Hyuuga knew something was changing with their ace and shadow. He could feel it just as surely as he could tell Kiyoshi's knees were hurting him again as they practiced. Kuroko and Kagami were just that much more in sync, the trust in each other unshakable, their clowning around during down time was a bit more affectionate; touches were lingering longer than they had before.
If the cause was what Hyuuga suspected he could honestly say he wasn't exactly shocked. They had the kind of instant connection and intense chemistry that most others only dreamed of. It didn't hurt that the duo was probably the deadliest combination as athletes outside of the Generation of Miracles; not that he doubted Kuroko's inclusion in the famous group, only that Kagami was not part of it, and the other prodigies barely noticed their new teams let alone forged connections deep enough to pull off what Kuroko and Kagami were capable of.
No he bet the only thing that might trump their power now was if the Generation of Miracles reformed the bonds they had at Teiko.
…But that would never happen.
He didn't have further time to ponder on the issue, Riko's voice put an end to that. "All right guys, we're done for the day. Go home and rest up for tomorrow, remember we will be having a late practice to work on stamina." She dismissed, but quickly added on, "Oh and Kiyoshi you'd better be prepared to sit out some of tomorrow's practice, don't think I didn't see you struggling today."
The other members of the teams slid out of sight and into the locker room as the stubborn center argued with their coach. They all knew what would happen anyway; there would be tears and a few cutting remarks, but in the end Kiyoshi would yield to Riko like always. The Seirin coach did know how to take care of her boys, and they all acknowledged that even if there were times her advice was a very bitter pill to swallow.
Didn't stop the others from breathing a sigh of relief when they reached the locker room, the outcome might be predictable, but the argument leading up to it was up in the air.
Kuroko was distracted as he grabbed his fresh clothes by his cellphone clattering to the ground, when he picked it up to check if it was okay he noticed the flashing light indicating he had a message. Hitting the button to play it back a momentary flash of shock crossed his face, before he replaced it with his normal unreadable expression. The only indication he was bracing himself to deal with the information was the tightening of his jaw as he clenched his teeth.
Even that small reaction had Kagami noticing his shadow. "You alright Kuroko?" He attempted to cover his concern with offhanded nonchalance, something Kuroko had long ago learned to recognize.
Instead of answering, Kuroko responded with another question. "Kagami-kun, you're free tonight right?"
"Yeah, but what's going on?" Now Kagami was on high alert, things were taking a turn for the weird.
Kuroko lifted his head to look at Kagami from where he had been staring at his phone like it might bite him, "Akashi-kun wants to see us."
The power forward blinked rapidly at that, but wait he couldn't possibly have heard that right. "What do you mean us? If Akashi wanted to see you I'd understand, but why both of us?"
"I don't know," Kuroko admitted. "All he told me is where and when to meet, with the order to bring a member of Seirin with me. You can be sure he knows I will bring you unless it is completely impossible. Makes me wonder if he might be giving similar orders to the others." He pondered, resuming his interrupted activity by stripping off his jersey and grabbing the fresh shirt he had been laying out when he discovered Akashi's message.
"Others? You mean the rest of the Generation of Miracles?" Not a hard guess, he doubted there was anyone else Kuroko would refer to, especially when Akashi was involved.
"He wouldn't pick a neutral place to meet if it wasn't intended for all of us." Kuroko explained his ex-captain's idiosyncrasies. "If there was ever something that required only one of us he would use a place firmly in his territory. He thrives on intimidation."
Kagami pushed the locker closed, finished changing, "So where does he want to meet?"
"There is a convenience store we all used to go to after practice, it has a park about a block away from it that Akashi-kun wants us to meet in." The shadow informed, zipping up his bag; ready to leave.
Kagami slung his bag over a shoulder, "Might as well go see what he wants."
Kuroko only nodded and followed him out of the locker room, just in time for Kiyoshi to see them leave as he entered finally finished arguing with Riko.
"Where are they off to?" He asked incredulously, those two were usually among the last to leave.
