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Half Time in Between

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“I apologize.”

Kazuhiko is leaning against the fence, hands deep in the pockets of his jersey, watching Hikaru abusing the basketball hoop with his powerful—too powerful—dunks.

“What for?”

Getting into position to shoot, Hikaru doesn’t bother to look at the other boy. He lets go, and the ball slides smoothly through the hoop. He immediately runs after the fallen ball, before jumping as high as he could and dunking it in—tomahawk style. Landing on his feet, he wipes the sweat off of his face before going after the ball again.

Restless, is what he is. A course of energy is still thrumming under his skin, looking for release. The game with Meiwadai Hitachi today wasn’t enough to calm the thrumming down. Or maybe it’s the anticipation of the final game tomorrow—Tendouji against Mizuho.

Kisaragi Hikaru against Aikawa Kazuhiko.

“For liking you.”

Like a bomb has just gone off. Silent, silent, like silence is all there is to hear. The ball falls away from his hands, its bouncing sounding way louder that it’s supposed to be.


He looks at Kazuhiko in disbelief, his voice portraying just how ridiculous he thinks it is. “Stop kidding around.

Kazuhiko doesn’t smile. “I wish I was.”

Hands gripped in tight fists, Hikaru grits his teeth. “Then what are you doing?!”

“Being honest.” Kazuhiko says.

His voice is soft, yet firm at the same time--enough for Hikaru to realize that he means it.

“Why?” Hikaru asks, sounding much harsher than he intends to be.

“Because whether tomorrow I’m gonna lose or win, I don’t think I would be able to face you afterwards.” He chuckles. “Besides, I don’t think you would want to see me either.” A pause. “Wouldn’t you?”

Hikaru glares at him. “I’m not asking about that.”

Kazuhiko--Kazuhiko looks at him, an emotion Hikaru doesn’t dare to recognize in the depth of his eyes. “Because I knew you liked Sawa.”

Summer breeze, always so sudden and unexpected. Dry leaves fly around the court, ruffled by the wind’s unpredictable flow. On the other side of the court, the ball ceases its movement once it hits the opposing fence. And the two of them — the two of them are still the only people standing on this court.

“You used to watch Sawa all the time, back then. For every little thing he did, you noticed it. And then I think—I think, ‘man, it would be nice if someone would do such a thing for me.’” The smile is still there, but for some reason it looks dimmed, forced. A rusted razor blade - painful, not because it’s sharp, but because it’s slow and agonizing. A clean cut is definitely impossible. “I was jealous.”

Dry wind, dry wind in summer. Shouldn’t be enough to fend off the summer heat, and certainly shouldn’t be enough to make one feel cold. Yet still Hikaru feels his hair stand on ends.

“That’s not what I’m asking.” A lump in his throat. His vocal cord is not working right.

The whole Tendouji basketball team used to watch this guy – whether it was to admire him, or to see him fall. And yet here they are, and Kazuhiko tells him that he was jealous because Hikaru paid more attention to Sawanobori?

What a joke.

“Didn’t you know?” Kazuhiko walks toward the opposite end of the fence, his back to Hikaru. Lifting up the forgotten basketball, he bounces it off the ground only to catch it again. “I’m good at running away.”

A frown is already formed on Hikaru’s forehead. “And yet here you are.” In the Interhigh. In the final. About to go against the school he ran away from.

Kazuhiko turns around then, a little laugh escaping his lips. “What can I say? Some things, I just don’t want to let go.” Again, he bounces the ball once, only to catch it again instead of dribbling it properly. Walking slowly toward him, Kazuhiko stops about two, three feet behind the three point line. “Besides, how could I run, after you challenged me like that last time I was in Tendouji?”

He’s taking a stance to shoot, Hikaru realizes. Too far, too far. Just like that light-haired teammate of his. Just like NBA players.

…what a show off.

