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"Do you think we ever stood a chance?"

Two pairs of legs hung over the wall, one pair kicking a steady rhythm against the mortared brick, the other kept carefully still.  Lamplights flickered over the streets, hesitant pools of light guarding against the winter dark.  Two sets of eyes observed them, lost among parallel paths.

Midorima exhaled slowly, attempting to cobble together an acceptable response.  He knew that silence was ever an acceptable answer with Takao - even at the height of normalcy – yet it was difficult to be honest when his inner self was in such disarray.  "...It is impossible to know for certain, nanodayo."

His partner looked over at him, a humorless smile pulling at his lips.  Although Takao was always lighthearted and cheerful, Shutoku's loss still weighed heavily upon his heart.  It must be why his stoic response not only failed to amuse Takao as it usually would, but irked him as well.

"Come on, Shin-chan.  You know, don't you? I mean, even know, and I have nothing to do with that damn demon brat.  We never had a chance."

Midorima's brows knitted in consternation, both at Takao's description of his former taichou and the ice in his tone.  Takao had told him to look elsewhere for comfort after they had lost the match, but this was going a step too far in the wrong direction.  Worse yet, what would he do if he couldn't fix this?  "That is untrue, Takao.  For one thing, Akashi is not a demon, nodayo.  And for another-"

Takao's emotions sparked like summer lightning, hot and quick and primed to burn everything to the ground.  "Ahh, you're so quick to defend your former taichou, Midorima-fukutaichou.  Even when he cares nothing for you, you still care for him?"

"Takao, that's not my title-"

"And that phone call you received before the tournament started...that was him, yeah?  Why else would you forbid me from coming with you?  He called and you came-"

"Takao, sto-"

" a fucking lapdog-"


"And we couldn't even win against him! We lost! Shutoku lost! All our work and I fucking failed you!"

The unexpected proclamation hung heavily in the air, an intangible tether between the two boys.  Takao turned away, but not before Midorima caught the spots of color high on his cheeks, and the glimmer of moisture in his eyes.  He had already seen Takao cry far too much today.  He would not let it happen again...even if it meant stepping outside his infalliable comfort zone. 

Nervously twisting his long, taped fingers together, he broke the silence.  "I- did not fail me. You have never failed me, nanodayo.  We played so well today, what else could you have done?"

Judging by the hand Takao raised to hide his face and the quiet sniffling coming from behind it, Midorima had failed to stave off Takao's tears.  Something sharp wrenched in his chest, and he bit his lip to keep from sighing.  It was not enough, however, to button back what was foremost in his heart.  "Did you see the look on Akashi's face when we demonstrated our special play?  He did not expect that.  He did not expect you, Takao.  So yes, I think we stood a chance at victory.  Even if it was for but a moment, nanodayo."

After a long moment Takao nodded slowly, never lowering his arm.  As he did so, he shook loose the teardrops gathering on his eyelids, and they traced down his face in long, wet lines.  Even in the dark Midorima could see this, and the corresponding ache it evoked was nearly unbearable.

"...Are you going to Rakuzan now?"

Inexplicable fear flooded Midorima's body, rendering him unable to speak.  He had never heard Takao speak in such wistful tones, and had certainly never suspected that his partner entertained such ill-founded ideas.  He had assumed Takao understood the role he played in his life, but now it was becoming apparent that his partner had no idea what he meant to him.  Yet before he could do anything other than turn to his friend with wide eyes, Takao continued.

"I know how hard you work.  I know that better than anybody.  But I also know how much you like to win.  So I'm not crazy, right?  You want to go to Rakuzan now, don't you?  And have a winning team...and a better partner-" 

The desire to calm Takao swirled together with the compulsion to comfort him, and Midorima found himself acting on foreign impulses.  One moment he was sitting next to his friend, the next found him sliding down to his feet.  Before he could question what he was doing, he stepped in between Takao's legs, spread his long arms out to knuckle the stone on either side of Takao's legs, and tilted his head up so that he could better address Takao's foolishness.

Takao's arm dropped in his surprise.  He had never seen Midorima at this angle, and there was just enough light to make out the dark smudge of his unfairly long eyelashes.  Yet what truly caught his attention was the presence in Midorima's eyes, the determination and the anxiety.  "Shin-chan?"