"Akashi wants to talk to them," Hyuuga answered, "Both of them. Even Kuroko didn't know why, though he suspects the other Miracles will be there."
"Now that is odd," Kiyoshi noted, coming to sit on the bench to give his sore knees a chance to rest. "At least they are together. I don't like the thought of Kuroko going alone; we have no idea how volatile Akashi could be after the winter cup."
"Kuroko was really tense when he listened to that message, if he is worried, we should be too." Izuki informed. He had noticed Kuroko's reaction almost as quickly as Kagami.
Kiyoshi glanced at Hyuuga, "Do we follow them?"
The Seirin captain deliberated for a moment, "No, we shouldn't. I want to but I doubt Kuroko would like it if we tried to interfere with anything involving Akashi. If he wanted some of us there to back them up, he would have asked." He decided.
Kiyoshi sighed, "Would he? How many times can you honestly remember Kuroko asking for help?"
Hyuuga ran a hand through his hair in irritation, "We are just going to have to trust them. Kuroko has a level head, even if he was in danger he wouldn't risk Kagami too. He has to have some clue what he is doing walking into that mess."
Izuki interjected there, "I agree with Hyuuga. It wouldn't hurt to check on them in a few hours, but it won't go over well if we are caught spying on them."
"Okay, then we wait." Kiyoshi stated his verdict. Those two first years certainly gave them all heart failures on occasions, but so far nothing had put a stop to them. There were stumbles along the way, but every trip and fall brought them back to their feet better than ever.
It took Kuroko and Kagami nearly an hour to reach the park in question. Arriving in time to see Kuroko's guess that all the Generation of Miracles had been told the same thing turned out to be true. Kise was there, a cranky looking Kasamatsu beside him, the point guard and Captain of Kaijo must be at the end of his rope dealing with Kise's energetic personality after the journey together.
"Kurokocchi!" Kise exclaimed happily, launching himself at the shadow as soon as the Seirin duo was spotted. He glomped Kuroko, hanging onto his shoulders his long and lanky frame helping to hold Kuroko in place.
Kuroko's disgruntled protest didn't budge him, but Kasamatsu kicking him sharply, and Kagami pulling Kuroko away from him did the trick. "Awww, I was just excited to see Kurokocchi!" Kise protested, a waterfall of overdramatic tears pouring down his cheeks.
"Can't you greet him without man-handling him?" Kasamatsu scolded, landing another kick on his lower back for good measure.
"Wahhh! That hurt Senpai!" More crocodile tears flowed, causing the three people near him to abruptly turn and start walking away, leaving him behind.
That didn't last long, though this time when he pounced he grabbed Kagami instead nearly knocking the formidable red-head to the ground with the unexpected leap. As Kagami struggled to shake him off, he hollered at Kasamatsu, "How in the Hell do you put up with this guy?" He eventually managed to send Kise onto the ground a moment or two after yelling.
"I don't," Kasamatsu disagreed. "Or did you not see me kick him? Plus he only acts like this off court or during lulls. He does get serious, it's just very, very, rare."
With the compliment Kasamatsu found himself on the receiving end of Kise's exuberance. Kise tackling him from behind. He kicked backwards, throwing in an elbow to the gut for good measure, Kise reluctantly letting go at the violence.
"Tch, Kise you still make a fool out of yourself as much as always." The sardonic comment took everyone by surprise, considering it was said by Aomine who they hadn't noticed arriving. Well everyone but Kuroko, he had a knack for spotting his Lights, even if they were former ones.
"So mean Aominecchi!" Kise objected, but reserved the fake tears, he knew it would only spur Aomine on, and the power forward certainly didn't need any more ammo when it came to Kise.
Aomine ignored him, but turned to Kasamatsu; "You've learned to deal with him. Not bad."
"Practice." Kasamatsu responded drily.
"That's how it works with him," Aomine observed with a shrug, the controlling grasp he had on Sakurai accenting the movement. Looked like even Aomine had found a teammate to bring, though judging by the tremors running through the nervous boy he hadn't been given much choice in the matter.
