder if Izuki was the captain for the female team, here to share her opinion. When clad in baggy training clothes which hid slender curves, paired with her short hair and pretty though androgynous face, it tended to take a minute for those not in the loop to go from classing her as a girly boy to a girl as a whole.
"Idiots," Hyuuga reprimanded with a whack to the back of their heads. "Riko and Izuki are neither manager nor Captain."
"I'm the point guard," she announced merrily, but her jaw was tight with stubbornness and her silvery gray eyes hard. "Meaning I'm a player on this very team, in case it wasn't obvious."
There was a cacophony of surprised whispers and buzzing skepticism, the gist of which was: can she do it despite being a girl?
Izuki held up the tin can from the vending machine as though proposing a toast, entirely too pleased. "Yes I can!"
She ducked beneath Riko's second attempt at a whack, her spatial awareness coming in handy since the shorter girl stood behind her.
"And I'm the coach, Aida Riko," she introduced herself with the same unquestionable air as always. Letting the others' doubt and disapproval get to one would only made it increase: the best tactic was always to simply move on with life as though there was nothing odd about either of their positions and choices.
There was a second wave of surprise and disbelief bouncing off the gym walls.
And amidst the exclamations of having female teammates and female coaches and now the world was clearly ending what was this?, Riko demanded them all to take their shirts off and proceeded to eradicate all the skepticism in one fell swoop with her observations and pointers.
Point guard to point guard, let's give each other some pointers, she thought to herself and filed it away both as an in-game mood lifter and a post-game pickup line.
Hyuuga leveled her with a terrifying look, glasses reflecting the light. "Izuki, shut up."
"But- I didn't say anything!"
"You were thinking it."
Riko paused longer in front of Kagami than any other student. Izuki could understand why: even without seeing numbers or measurements wherever she looked, she had to admit he was ripped. As in he was drool-worthily, remarkably muscular, more than Mitobe or even Kiyoshi (and was that an eight pack?), the swells and dips clearly the result of hours of training and not just gymming. She wasn't usually into guys that muscular, but she had to admit he actually made it look good.
Which was unimportant since he just needed to be a great basketball player, really, and preferably not a jackass.
She was fairly certain Koganei was staring so much his eyes'd pop out, however.
"Definitely no spots," she whispered to a Mitobe who was too drawn into himself to visibly disprove of the shorter male, flicking his translator's forehead without as much as blinking. He didn't dignify her comment with an answer.
"I could've sworn I would be able to tell somebody from the Generation of Miracles apart from the rest," Riko muttered under her breath as she took a few steps back.
Then Kuroko Tetsuya happened.
He was slight and dull-eyed with powdery blue hair, an utter lack of expression and the sort of voice which was lost in crowds. (And the sort of person who was lost in crowds, too.)
She was halfway through creating a pun including the words ghastly and ghostly when he turned out to be the Teikou kid.
She was halfway writing him off as a benchwarmer when he announced he was a regular.
She was halfway reaching heaven when he turned out to be the Phantom Sixth man.
She was halfway home when realizing she hadn't even noticed him up until he made his presence known.
How odd. Usually she noticed even they shyest of people who seemed to fade into nothingness and become part of the surroundings, even those who were content there and therefore didn't try to be noticed. (They were always so surprised when she randomly wished them a lovely day.)
She steered her bicycle around the corner, almost running over a squirrel.
"Let me opun the door for you," she lunged forward to open the door for a suddenly twitching Hyuuga, her smile wide and satisfied with innocently crinkled eyes. "There you go, Captain."
He passed her with a terrifying expression which did totally not make her both wince and feel even better. Maths class was over and they had gotten their test results back: she hadn't scored badly per se, but she'd expected far better. She was usually one of the best students when it came to maths and languages, and getting average grades for any of those subjects made her eye twitch. Admittedly, she hadn't studied enough to warrant or deserve more: skimming through last year's recap before going to sleep was very little work for the 71% she ended up receiving. But still, she still thought she'd made a good point to the teacher about the second last exercise and earning half the marks for that one instead of none.
And a point guard's point was always valid.
Except in some cases, such as Hanamiya-related ones. Those were lost cases, better to be cast away just in case.
She formers to herself both at the thought of the Uncrowned King and her weak wordplay. No. That wasn't a good one at all.