Midorima's words were honest and unplanned, spilling off his lips in an attempt to calm the young man who strong-armed his way into his life.  "Look at me, Takao. I want you to listen very carefully, nodayo.  I am never leaving Shutoku.  Shutoku is my school, and my team, and I chose it myself.  Whether or not Shutoku wins is entirely up to us, and leaving now for a different team is certainly not winning.  And as for what you say about Akashi being a better partner..."  Midorima couldn't stand the painfully fast beat of his heart any longer and broke Takao's searching gaze.  He dropped his eyes to his left hand, flexing helplessly against the brick before he continued.  "Let me put it this way: I would lose 100 games with Shutoku just to continue playing with you."

Midorima missed the sudden awareness that flickered behind Takao's light eyes, but not the stiffening of his body, or the sharp intake of breath.  The immensity of his words struck him, and he closed his eyes in mortification.  What had he done?  What had he just admitted to?  He accepted that he was socially and emotionally challenged – after all, he could barely comprehend the full depth of his feelings for Takao, and his...friend (his only) friend, was the most straightforward part of his life!  Terror gripped his heart and clouded his mind.  The words that seemed intrinsic and perfect suddenly seemed childish and wrong, and any moment now Takao would laugh, treating it a joke; or worse yet take it seriously and come to conclusions that Midorima himself wasn't entirely sure of.  Either way, things would now change, there was a high possibility Takao would leave, and Midorima would never know-

The touch of gentle hands along his jawline brought him out of his reverie, and he opened his eyes to see neither amusement or disgust on Takao's features.  He wasn't quite sure how to label Takao's expression, but he admitted that matters were obfuscated by the warmth of Takao's hands upon his face, and the pounding of his heart.

"Do you really mean that, Shin-chan?"

Midorima said nothing.  He couldn't drag his gaze away from Takao's, yet neither could he open his mouth without letting his heart escape his chest.  At that moment he was so overcome by his emotions that it was beyond him to simply bow his head.

Takao's hands tugged him slightly closer before he continued, and his eyes slanted, as if to trap his own emotions behind them.  They were now bare inches apart, and perhaps it was this that gave Takao the courage to continue.  "You don't have to say anything, Shin-chan.  I'll- I'll make it easy, yeah?  I'll ask...and just close your eyes if it's yes, ok?"

Midorima slowly blinked, and he hoped that would be enough for a response.  The terror was melting, yet it left its symptoms behind – the pounding in his chest, the tightness of his lungs, the emptiness in his head, the trembling in his fingers.  If it weren't for the warmth emanating from Takao's hands and the muted pleasure spiraling from his gut, he would label this as a terrible experience.  As it was, he simply wanted Takao to continue. Perhaps...he simply wanted Takao.

"Ok.  Ok. I your friend?"

Midorima's eyelids fluttered down immediately, of their own accord.  It was embarrassing how quickly he responded, but there was no way he could prevaricate.  Not when his body was flooded by these foreign yet seductive emotions, and he was this desperate to keep Takao close to him.

His only warning was the whisper of air against his lips.  Then, something warm and pliant nudged against his, holding for the barest of instances before retreating.  Midorima wondered how he could know with such certainty – his eyes were closed, after all – that Takao had kissed him.

The warmth that roiled in his belly flared for a moment, and he inhaled deeply.  In his current state there was no more fear, nor was there surprise.  There was just the slow burn of anticipation, and the sense that no matter what happened, his ship would float to shore.

His eyes did not open again until Takao exhaled shakily, and asked his second question: "Did you mean what you said? About losing 100 games just to be with me?"

His eyelids closed more slowly, this time.  Had he been able to speak he would have attempted some sort of defense, just to preserve his pride.  Yet there was no point in denying what he himself had said, and besides – the thought that Takao would reward him with another kiss caused his fingertips to tremble more in excitement than in fear.

The lips against his were less hesitant this time, and they lingered for several heartbeats.  Yet they were still against his, and Midorima's hands clenched at the brick to keep from moving them to Takao's body.  He was not the one in control, and Takao's own hands were still against his face, threaded through his hair to hold him close.

Both men exhaled in unison as Takao pulled away.  Upon opening his eyes, Midorima was surprised to see the flush spreading over Takao's face, and was struck by the dark glaze in his light eyes.  When Takao's eyes roved over his face, he wondered if Takao wasn't seeing very much the same thing.