Hikaru watches his fingers move, releasing the ball. It’s faster than Kamakura’s shoot, but still not as fast as Honda Yuta’s. While its trajectory…not as high as Kamakura’s, but definitely curvier than Yuta’s. It produces a nice sound as it passes the hoop, like any good shoot should.

The ball bounces. Before he even knows it, Kazuhiko is already under the ring, snatching the ball up only to jump and dunk it in – much like Hikaru did a while ago, except not as powerful (forceful). What Kazuhiko lacks in power, he makes up for it in speed. And finesse. But who cares about the latter.

Once he lands on his feet, Kazuhiko goes for the fallen ball again. But instead of dribbling it or bouncing it off like he does earlier, this time he only holds it steady with two hands.

Still Hikaru watches him.

“Defeat me tomorrow, if you like. But don’t think Mizuho will lose just because I lose to you.” Kazuhiko’s eyes turn on him, a small smile playing on his lips. “Mizuho is strong, you know. Stronger than everyone think.”

More like unpredictable, Hikaru thinks. Much like its ace.

“I told Sawa that I’m gonna beat you guys. That Mizuho will definitely triumph over Tendouji. I wasn’t kidding when I told him that.” It’s in his eyes, in the grim line of his lips, in the stiff posture of his body. Hikaru doesn’t need Kazuhiko telling him to know just how serious he is.

But Kazuhiko got one thing wrong.

“I don’t care about Tendouji.” Hikaru grounds out, his frown threatening to break into a scowl. “I just want to prove that you’re no better than me. That I’m not your replacement. That I’m no Aikawa Kazuhiko. That I --”

I don’t want to be you. I don’t want to have anything to do with you. I hate you. I hate you I hate you I ha —

“ -- that I’m capable of defeating you.”

Kazuhiko smiles at him.

Again, that rusted razor blade feeling returns.

Hikaru narrows his eyes.

“I’ll be waiting.” Kazuhiko says. Soft, soft, expectant.

I apologize. For liking you. More. And more.

Hikaru grits his teeth. “What are you – ”

A ball suddenly fly toward his face. Hikaru catches it out of reflex.

“The ball is in your hands now.” Kazuhiko says, smiling, smiling, smiling. Walking backwards with his hands back inside his jersey’s pockets, Kazuhiko looks strangely vulnerable – so unlike what Hikaru ever remembers him to be. “It’s your turn, Hikaru.”

Hikaru stares at him. Then at the basketball in his hands, before back to Kazuhiko again.

But Kazuhiko only keeps smiling that strange smile – and while it doesn’t feel exactly painful, it makes Hikaru feels all weird. Like –

He stops his train of thoughts.

When he reaches the exit, Kazuhiko turns around and…stops. Hikaru waits, but Kazuhiko’s just standing there, with his back on Hikaru.

“I mean it, you know.” Kazuhiko says. “Every word.”

And more. And more. And more—

A small breeze passes by. Not enough to disturb the trees, but certainly enough to ruffle their hair. The night is young still.

“See you tomorrow. Good luck for both of us.”

I’ll be waiting.

Hikaru doesn’t reply. He only watches as Kazuhiko walks away, as his back disappears from sight. Leaving him the only person standing on this court. Alone.

Tomorrow, Hikaru thinks, starting to dribble the ball in his hands. Tomorrow.

It’s what he’s been waiting for, isn’t it? Ever since he took over Kazuhiko’s position as the team’s ace? A match against the former captain and ace of Tendouji basketball team?

Dribbling the ball e few more times, he runs to the hoop and dunk it in with all he’s got – and more. The hoop rattles loudly in protest.

So why, then, his heart is now in unrest?

It’s your turn, Hikaru.

He grits his teeth.

Damn him. Damn Kazuhiko and his egotistical ways to hell and back.

I mean it, you know. Every word.

Because – because no matter what Hikaru says on the contrary, he’s still – he doesn’t – he…

He stops thinking altogether and just dunks.