"Oi, Aomine, what did you have to threaten to get him to come with you!" Kagami shot over to his rival.
Aomine's reply covered the frantic sorrys the shooting guard was chanting. "I didn't threaten anything. Just told him to come and he did. You though, whatcha do to Tetsu that made him bring you?"
"He asked me! No one had to order anyone." Kagami responded dismissively.
Another voice cut into the argument, "Your friends are very noisy Shin-chan."
"They're not my friends," Midorima instantly corrected, "But yes they are very noisy that is never going to change."
"That's mean Midorimacchi!" Kise protested, "Of course we're friends!"
"Maybe on your side," Midorima muttered.
"Oh Shin-chan, you're still nothing but a big Tsundere." Takao teased, Kise shooting the point guard a grin.
"Am not." Midorima refuted, managing to keep his voice steady, probably from all the practice he had.
"Yes you are!" Every single person in attendance responded at once, even the non Generation of Miracles players. It made Midorima look away and adjust his glasses.
"Is there a problem Shintaro?" This next voice made the Generation of Miracles freeze, the people with them reading the action correctly, making them realize Akashi had arrived. He was the only one so far that had not brought an extra person.
Midorima ducked down, not willing to meet the heterochromatic eyes. "There isn't a problem Akashi, just some teasing."
"Mido-chan is blushing," Murasakibara observed absently, he must have come with Akashi, and Himuro was standing placidly next to him.
"He's right, you are blushing Shin-chan!" Takao agreed excitedly, glomping his teammate.
"Takao get off me," Midorima quickly shook him off, but Takao landed on his feet still laughing.
It was Kuroko that addressed Akashi, ignoring the roughhousing around them, "Why did you call us here Akashi-kun?" The question immediately halted all noise.
"I have a proposition for you." Akashi explained. "For those of you here as guests, let me enlighten you about an important agreement that passed between my players and myself." Another group tensing ensued increasing the curiosity of their companions. "You see upon leaving Teiko, unlike what the press speculated, we all made an oath to go to different high schools. We did this in order to test our skills against each other. The only one not involved in the original pact was Tetsuya. I had faith he would join in though, despite it being for different reasons. This splitting up worked better than I had hoped, I gave all of them free reign as to what teams they joined, and I doubt they could have found better match-ups to their skill."
"Where are you going with this Akashi?" Midorima prompted when it looked like his ex-captain was finished explaining the past.
"The need to keep us separated has ended, we have all come against each other, and it was Tetsuya who triumphed." He saw the concerned looks shot his way from their new teammates, making him do something out of character for the Akashi they has heard of; he reassured them. "I am not pulling them out of their current teams, I meant what I said, they are likely in the best places for them. What I am going to ask of you is much simpler. My father has started up a charity to give young players scholarships to universities if they show more than average promise."
Akashi waited for the information to process in their surprised minds before continuing, "He wants us to perform games in a showcase of our skills. We will sell tickets to the games, plus possible merchandise if the idea is popular, and put all profits towards our new charity. We need at least ten players to accurately perform in these games, that would be a reason I asked you to bring one player from each of your teams, preferably the one you thought had the most potential; we need them to play with us."
His plan was met with silence from all in attendance, they needed to think on this.
The first one to break the quiet atmosphere was the other captain in the group, "If we agree to this, where would we play? The majority of us live in Tokyo but you and Murasakibara live pretty far away." Kasamatsu wanted to know the logistics behind the plan before he agreed to anything.
"Good question, as expected from a captain able to harness Ryouta's skill." Akashi approved. "If this plan works, we would rotate the games between each of our respective schools. If we spread out the locations we increase our audience and that means more money for the charity. Oh and if you agreed to join this plan, my father has decided to give each of you a scholarship as well, drawn from our personal funds so that it really will be all profits going to charity."
"Wait, what?" Kagami interrupted, "You can really do that for eleven people?" He was including Akashi in the question, he would be going to school to he suspected.