"Last question, Shin-chan.  Did you like...that?"  Takao's eyes flicked to his lips, leaving Midorima no question as to what he was referring to.  Midorima's breath caught in his throat and he could feel the tips of his ears burning.  How could he be expected to answer such a question? He knew better than to close his eyes again.  He was a proper Japanese male, and could not enjoy such things, even if they were necessary to keep his partner by his side.  He had to think of his family, his upbringing, his pride, his morality, his future-

Yet even as he considered all this, his eyelids sunk down in total defeat.  He was not cognizant enough to lie to himself, especially about the only person he'd ever experienced such powerful feelings for.

Takao did not leave him any time for second thoughts.  As soon as his eyes were closed, Takao's mouth was against his.  This time the pressure was substantial, and the passion was overwhelming.  Takao was no longer cautious with his lips or his hands, and Midorima found himself pulled tightly against his partner and struggling to match the motions of his lips.  It was too much – the fire in his body was burning out of control, and he could no longer keep his hands primly upon the brick.  He awkwardly folded his arms around Takao, far too focused on the feel of Takao's mouth burning against his own, sliding and pressing and sucking unknown responses out of him.  He could barely keep up as it was, but when Takao's tongue traced a slick path along Midorima's lower lip, his strength failed him entirely.  He stumbled and sank to his knees, barely able to unlock his arms from around Takao as he fell.

"Shin-chan! Are you ok?"  One moment Takao was on the brick wall, and the next he was on the ground next to Midorima, wrapping his arms around him.  Midorima couldn't tell if this was a comfort or an incitement.  His body wouldn't calm down, the terror and the desire were warring in equal parts, and he simply did not know what to do.

"I'm sorry, Shin-chan.  God I'm so, so sorry I lost control please don't be scared-I'm so sorry I just wanted you so much for so long you have no idea- I won't do it again though, I promise so please don't leave me please please don't leave me-"

He still couldn't speak, but Takao's terror had torn through his own.  Wordlessly he snaked his arms around his partner, and turned so that he could bury his head against Takao's neck.  His familiar scent – soap, spice, and basketball leather – was far more comforting than it should have been.  Even so, he had to take several deep inhales of air and Takao before he could respond.

"Takao.  Calm down.  I'm not...I'm not going anywhere."  And then, because this was a night of insanity and miracles, he even attempted a joke.  "I already told you I wasn't going to Rakuzan.  It's much too far to drive on a rickshaw."

The arms around him tightened, and the warm rush of air against his back made him shiver.  "Thank god."  Midorima felt the press of Takao's lips against his ear, and he nearly turned his face in response.  Takao pulled away before he could, however.  "Shin-chan, I'm so sorry.  I didn't mean to scare you like that.  I shouldn't have- done that.  I just...I'm sorry."

He sounded scared again.  Midorima wondered just how long he could have gone without realizing that the worst feeling in the world was when Takao was unhappy.  Regardless, he had to do something to fix it, even when he was such a mess.  He raised his head from Takao's shoulder.  It was time to act like everything was normal, in hopes that it would fix at least something.  "Takao, please.  I am not scared.  There is no need for such apologies.  There will be no more talk of leaving, or apologies, or of...improprieties."  Now, if only he could let go of Takao.

"But're still trembling."

Damn Takao for his insensitivity!  Didn't he know that now that the initial terror had passed, all he wanted to do was to nudge his face towards Takao's and fall into madness once again?  "I am simply cold, Takao.  It is an involuntary reaction, I assure you."

"But you're never cold."

"...I am tonight."

Midorima's plan to assert normalcy over the situation was utterly dashed when Takao grinned.  It was hesitant and first, but grew quickly.  Then, he scooted closer to Midorima, trapping him within the confines of his surprisingly strong arms.

"If you're so cold, then I should warm you.  Right, Shin-chan?"

The protestation died in Midorima's throat.  Takao's face was right there, so open and hopeful and wonderful that there was simply nothing Midorima could do.  There was no room in him for his own inadequacies, thoughts of the future, or his fears.  There was simply the urge to be close to Takao, and to (somehow) make him happy as well.

"Possibly.  Just slowly.  And discretely.  And-and stop when I tell you to."

Takao smile was like the sun, burning away all Midorima's anxieties, and in that moment Midorima knew he was lost.

"Of course, my ace-sama."

As they made their way back to the hotel that night, blinded by happiness, hormones, and all that lies in between, Takao smiled up at Midorima and squeezed the fingers hiding under his warmup jersey, currently entwined with his.  "I'm not sad anymore, Shin-chan."

Something tight inside of Midorima unclenched, and so it was with complete honesty that he replied, "Me neither, Takao. Me neither."