"Captain, your true colors are showing," she pointed out when he started muttering to himself about how he'd enjoy challenging bratty first years to a practice match to see what they were capable off. (And, she made an educated guess, to forget about the first maths test of the year which was meant to see how much we could remember from last year.)
"Vice-captain, your lack of humor showed a minute ago," he answered.
"You're mean. And I really mean that."
Hyuuga sent her out on the pretense of needing to change.
From the other side of the locked door, she yelled: "But you usually let me change first since I'm faster!"
Coach Riko did end up organizing a mini game between the hopeful first years (those who still wanted in, that was, which was little over half) and the seconds years, though. For the first quarter, Kagami was a one-man show and always threatened their meager lead, during the second quarter they increased their lead as they fell into their usual rhythm which lacked Kiyoshi despite their best efforts, and then suddenly the ball started veering in all sorts of directions (though always in the direction of the opposing team) and the scores evened out again.
Sweat slicked her forehead and back, the famailiar burn in her muscles starting after the three weeks of first exams and then vacation during which they prepared for the coming school year. Izuki hoped her deodorant was still in her bag: she hadn't checked this morning and her armpits needed it after this practice. Hah, and there was a familiar sheen of sweat between the valley of her breasts. To think she'd forgotten about that.
She needed a new sports bra, come to think of it, she was growing out of this one.
Izuki weaved around Furihata's defense and passed the ball over her shoulder without glancing, knowing Mitobe had caught it. The mute player tossed it in without hesitation. She was getting better at her backwards passes.
At the very end of the fourth and final quarter, the ball was stolen from her from seemingly nowhere. But it wasn't nowhere who did it, it was the first year with pale blue hair and dull cerulean eyes who'd gone to Teikou who'd accomplished that. And he'd somehow remained undetected so far, not a hint of him lurking in her vision even as she focused her Eagle Eye to its utmost limits. So that was what had earned the invisible Kuroko a place on such a renowned team. That was impressive. Annoying, too, in a petty way since she prided herself on her vision, but mostly impressive and without a doubt great for Seirin.
He'd been the one to make the mysterious passes.
(Her characteristic good mood was probably contributed to by knowing she wouldn't lose her position as point guard despite the variety of possible substitutes for her.)
"I can't believe she's doing this again," Izuki deadpanned, squiring up at Kagami precarious form balanced on the roof's fence. His booming voice reached the entire yard, and her eyes sharpened. Defeating the Generation of Miracles?
Was such a thing possible?
Then she recalled the previous year and thought: it won't be possible if we don't even try.
And she'd be damned if she didn't give the team her all.
When Fukuda announced Riko was skipping her way to the gym, Izuki knew they were as screwed as the class mattress was as night. And if the fragile-looking Kimiko could survive the lecherous wrestling captain then Seirin would simply have to Survive Riko's Challenge.
The door slammed open and the coach smiled like flowers and suns in the doorway.
When Riko announced it was Kaijou they'd be playing against, the absurdity of the image filled her with laughter and champagne bubbles.
"Haha, up for a game against Kaijou, eh, taichou?" She grinned, slapping Hyuuga's back. Her bespectacled friend, for his part, clearly didn't appreciate the old Japanese word for captain. She supposed her slap was a rude awakening from the daydream in which he'd clearly wondered why he was helplessly in love with the monster named Aida Riko, but frankly, there was no reason for him to give her such a murderous expression.
Kaijou had always been a high-level school, but getting their hands on one of the Generation of Miracles felt almost unfair. Then again, Seirin had Kuroko and Kagami now, as well as a synched backbone in the second years. They weren't a shabby team for only having existed a year at best.
Kaijou still felt intimidating, however: she wasn't about to deny such a glaring fact. But they weren't about to be bulldozed.
Bulldozed... dozing bulls... lacking animal puns...
Her pale lips curved into a smirk.
During training, Izuki warmed to the patient Kuroko (who took Furihata and the other two remaining first years under his wing when it came to passing), as well as to Kagami. For all his threatening glowers and rough demeanor, he wasn't a punk or unpleasant. He didn't hold back and treated her no differently from the rest as they played one-on-one (undoubtedly her biggest weakness) at the far end of the court, passion vibrating in each fiber of his being. Hyuuga, Mitobe, Koganei and Tsuchida used the other hoop for lane-ups.