"Twelve actually." Akashi corrected blandly, eyeing Kuroko's teammate. "There is one more stipulation to the idea. As I am sure you noticed there is an uneven number of people here. This is because we will need to have a backup encase any of us need to sub out. However Tetsuya is at a disadvantage, he already knows he will need to be exchanged during the game; thus I am giving him the right to choose the player he will substitute himself with from his new team."
"Thank you Akashi-kun," Kuroko responded knowing it was expected. "Is there a restriction on who I can pick?"
"The only player you may not bring is the Uncrowned King. The extra you already have is on our level, it will be too much to allow another so close to us." Akashi laid out his rule. "Also when we split off into teams, you may not match up with either Taiga or Daiki from the beginning. You must choose a new Light for your shadow, you may only play with your previous ones during the last five minutes of a game. This is another rule in place to limit the power of Taiga who matches us and throws off the balance."
"If you are attempting to handicap him so much, why allow him to play at all?" If it had been a Generation of Miracles to say that they would be on the receiving end of a death glare and threats, instead it was Himuro.
"Because he is too good not to, and you will have a few restrictions as well." Akashi warned, "I am fully aware of your skill. For you I am going to ask you not to play on the same side as Taiga, or Atsushi. We will spread out the skills of the prodigies evenly between teams."
"I like that plan," Kasamatsu agreed, "But there might be a problem, how do you spread the talent evenly when there are three point guards and only one center in the mix?"
"Simple, we allow two point guards on one side, and balance the other with Tetsuya. His skill will be more than enough to compensate for the imbalance. Also there is only one dedicated center, but five of the Teiko players including myself can play any position if they have to. Some are better than others at them."
"I can too," Kagami admitted. "I don't like it as much, but I can."
"So can I," Himuro added, glancing at his brother.
"You learned with street ball, multitasking is part of that," Shockingly that was Aomine. Though it wasn't really a compliment more an explanation so the others let it slide without comment, just a few speculative looks.
"Um sorry, but I can play center," Sakurai spoke up quietly. "Sorry for interrupting."
Aomine cuffed him on the back of the head, "I warned you about that, quit with the apologizing crap. I picked you didn't I? Did you even bother to listen to Akashi when he said he told us to bring the one we thought had the most potential?"
"Sorry," He ducked with the threatening look Aomine gave him at that, "I just thought I was the only one you could drag along."
"Nope, I went to you first." Aomine revealed.
"Daiki are you done?" Just the barest hint of impatience in Akashi's voice was enough to cow Aomine and he nodded sharply going quiet, "Anyway, what I was trying to say is both sides will get a center as long as certain egos don't get in the way." He gave sharp looks to the power and small forward of Teiko.
"Like you're one to talk," Kagami had to cover his mumbled statement with a cough.
Akashi turned his dual colored stare on Kagami, "What was that Taiga?"
"Nothing," Kagami submitted, not bothering to battle him with using his given name, he wouldn't win.
"That's what I thought." Akashi stated. "So, can I count on you to join in the plan?" He addressed all the gathered players, getting agreements from everyone. "Good, now you will have a little time between now and when Father and I can get the first game scheduled. I recommend using that time to practice with each other. I will join in the sessions when I can." Akashi advised.
Taking that for the dismissal it was, they began to gather themselves up to head home. IT was Kise who suggested otherwise, "Want to go get popsicles for old times' sake?"
As the others began to protest and Kise pouted, Kuroko spoke up, "I like the idea."
If there was ever any doubt who had control over the Generation of Miracles, it was gone now, as they fell silent and followed Kuroko like a line of very tall ducks. A quiet smattering of chuckles came from the teammates they brought. It was incredibly amusing to see all the people possessing such gigantic egos yielding to the small form of Kuroko.
"Do they even realize they are doing that?" Kasamatsu asked quietly.
"Probably not," Takao agreed, "Besides even if Shin-chan noticed he wouldn't admit it."
Kagami grunted, "I'm not sure I like it. They really hurt Kuroko, and now they are acting all buddy, buddy."
"But didn't he do it for them? To bring them back?" When they all turned to Sakurai he drew in on himself, "Sorry!"
"Geez, Aomine was right. Stop that, we aren't going to get mad just because you said something." Kagami attempted to get through to him, but didn't hold out much hope.
"Plus you do have a point," Takao assured. "Kuroko wouldn't have worked so hard to wake them up if he didn't want to get close to them again."
"Still don't like it," Kagami responded stubbornly.
Takao's gaze was suddenly predatory, "Oh, wow, is someone jealous?" He asked slyly.
"Jealous of what?" Kagami demanded.
The look changed to amusement, "The amount of attention Kuroko pays to his old team."
"Oh shut up, like you're one to tease, aren't you always following Midorima around like a puppy?" Kagami got his own dig in.
"So what? I don't deny it, someone has to keep an eye on him. At least I'm honest about it." Takao brushed off.
"He's got a point Taiga," Himuro added, not able to resist teasing his brother. "You do seem awfully defensive about this."
"Not you too Tatsuya!" Kagami protested in English, unconsciously switching when confronting Himuro.
"You're being impolite Taiga, there are others around us." Himuro pointed out calmly, enjoying this immensely.
"I can speak English." Kasamatsu informed, surprising both of them. He was pretty good for a non-native speaker.
Sakurai was next, "I am not very good." His accent was a lot thicker than Kasamatsu's but altogether not too horrible. They could understand him anyway.
"I can understand, but I'm horrible at pronouncing English, I'm better at writing it." Takao admitted, not bothering to try saying anything in English.
"Hey guys, we're here." Kagami noticed as the convenience store came into view, the others standing around it minus Kise and Murasakibara.
"What kept you?" Aomine questioned suspiciously.
"Nothing, we were just talking." Takao brushed off, "So tell us, what was it like coming here when you guys were in Teiko?"
Kuroko answered him, "It was a lot like this. We would come here after practice to calm ourselves down before going home." If he was going to say anything further he was interrupted by Aomine slinging an arm around his shoulders.
"Just like back then." He stated grandly, a challenging look passing between him and Kagami like an electric charge. Himuro needed to cover up his laugh at that. No doubt about it Kagami was jealous of the Generation's closeness with Kuroko. Though it also looked like the opposite was true.
"Stop that!" Kagami protested. "Get off him!"
"Oh, why don't you come over here and make me!" Aomine rose to the challenge, ready to face off against Kuroko's new light.
"Do you two always have to fight?" Kuroko asked mildly, pulling out from under Aomine's arm as Kise and Murasakibara exited the store with treats for everyone. "If you are that willing to go for each other's throats don't involve me."
"Ah Kurokocchi," Kise started carefully controlling his hyperness, "I think they fight because you are involved."
Kuroko sighed, glancing at Kise, "I know." He stated simply, bringing the two sizing up males out of their grudge match.
"What are you talking about Kuroko," Kagami protested first, "It's not like that!"
"Damn it Tetsu, that isn't right." Aomine was quick to join in their defense.
"Kuro-chin they are doing it again." Murasakibara noted. "Too much alike." He was munching his way through a plastic bag of snacks he had bought inside the store.
"Whatcha say Shin-chan, lock them in a closet together?" Takao proposed.
Midorima adjusted his glasses, "If only that would work."
"I can think of worse," Himuro assured, "Put them on the same team when we face off. After all Akashi already restricted the amount of time they could play with Kuroko anyway. Why don't we make it a little easier on them and remove the temptation?"
Kagami's jaw dropped and Aomine's eyes widened in horror as the others started laughing at the suggestion. "You know that might not be such a bad idea," Kise mused, popsicle in his hand after handing out the rest to the others.
"I agreed, but any ideas on how the rest of the teams should be broken down?" Kasamatsu was actually enjoying the teasing, even if he was quiet about it, but he still wanted to get the serious business out of the way.
"Akashi already said I am not permitted to play with either Atsushi or Taiga, I guess that means they need to be on the same side and me on the opposite," Himuro decided.
"If we really are going to put Aomine and Kagami on the same side, we should put Akashi, Kuroko, and probably Kise on the other side. You two have too much firepower." Midorima analyzed, proving why he had been Akashi's second in command at Teiko.