The squeak of shoes against the lacquered floor and dry drumming of basketballs filled the gym. She could detect a buzz of female voices the background if she strained her ears, but then Kagami shot forward and it took all her concentration to keep up and defend. With a clever turn he passed her with barely as much as a falter, dunking above her.
The ball bounced once before she caught it. He landed next to her.
He wasn't just tall and intense: he was fast and strong as well, with lightning reflexes thrumming beneath his tanned skin. Kagami clearly knew what he was doing.
"Cool move," she admitted with one of her notorious grins. "Coold you teach me?"
"Sure," he agreed in a warm rasp, accepting the orange ball she threw back to him.
She pouted as he closed the distance back to the three point line with only a few long steps: 'He was totally oblivious!'
Oblivious or not, it had still been an impressive show of skills and maneuvering. Izuki was not the type to deny the talents of others, least of all a teammate. He's got to be as good as Kiyoshi, she gauged cautiously, not wanting to make a definite judgement. Besides, they were young enough to be constantly evolving either way, so a fixed opinion would do her more harm than good.
Some of her teammates who'd noticed the one-on-one were ooohing and aaahing at his display of raw talent. Kuroko, too, was scrutinizing him with a careful sort of consideration.
The background buzz of female voices rose to a cacophony situated right in the very gym they were meant to practicing in. At first she didn't understand -weren't they supposed to head either home or to cram school?- but then her eyes feel upon a golden mop of hair standing taller than all the girls and an unfamiliar, sleek silvery uniform. Izuki had never considered herself close to Kimiko and her band of giggly, talkative girls who somehow made guys trail after them by fluttering their abnormally long lashes (how?) or managing to flash their targets (what?) even though the school skirt was meant to reach to brush above the knees (okay, Riko wore hers almost as short and Izuki hiked up hers as well), but apparently they were friends despite never actually talking to one another and thus they always accompanied her toward the gym, gushing about handsome models and athletes and oh Shushu-chan, you have to tell us when you go up against Kise Ryouta-kun because we're the best of friends so we'll cheer for you and be there the entire time!
Which was a tad creepy, frankly, since they were obsessing over somebody they'd never met. What if Kise was a horrid person? What if he ate garlic all the time and people choked by coming near him, explaining why he won so easily when it came basket even though he'd only played for two years?
If he was a garlic fanatic, his fangirls didn't let it show.
It took another good ten minutes before Kise was done signing autographs and rejecting the sea of girls enough to leave him alone but flatter them enough to keep them enamored. Izuki had spotted Kimiko, the thin girl suddenly pouty-lipped and possessing boobs even though the raven knew she was flatter than Riko. Had she stuffed her bra with tissues?
Izuki had never understood the longing to have big boobs (especially not why it was a sore spot for athlete-minded Riko), perhaps because she was practical and sporty. Maybe because she already had a good pair. Most likely a combination of both.
Eventually, the tide of fangirls abided.
Kise jumped down from the platform, wearing more appropriate gym shoes and, now closer and no longer obscured by her classmates, undeniably handsome. Of course private, elitist schools would have the most flattering uniforms, all slim fits and flattering lines. And obviously it was filled by a very pretty boy- man, teenager, model?
"What is he doing here?" Hyuuga asked, algae eyes narrowed with thinly veiled distrust.
"I heard we would play a practice game against Seirin," Kise started airily as he walked toward them, all smiles and keen eyes, "and I remembered Kurokocchi went here, so I simply had to come. We were the best of friends back in middle school!"
"Not more than the others," Kuroko rejected, something very familiar about the exchange.
Kise cried crocodile tears. "So mean!"
He had the longest lashes she'd ever seen, framing sharp honey eyes which were entirely too intense for a model, a strikingly symmetrical face and a slender neck. Aside from him being devastatingly attractive and somewhat mercurial, nothing more stood out during the ensuing conversation.
That was, up until he went one-on-one against Kagami and proceeded to completely destroy him with the a smoother version of move the redhead had previously used against her. After which he essentially said that Seirin sucked and that Kuroko should transfer to Kaijou instead because it was obviously the better choice and victory is everything, remember?
Kagami declared war.
Seirin stood unanimously behind him.