"Alright, so if we have one team with Himuro, Akashi, Kise, and Kuroko; who is their fifth?" Takao asked.
Kuroko was the one to answer, "We need someone who is not part of the Generation of Miracles. I'd like to work with Sakurai-kun. Takao-kun, and Kasamatsu-san, I apologize but Akashi is a point guard, he won't like giving up the spot."
"Not bad," Kasamatsu agreed, understanding Kuroko's point about not challenging Akashi for his position. "But who are you going to bring as your substitute?"
"Izuki-sempai." Kuroko revealed. "While a point guard can't take the place of Akashi-kun, if I am out of the game he would be the best fit to coordinate with everyone else in a similar way as I do."
"Sounds good," Kagami had gotten over his distress at getting placed with Aomine, as he could tell it wasn't something either of them wanted. "That means the other team will be me, Aomine, Midorima, Murasakibara, Takao and Kasamatsu."
"One of us will have to be a substitute," Midorima reminded.
Takao spoke first, "Let Kasamatsu play, I'll be the sub. You'll need me if you're facing off against Izuki's eagle eye and Akashi's emperor eye; other than that he is better than me." His hawk eye was a useful skill, but Kuroko knew how to counter it now. Better to let the more experienced point guard tackle the first line up. He could be put to better use when Kuroko was subbed out.
"Are you sure?" The Kaijo player asked seriously.
Shutoku's point guard responded in kind, "Absolutely. I'm a specialist, you are not. Kuroko can negate what makes me good. It makes sense to put you in first while playing him, as you are a more experienced match for everyone else on the team."
"He's right." Again Aomine shocked everyone. "I've played you, and it took guts to face me down like you did. If you can keep that up, I'm willing to have you on our side. Even if we are going against Akashi, you can't be intimidated by him or he'll take you down."
Kasamatsu nodded, "If that's what you want."
He should have expected it, he really should have, but he relaxed a little too much. When Kise smashed into his side he nearly toppled over. "Kasamatsucchi, Aominecchi likes you! He doesn't even say that kind of stuff about me!"
The Kaijo ace was once again hit from both sides as Kasamatsu elbowed him sharply, and Aomine cuffed the side of his head a bit harder than what he had done to Sakurai earlier. Kise let go with a wheeze and pout after the punishment.
"You really should learn to control yourself a bit more Kise-kun," Kuroko advised his teammate while the golden haired player worked on catching his breath.
"But it wouldn't be as fun!" He protested breathlessly, a shining smile on his face.
"No coming to us crying if you get a broken rib someday," Aomine warned darkly.
Now it was Kasamatsu's turn to defend himself. "I don't hit him that hard, he's just a drama queen."
Aomine laughed, "Definitely want you on our team. The only other people capable of reining in Kise are Akashi and Tetsu."
"Wait, if he can rein him in, how come Kise is always jumping all over Kuroko?" Kagami interrupted with a glare thrown at both opposing aces.
"Mainly cause Tetsu lets him up to a certain point." Aomine answered with a shrug, and a hidden grin from Kuroko at Kagami's shock. "He only dislikes it when Kise starts pressing too hard. He is too heavy for Tetsu."
Kagami let out an irritated growl at Kise's smug look and Aomine's amusement. He was beginning to regret ever agreeing to come with Kuroko. Too late now though, he would feel like a colossal jerk if he backed out of a charity showcase just because of a little teasing.
"Kuro-chin, you look happy." Murasakibara stopped munching long enough to notice before going right back to the box of Pocky he was devouring.
"I am Murasakibara-kun, everyone is going to be playing together again. It will be nice for us to do that." Kuroko admitted.
He had only started to heal the Generation of Miracles, he had a feeling this showcase was going to draw out the brightness of all his lights. Because the one thing only Akashi was aware of, besides himself, was that he considered all of the Teiko regulars his lights. Aomine was just the brightest one at the time. He had a suspicion the stipulation about not playing with either Aomine or Kagami was to show this to the others.